Well, we’re back from our jaunt through Italy, Croatia, and Greece. It was a great trip to some beautiful places… It was a cruise focusing on historical and archaeological destinations, so the median passenger age was 69…which means no screaming kids or drunk douchebags! It was also a small ship with a max of 350 passengers, so it was able to get into some places that the “floating cities” can’t.
Since we were deep in Catholic Land, naturally most of our city tours featured at least two cathedrals. Each town has its own main church, and each town has its own saint of something or other to protect it. One town in particular had a saint known for “throat health”, since he allegedly saved someone from choking or something like that. Seriously. Anyway, several of these cathedrals also housed some holy relics, usually a body part (hand, finger, etc.) encased in gold to protect it from the unworthy. I’ve heard of this but had never seen it on such a grand scale — one cathedral had a giant room filled top to bottom with these mummified oddities! All supposedly coming from some guy supposedly blessed by god for whatever reason. The church museum in Zadar even claims to have a piece of the cross that Christ was nailed to. No body parts, but a piece of the cross…suspended in some kind of murky goo, from what I could tell. Of course many churches claim to have a piece of the cross, so for all we know this is just a bit of wood one of the nuns picked up behind the church walls centuries ago.
Many of these churches and museums also feature countless religious paintings of familiar scenes: Jesus with a lamb, Mary with Jesus, Jesus being tortured, Jesus blessing the town’s saint, etc. Some are considered masterpieces, and they really are impressive. It was just interesting to see how each town had its own piece of Christ’s blessings by having its own saints, most of whom were painted right in there with Jesus. These beliefs span the centuries, through countless wars, sackings, rebuildings, and occupations. There was a similar theme in every place we went of cities being destroyed and rebuilt, and the art/artifacts being somehow saved.
Then we toured Dubrovnik and viewed its vast collection of holy artwork and relics. They’re very big on the city saints, with many paintings featuring the saints holding the city in their hands. Later we toured a museum dedicated to the horrific and senseless bombings by the Serbs, and that’s when I began to ask myself: where is god’s protection? These people have poured mountains of praise on Jesus and his family for centuries, creating masterpieces of art and architecture, even preserving bits of dead saints for all to see and worship. Where was god when the Serbs pounded the unprotected, unarmed city with bombs for nearly a year? And where was he when these other historic cities were being conquered and re-conquered? (Of course Christians did more than their own share of conquering…)
I realize that for many in the Middle Ages, religion provided hope for a happy reward after a hard life. But obviously people also called on Jesus to protect them and their cities, hence all the puffery of the town saints. Seems to me that any being calling itself “god” should step in and protect those who so intensely worship him, but when did that happen? I’m having a hard time seeing evidence of that. “Well, that’s because God doesn’t take direct action in such matters. It’s all about faith.” Oh, really? What kind of omnipotent, omniscient being is he, then? What’s the point of all this praying and teeth-gnashing if your own supreme being won’t even lift a finger to save your ass from wiped out by the latest invaders?
It was a great vacation…it just raised some interesting questions for me. 🙂