Monday, March 10, 2008

Rome through new eyes

A few days ago, now, Zenit posted an insiders view of the Vatican that few these days get to see. The occasion? Ms. Mary Ann Glendon's installation as US Ambassador to the Holy See, as told through the eyes of her daughter Elizabeth Lev, who teaches art history in Rome for Duquesne University. Her poignant tale is found here.

Art historians secretly dream of going back in time to see artistic masterpieces in their original environment, rather than as museum pieces. In their wildest flights of fancy, they fantasize about being part of that world.
Last Friday, this art historian lived that dream when I accompanied my mother, Mary Ann Glendon, as she presented her credentials to Benedict XVI as U.S. ambassador to the Holy See.
As we donned our black mantillas at the embassy residence, we were already entering into a different criterion of beauty and worth. Covered head to toe in long skirts and jackets, all I saw were the radiantly happy faces of my mother, sisters and daughters.
Draped in black lace, I thought of the tabernacle and the chalice swathed in exquisite cloth to indicate the preciousness of what was concealed from view. Furthermore, the precariously perched veils made one stand taller and conferred a stately dignity to our New England stride.


Rev. Mark Villanueva said...

Two years ago I visited St. Peter's Basilica together with my Episcopalian priest-friend, David, for the first time. Elizabeth Lev was our private tour guide. What a joy to have someone like her to guide us through the various rooms and treasures of the Vatican. I cannot forget the way she explained the depth of theology behind the artwork of the Sistine Chapel. Her explanation almost made us wonder whether Michelangelo was the greatest theologian that ever lived. Elizabeth, however, was quick to point out that Michelangelo was deeply spiritual, but surrounded nonetheless by so many learned theologians and bishops of his day.

We were admiring the replica of the Pieta when Elizabeth told us what may have been Michelangelo's intention of carving this magnificent statue of the Blessed Mother. In those days, Holy Mass was celebrated facing the altar. The Pieta was meant to be placed above the Altar. Seen in this way, the dead Christ, which seems to fall from the Mother's lap, falls into the Altar table where the bread and wine become the Body and the Blood of Christ.

Again, standing underneath the canopy of the Main altar, Elizabeth pointed out to us the shape of the curtain, which appears to be slightly lifted, as if blown from inside. Could it be that this is the artist's way of depicting the Holy Spirit's gentle and transforming breeze as the Church gathers to celebrate the Eucharist?

Our two-day tour of the Vatican with Elizabeth became for us an unexpected and most remarkable retreat we have ever had.

Thank you Elizabeth.

Fr. Mark Villanueva

Anonymous said...

In October of 2007 my husband and I travelled to Italy for our first visit. The one place I knew I wanted to see was Vatican City.

My guided tour of Italy was led by a very knowledgeable woman from Bend, Oregon who told us she had a wonderful guide of The Vatican for us! Little did I know how wonderful. I can't describe how much knowledge Liz Lev has, or the level of excitement with which she delivers the lessons to you.

I hope one day to make it back to Vatican City and have Liz take me back to those beautiful rooms, those amazing paintings and let me experience again the magic of a place I know God is.

Thanks Liz!
Kellie & David Gough