Category Archives: Sacred Architecture

Day 25: Florence (Firenze)

Today was our first visit to Florence (Firenze).  The forecast predicted snow and cold, so we bundled up in preparation for a cold day, meeting at the train station for the 7:31 train to Firenze.   Emerging  from our apartment felt like an excursion into a snow globe… complete with an Italian village, cute light posts, and huge swirling flakes.

The Firenze (Florence) train station is much more tame than Rome’s, but it is still an active node of people quickly making their way about the country.  Visiting groups gather in clumps while couples and backpackers crisscross around the granite floors.  Signs up high on the walls show arrival, departure, and what platform you need to find for the Regionale, Intercity, and bullet trains.    So far, our group has made a dash for the McDonald’s every time  we get to the big cities.  It makes me laugh, but its hard to pass up a quick cheeseburger for 1 euro.

Marco time.  Our group meandered around the Duomo, properly known as Santa Maria del Fiore, and we went inside to escape the wind.  The red, white, and grey marble floors make in abstract geometric shapes.   The walls are much more are than I expected (especially after just seeing the Vatican– which is from another later architectural period…), except for the frescoes that fill the interior of Brunelleschi‘s dome, depicting the Last Judgment.  If you don’t know about the history behind the dome, or how it constructed, you should take a few minutes on Wikipedia and read  up on it…  it is an engineering feat… constructed with no scaffolding and entirely self-supporting as they built it.  Did I mention it was the largest dome since the Pantheon?!   It is impressive.  The craftsmanship of the doors and building façade is also quite amazing.  Florence is one of the few cities where craftsmen still master the roots of their trade, and continue  with restoration work.  (Many churches here are in that process).

During what seemed like the coldest part of the day, we visited Santa Croce. Our toes and fingers were numb as the wind stole our heat.  Restoration scaffolding blocked what was behind the altar, but there was more to see in the church.  Many famous Italians are buried inside this church: Galileo Galilee, Michelangelo (even though he wanted to be buried in Rome), Alberti, Machiavelli, Rossini, and then an empty tomb for Dante, the famous writer.

We concluded our macro-tour of the city in Pazzi Chapel right nearby, and listening to Marco on the cold stone seats.   I will admit, it is hard to enjoy  some of these works when the air is bone chilling.

Anne and I found a Pizzeria and enjoyed a great lunch while our fingers thawed.

We decided not to stay longer this weekend, so we planned to return on the 17:12 train back to Orvieto.   We were a little lost for a bit on our way back to the station, but getting lost is (generally) fun in a city like this.   In two weeks we will be back for a complete tour of the Uffizzi Museum, and we plan on staying for more of the weekend.  At home I will be able to rest and be sure not to get sick (I’ve been feeling under the weather the past couple days, and I didn’t want to stay in the cold).

Made it home around 10pm (20:00). Warm and cozy.  It was a long day.


Vatican City

Day Two in Rome, we headed for the Vatican!

The Vatican Museum is free on the fourth Sunday every month, so our group of seven woke up at the hostel at 7am to get to the Vatican before the lines.  Good thing too- We arrived well before 8:30 (opens at 9:00), and the line for the museum still wrapped around the wall of the city.  Worth it.


I will jump to it:

The art work and ceilings in the museum were  nothing short of brilliant!  Elongated corridors glowing with paintings and reliefs tipped with gold.  There are countless statues, sculptures, tapestries, and items of the church housed in these hallways that speak to the history and global nature of the Catholic church.

I made my way into the Sistine Chapel where I spent quite a good bit of time. No pictures were allowed,  so I spent a long time looking at each one of Michael Angelo’s incredibly detailed and expressive paintings up on that ceiling.  I highly recommend you take your time in there if you get the chance to go.

Next, we spent a few euro to gain access to the cupola (inside the dome of St. Peter’s).

Inside the Dome

All around the catwalk were these intricate mosaics of cherubs and angels, and a view down to the space below.

We then took a journey up to the very top through some tight hallways, curving walls and ceilings, and many many tight stairs. Finally arriving at the top opened to a 360 degree view over all of St. Peter’s square, and most of Rome in the distance.  This view was worth the trek.

The bells for mass began to ring  at 12:30, so we headed back down.  They were still ringing by the time we reached the bottom.

We made our way into St. Peter’s Basilica and it was breath-taking.  It is the most beautiful space I have ever seen.  The domes and art work are gold tipped, expanding upwards in a magnificent volume of space.  Humbling, yet not oppressive. There was a mass going on at the main altar while we explored the basilica.

When I read the Bible, I understand the body to be the temple of the Holy Spirit, not a building of stone.  I used to be of the mind that the Catholic church was misplacing priorities when they spent so much money on their churches, rather than redirecting it all to the poor and needy, as if to make an idle of their status and wealth.  I still find it hard to justify, but after being in a space like St. Peter’s, walking under the ceilings that illustrate the Bible stories, walking around the expressive sculptures that capture the  personalities of key players in the Bible, after watching countless people from unknown backgrounds and languages gather in one building to profess their love and respect to one God… it makes more sense.  I am also getting a stronger grasp of the Grecian and Roman influences on early Christian art and architecture.   It’s hard for me to find the words, but the church building, though a material thing, seems like more an investment in the permanence and value they attribute to God.  An altar built for Him.     Anyway, I will visit this more another time.

We went down to the catacombs below, and reemerged ready for a break.  Part of the group wanted to go into the Coliseum back in Rome, so we headed that way. Three of us sketched while the others went in.  This was an enjoyable break from the hectic weekend where we could soak up the city around us.             I will be going back to Rome.

Day 9: Orvieto 1/25

I am more than excited after talking with Professor Gary Coates today.
He pulled Nathan and I aside after learning that we were both very interested in delving into the area of sacred architecture.  Samantha and Jessica joined too.  This happens to be a passion of Gary’s that he’d been hoping to share with students, so the four of us (with Gary facilitating) will be looking into sacred numbers, geometries, and meanings within spiritually based architecture. We’re obviously using the Duomo here as our primary case study.


These studies should take my previous semester (where I designed a church) to a new level of understanding, and compound what I learn from the several churches we will visit through the semester.   Personally, I am curious how this will compliment & contrast ideas from the denomination I identify with (Nazarene) as understood in a quote by founder Phineas Bresee: “We want places so plain that every board will say welcome to the poorest.”

What care and intentionality can be woven into the design of a place of worship?


Other texts for the semester:  The Eyes of the Skin: Architecture and the Senses which is the basis for our seminar on Architecture of the Body.