Cities in Italy competitive about their churches

By LeAnn R. Ralph

COLFAX — If there’s one thing that’s noticeable about Italy, it’s the churches.

Lots of churches.

Large churches.

Lovely churches decorated with all kinds of artwork.

Or is it really artwork?

Not necessarily says Reverend Robert Schoenknecht, the pastor at Colfax Rural Lutheran.

Pastor Bob and his wife, Mary, traveled to Italy last summer, and the pastor spoke about his trip at Colfax Health and Rehabilitation Center January 23.

The St. Francis Cathedral in Assisi, for example, is full of artwork that depicts scenes from the Bible.

At the time the churches were built, most people could not read, and, therefore, could not read the Bible, Pastor Bob said.

Scenes of biblical stories were ways that people could learn and know the Bible stories without being able to read them, he said.

One side of the St. Francis cathedral focuses on Old Testament stories and the other side focuses on New Testament stories.

“People could walk along and know the stories of the Bible,” Pastor Bob said.

St. Francis — who is famous for preaching to the animals, or rather, practicing his sermons for the animals — is buried at the cathedral in Assisi.

The place where he is buried is considered a sacred place and no talking is allowed, Pastor Bob noted.

Sienna also has a beautiful cathedral.

“The cities in Italy were in competition with other cities, like Florence, to see who could build the biggest church,” Pastor Bob said.

When the cathedral in Sienna was finished, people who lived in the city found out that Florence had a bigger church and immediately began to build additions to their cathedral to form the shape of a cross, he said.

Unfortunately, before the people in Sienna could finish their church, the Plague hit Europe, and the cathedral was never completed, Pastor Bob explained.

The city of San Gimignano, on the other hand, is famous for its towers.

Every family built a tower, but each family wanted their tower to be bigger, so the towers ended up quite large, he said, noting that tourists could climb up into some of the towers.

In response to a question from the audience, Pastor Bob said that Italy typically is in the 70s and 80s during the summer, and that the high temperature in the winter is in the 50s.

From time to time, he noted, the churches would be cleaned on the outside because they would become gray with coal soot.

In years past, in “the old days,” people could not even go into the churches in Italy if they had not been baptized, Pastor Bob said.

As a consequence, the churches have a “baptistry” where people could be baptized so they could enter the church, he said.

The baptistry for the cathedral in Florence has doors that took 50 years to make, and each three-dimensional panel tells a different Bible story, Pastor Bob noted.

At some of the churches in Italy, tourists are not allowed inside at all, while other churches charge tourists money to be able to go inside, he said.

The cathedrals of Italy are so large that the pulpit where the priest gives his sermon is in the middle of the church so that people throughout the church can see and hear, Pastor Bob said.

The Schoenknechts also visited Rome and toured the Museum of the Vatican.

And although they had the option of visiting Venice, they took another tour instead.

Italy is famous for its gelato as well (Italian ice cream).

During their ten-day trip to Italy, the Schoenknechts ate gelato every day.

Gelato comes in 50 or 60 different flavors.

The pastor indicated that he usually chose chocolate or caramel flavored gelato.