Santa Maria della Pieve, Arezzo

Holidays bring the best surprises. A recent trip to Italy introduced me to some amazing Tuscan churches and cathedrals, but I think I’ll always remember walking past a mysterious tower vividly.

Santa Maria della Pieve

So many columns on the facade. Such a high tower. What really impressed me was the apse (although I don’t have a picture) – thirteenth century! and once we went inside, the only word that seemed OK to describe it … capacious!

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I am so used to English parish apses, where the ones I’ve seen are not comparable. (I would love recommendations though!)

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I came to Italy expecting some amazing Catholic art and at this point, I had nothing to compare these two to. Who doesn’t admire a Mary with a halo of fairy lights? Who isn’t awed by a sultry looking Jesus? I joked and mock, but I do truly admire the love that’s shown through these religious artworks.

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I usually try to light a candle in churches I visit – partly habit, partly in the romantic half-believed hope that those I’m thinking of can somehow sense that they are missed. In this holy place there’s no wax involved – you screw and electric candle into a holder. I saw the future. I didn’t like it.

Skull of San Donato

I snapped this picture in a bit of a tourist daze. Turns out it’s the golden reliquary housing the skull of St Donatus, patron of Arezzo. Donatus was an orphan who was brought up alongside the future Emperor Julian the Apostate. Julian became emperor; Donatus became priest. Under later persecution he fled from Nicomedia to Arezzo where he joined forces with a monk named Hilarian to preach the Gospel.

The miracles associated with St Donatus include:

  • Bringing a women named Euphrosnia back to life
  • Giving sight back to a blind woman named Syriana
  • Rejoining a communion chalice shattered by the entrance of pagans to the church
  • Exorcising a demon tormented the Roman prefect’s son
  • Fighting and slaying a dragon who had poisoned a local well

Someone not to be trifled with, it appears. However, he was arrested and beheaded by the Roman prefect on 7 August 362.

Medieval Arezzo

When we visited the town was getting ready for a ‘Medieval Spectacle’ – the city square was being prepared for a joust, the sky was blue and the banners high. We had almost moved back in time.

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