A Visit to Italy

With World Mission Sunday celebrated across the catholic churches around the globe, and fall season just on the horizons, I took time out to visit Italy this year as part of my vacation. My friend from Brescia invited me to stay with his family during the course of my sojourn in Italy. I was so happy to be welcomed to their home and be treated like a member of their own family. Their warm hospitality was indeed molded with a heart to love, a story to tell, and a home to share that highlights clusters of greatness centering around friendship and good interpersonal relationship.

I came to Brescia on the cusp of excitement to touch base with the family and friends, along with my plan to visit Venice, Piacenza, Milan, and Bassano del Grappa. This year’s attempt to explore Veneto came out as a window to profoundly high relative time of reconnecting with friends and confreres. It reminded me of an ancient maxim, quoted by Pope John XXIII and the Second Vatican Council, to guide a new pontiff: “Unity in essentials, liberty in doubtful matters, and in all things charity.” I saw some shades of connections in dialogue with my everyday schedule with them.

It was both satisfying and literally suffused with good memories to hold close to my heart. I felt how the world was linked in my circle of gratitude like a powerful bridge between family and friendship. Like learning how to care for others and keep personal ties with faith and sincerity, my experience with them was indeed shared with Christ’s presence in our hearts. That was one of my favorite moments living with them at this point in time. As the Bk of Proverb says, “the eyes of the Lord are in every place, beholding the evil and the good” (15:3).

Brescia

My friend Dave and I drove to the city of Brescia and visited some major sights like Piazza della Loggia, the Old (Duomo Vecchio) and New Cathedral (Duomo Nuovo). We also visited the remains of the Roman Capitolium which is the Romaneque-Gothic church of St. Francis, with a Gothic façade and cloisters, the archbishop’s residence, the Biblioteca Queriniana (containing rare early manuscripts, including a 14th-century manuscript of Dante, and some rare incunabula), the Broletto (formerly the Province Hall which is a massive building of the 12th and 13th centuries with a lofty tower), and the Piazza del Foro which is the most important array of Roman remains in Lombardy. These include the Capitoline Temple, built by Vespasianus in 73 AD.

According to history, there were different mythological versions of the foundation of Brescia. It says that one was attributed to Hercules and the other was to Altilia (“the other Ilium”) by a fugitive from the siege of Troy. Another version was the king of the Ligures Cidnus who invaded the Padan Plain the late Bronze Age. However, many scholars attributed its foundation to the Etruscans.

The city of Brescia became Roman in 225 BC when the Cenomani gave in to Virginia. It was during the Carthaginian Wars when ‘Brixia’ was usually allied with the Romans. In 202 BC it was partly under the Celtic confederation that was changed later and was thus conquered. In 89 BC Brixia received its official title as civitas (“city”) and in 41 BC its inhabitants got their Roman citizenship. Augustus and Tiberius were instruments in founding the civil colony and constructing an aqueduct to supply it.

In 312 Constantine advanced against Maxentius and they were compelled to move out as far as Verona. Then in 402 the Visigoths of Alaric I destroyed the city and again was besieged in 452 by the Gothic general Theoderic the Great against Odoacer.

Brescia was made capital by the Lombards in 568 (569) as one of their semi-independent duchies. Dukes were Alachis, the future king Rotharis and Rodoald, Alachis II, a fervent anti-Catholic who was killed in the battle of Cornate d’Adda (688). Desiderius became the last king of the Lombard. Then in 774 Charlemagne captured the city and conquered the Lombard kingdom in northern Italy.

Under Louis II the Younger, Brescia became de facto as capital of the Roman Empire. Bishop’s power in those times was described imperial but gradually lessened by the local citizens and nobles. It became a free comune around the arly 12th century. Through the years Brescia expanded in the nearby countryside like Bergamo and Cremona. Then another battle broke off at Pontoglio and Grumore towards the mid-12th century.

Sporadic battles continued to arise between the Lombard cities and the emperors. One of them was the Battle of Legnano. Then followed by the Battle of Cortenova (27 November 1237). Some of the leagues from Cremona, Bergamo, and Mantua fought against Brescia by the emperor Frederick II in 1238. In 1311 Emperor Henry VII attacked Brescia for six months. Then the Scaliger of Verona with the help of the exiled Ghibellines, the battle of Maclodio (1427), Francesco Sforza, captain of the Venetians, and feuds with powerful families such as the Maggi and the Brussati, Brescia was again assaulted. Brescia this time acknowledged the authority of Venice and between 1512 and 1520, the French armies occupied Brescia. Subsequently, it shared the fortunes of the Venetian republic until 1796 when the Austrian army took over. It was followed by devastation when the Church of San nazaro was struck by lightning in 1769. It created a huge fire that caused a massive explosion and destroyed one sixth of the city.

Brescia revolted against the Austrian puppet state called Kingdom of Lombardy-Venetia. It was at this time that the poet Giosuè called it “Leonessa d’Italia” (“Italian Lioness”), being the only Lombard town to stage a rally against the King of Pierdmont. In 1859 Brescia got its inclusion to the newly-founded Kingdom of Italy.

It was interesting to know the history and people’s background as I tried to discover more some important historical landmarks of Brescia. It came to my mind, too, the historical car race Mille Miglia that takes place in the region. I even went with my friend and his father to see the car race in Castrezzato.

I remembered here some native Brescians who chalked up in their chosen career such as Giovanni Paoli who brought the printing press to the new world in Mexico City under the viceroyalty of Antonio de Mendoza from Spain in 1935; St Angela Merici, who founded the Order of Ursulines in Brescia in 1535; Bartolomeo Beretta, gunsmith and founder of the Beretta arms firm; Giulio Alenio (1582-1649) a missionary called “Confucius from the West”; Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli, a pianist of the 20th century, Pope Paul VI, and Giacomo Agostini, world famous Grand Prix motorcycle racers between 1964-1977.

Venice

It was a must for me to visit Venice. My friend and I took the early train from Rovato, Brescia heading for Venice. Passengers in drove mostly young people were equipped with gadgets and backpacks. They were all coming from different regions. It took us roughly two hours and a half to get there. Then a cup of cappuccino convinced us to stop by the coffee shop with matching croissant bread as part of our morning breakfast.

Venice is a beautiful capital city of Veneto in northern Italy. As of 2007, there were 268,993 people residing in Venice, of whom 47.5% were male and 52.5% were female. The largest immigrant group so far comes from other European nations (Romanians, the largest group: 3.26%, South Asia: 1.26%, and East Asia: 0.9%). It is predominantly Roman Catholic but with a heavy accent on Orthodox presence due to long-held relationship with Constantinople. Historically, it has been known as the “La Dominante”, “Serenissima”, “Queen of the Adriatic”, “City of Water”. There was a writer in the New York Times who described Venice as “undoubtedly the most beautiful city built by man.” It stretched across 118 small islands in the Venetian Lagoon along the Adriatic Sea in the northeast Italy, formed by 177 canals in a shallow lagoon. Its population estimate of 272,000 inhabitants includes the population of the whole Comune of Venezia.

The Republic of Venice was a major maritime power during the Middle Ages and Renaissance. It was the place where the Crusades and the Battle of Lepanto took place. As a center of commerce, Venice was mainly known for silk, grain and spice trade. It was also known for classical music, history, and its renowned prodigy in this field was Antonio Vivaldi.

According to history, the original population of Venice comprised refugees from Roman cities such as Padua, Aquileia, Altino and Concordia (now the modern Portugruaro) who were fleeing successive waves of Germanic invasions and Huns. Early settlers here were known as lagoon dwellers and they increased in number especially when the Lombards conquered the Byzantine territories which had their local governor based in Malamocco.

In 775-776, the ecclesiastical seat of Olivolo (Helipolis) was established. Duke Agnello Particiaco (811-827) took his ducal seat in Rialto (Rivoalto, “High Shore”) island, the current location of Venice. This time the monastery of St. Zachary, the first ducal palace, and the basilica of St. Mark were built.

Venice had always had connections with the Byzantine Empire and the Muslim world in many ways. The governmental system was in some ways similar to what the ancient Rome had with an elected chief executive (the Doge or Duke), a senate-like assembly of nobles, and a mass of citizens with limited political power.

Relics of St. Mark the Evangelist from Alexandria were placed in the new basilica around 828. The patriarchal seat continued to develop and this led to achieve their autonomy and freedom.

We took scores of photographs in Piazza San Marco, the Basilica di San Marco, St Lucia Church, Santa Maria della Salute, La Torre dell’Orologio (St Mark’s Clock), La Fenice Opera House, and the Rialto Bridge. I loved watching those pigeons crowding through the center while tourists enjoyed feeding them.

History says that from the ninth to the twelfth century Venice developed into a city state (an Italian thalassocracy or Repubblica Marinara, the other three being Genoa, Pisa, and Amalfi). It became a flourishing trade center between Europe and the rest of the world (especially the Byzantine Empire and the Islamic world).

Venice came to grips with countless invaders like Turks (1453) and Normans in those days but remained closely associated with Constantinople. Known as orthodox Roman Catholic, people of Venice wrestled for religious heresy during the Counter-Reformation. Plagues brought devastation in Venice around 1348 and1630, respectively. Its decline started in the 15th century during the time of unsuccessful attempt to hold Thessalonica against the Ottomans (1423-1430). It began to lose its position as a center of international trade during the later part of the Renaissance as Portugal became Europe’s principal intermediary in the trade with the East. While France and Spain fought for hegemony over Italy, Venice remained a major exporter of agricultural products until the mid-18th century and by the end of the 15th century, it had become the European capital of printing being one of the first cities in Italy (after Subiaco and Rome) to have a printing press after those established in Germany.

During the Fourth Crusade in 1204, Venice became an imperial power. The Byzantine Empire was greatly weakened and great multitudes of stuffs were brought back to Venice which included the gilt bronze horse which we now see above the entrance to St Mark Cathedral.

Situated on the Adriatic Sea, we took the view of San Giorgio Maggiore and eventually rode the motorised waterbus (vaporetto) which brought us to this place. We saw many gondolas with crushed velvet seats and Persian rugs. I heard that gondoliers usually charge 80 and 100 euros for half an hour excursion around some canals. I did not bother myself to ride in one of them but just took a picture. That gave me a difference.

I took some snapshots of other churches and bought some post cards. While sightseeing the whole panorama from St Giorgio’s belfry, I thought of the high water following certain tides in Venice. I thought of flood tides which were evidently a threat to residents here. Some experts said that the best way to protect Venice is to physically lift the city of Venice to a greater height above sea level, by pumping water into the soil underneath the city. The lifting system as they claimed would be permanent. At least it would protect Venice for many years.

I really enjoyed seeing these historical landmarks with majestic architectural designs; their antiquated history and origin. Those palaces such as the Palazzo di Doge, Foscari, Grassi, Labia, and Maliperio reminded me of the emperial reigns of the rich and famous in this city. I saw in many shops different types of masks which reminded me of that musical play ‘The Phantom of the Opera.’ These are worn during the Carnival of Venice known for Venetian masks. It is held annually two weeks before Ash Wednesday and then it ends on Shrove Tuesday. It was something cultural and it could be traced back to centuries, in the 14th century when Venetian men would wear tight-fitting multicolored hose known as Compagnie della Calza (“Trouser Club”).

We took a long walk back to the train station following the labyrinthine road which made us wonder if we were in the right direction. We asked some those we met and inquired about the way back to the station. We got there quarter before 5 p.m. and the train departed at exactly 5. We arrived back to Rovato, Brescia at 7 pm and by the time we reached home it was half past seven in the evening.

Piacenza

Two days after we visted Venice, we drove to Piacenza. It is a city in the Emilia-Romagna region and the capital of the province of Piacenza. Geographically, it is at a major crossroads at the intersection of Route E35/A1 between Bologna (known as the gateway to eastern Italy) and Milan (gateway to the Alps), and Route E70/A21 between Brescia at the foot of the Alps and Tortona, where branches lead to Torino in the north, a major industrial city, and Genova, a major coastal port.

Long before the Roman foundation shaped the area of Piacenza, the Etruscans, Gauls took the entire Po valley. The Etruscans were famous for the practice of divining by the entrails of sheep. A bronze sculpture of a liver called the “Liver of Piacenza” was found in 1877 at Gossolengo just to the south of Piacenza complete with the name of regions. It has been connected to the practice of haruspicy, which was adopted by the Romans. Thus far, the liver can be attributed to the middle Roman settlement.

According to history, Piacenza and Cremona were founded as a Roman military colonies in May of 218 BC. There was a battle with the Gauls and Ligurians and cities were besieged with cruelty and violence. Devastations occurred several times but the city was always recovered and by the 6th century Procopius was calling it “the principal city in the country of Aemilia.”

Diocletian had a long reign during the era of Late Antiquity in Piacenza (4th/9th centuries AD) and remained anti-Christian. Christians being killed and massacred were rampant in those days and one of them was Antoninus in 303 AD who was beheaded (as had been St. Moritz) at Travo in Val Trebbia. The first Bishop of Piacenza (322-357), San Vittorio, declared Antoninus the patron saint of Piacenza and had the first Basilica di S. Antonio constructed in his honor in 324 in downtown Piacenza. It was restored and rebuilt in 1101. Actually, the remains of the bishop and soldier-saint are in urns under the altar.

During the Middle Ages Piacenza underwent a number of conquests by the Byzantines, Lombards, and Franks (9th century). It was followed by a gradual transition of powers from the feudal lords to a new enterprising class of the countryside.

In 1126 Piacenza was a free commune and became a member of the Lombard League. It took part in a war against the emperor Frederick Barbarossa and in the subsequent battle of Legnano in 1176. In the 13th century, Piacenza was able to gain its strongholds on the Lombardy shore of the Po River. Struggles for control were a common practice in the second half of the 13th century. Rich and powerful families such as Scotti, Pallavicino and Scoto (1290-1313) held power and leadership during this regime and Piacenza became a Sforza possession until 1499.

Piacenza was ruled by France until 1521 and under Pope Leo X, it became part of the Papal States. In 1545, it became part of the newly established Duchy of Parma and Piacenza, which was under the duress of the Farnese family.

The city underwent a series of transitions especially when it became a capital city of the duchy until Ottavio Farnese (1547-1586) moved it to Parma. Between 1732 and 1859, Piacenza and Parma were ruled by the House of Bourbon. In the 18th century, a number of edifices were built which belonged to noble families such as Scotti, Landi and Fogliani.

In 1882 Napoleon’s army annexed Piacenza to the French Empire. The city was plundered of a huge number of artworks and were also ravaged by bandits and French soldiers.

In 1848 Austrian and Croatian troops occupied Piacenza until a plebiscite marked the beginning of the city in the Kingdom of Sardinia. Then bombardment of the city occurred during World War II by the Allies. Roads and bridges across Trebbia and the Po Rivers, along with the railways yards were devastated. Piacenza was severely damaged by the bombing.

In spite of all the World War II bombings and devastations by the allied medium bombers from Corsica, Piacenza remained as one of the famous cities in Italy for the arts. Their historical palaces and edifices are often surrounded by lovely gardens.

Due to our limited time to visit some major sights of the city, nevertheless, I had the opportunity to see Piazza Cavalli and the façade of Il Gotico where my friend and I took some pictures. We passed by the Church of Sant’Antonino, patron of Piacenza and the Palazzo Comunale, also known as il Gotico. Then we also saw the Duomo di Piacenza. We wanted to go inside to pray but it was closed. So we decided to just a take a picture of its façade.

We also passed by other churches like Santa Maria in Campagna, a Renaissance church, faces Piazzale delle Crociate (“Crusades Square”), so called because Pope Urban II summoned the First Crusade here in 1095. It was built in 1522-1528 to house a miraculous wooden sculpture of the Madonna. The interior side of the church was originally on the Greek cross plan, but was later changed into a Latin cross one.

We were not able to visit the churches of St Sixtus, a Renaissance church with a precious choir, designed by Alessio Tramello in the 15th century. Another church designed by Tramello is the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. It has the most famous relic of the region’s pre-Roman civilization known as the Bronze Liver of Piacenza. It is very significant because it is an Etruscan bronze model of a sheep’s liver that dates back from the end of the second century to the start of the first century BC.

I remember when I lived here for a year, the common specialties which were typical Piacentini are panceta (rolled seasoned pork belly, salted and spiced), coppa (seasoned pork neck) and salame (chopped pork meat flavored with spices and wine, and made into sausages). Others eat them with Gorgonzola cheese and Robiola.

As it was already getting dark, we decided to drive back home in Brescia and be on time for dinner with my friend’s uncle. It was a lovely time we spent in the city sightseeing and window shopping. Both convinced us to combine our visit with spending for clothes or other souvenirs. That really wrapped up our day amid the stillness and welcome contrast from other bustling cities like Milan, Venice, Vicenza, Brescia or Padova. Piacenza remained like a serene image of body and soul steeped in classic speaking gifts. Oh, Piacenza! You’re still replete with serenity and precious antiquity.

Vicenza

This was my last leg as regards my itinerary here in northern Italy. I really made an effort to maximize my time visiting these places. Though at times exhaustion would knock me down and lead me to stay home, still the inner engine would draw me out and emerge on the road. I felt the twinge of being privileged to be here. The beauty of the place, its richness in history and culture; and the people themselves reminded me of what Elizabeth Kübler-Ross once wrote: “People are like stained-glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their true beauty is revealed only if there is a light from within.” And I found its verisimilitude in dealing with people across cultures.

According to history, Vicenza is the capital of the eponymous province in the Veneto region, at the northern base of the Monte Berico, straddling the Bacchiglione. It is approximately 60 kn west of Venice and 200 km east of Milan.

It is a cosmopolitan city with many museums, art galleries, piazzas, villas, churches and beautiful Renaissance palaces. The famous Palladian Villas of the Veneto and the Teatro Olimpico can be found here. Other historical landmarks are: the Basilica Palladiana, Palazzo Thiene by Palladio, Villa Almerico Capra, the Cathedral of Santa Maria Annunciata, Palazzo Chiericati, Palazzo Porto, Palazzo del Barbaran da Porto, etc. The inventor of silicon, Federico Faggin, was born here. It is the third-largest Italian industrial center in terms of exports, engineering/computer components industry.

The Romans conquered this region when the Gauls were inhabitants here in 157 BC. They gave the name Vicentia or Vincentia, meaning “victorious.” When the Western Roman Empire fell, the Heruls, Vandals, Huns, Alaric and his Visigoths laid waste to the area. At the beginning of the sixth century a number of Benedictine monasteries were built here.

In 899, Vicenza was destroyed by Magyar raiders. A League was formed with Verona and Lombard to go against Emperor Frederick I Barbarossa compelling Padua and Treviso to join. There were some inner rivalries with Padua, Bassano del Grappa and other cities. In 1230 the Second Lombard League went against Emperor Frederick II that brought to the fore the restoration of the old oligarchic republic political structure.

Vicenza came under rule of Venice in 1404. But it was besieged by the Emperor Sigismund, and Maximilian I in 1509 and 1516. The period of Reformation saw the growing inclination in art especially at the time of Andrea Palladio who left many outstanding examples of art with palaces and villas in the city’s territory.

At the time of Napoleon Bonaparte in the 18th century, Vicenza was made a duché grand-fief (not a grand duchy, but a hereditary, nominal duchy, a rare honor reserved for French officials). Then after 1814, Vicenza was under the Austrian Empire. Italy was still divided at that time but as part of the Kingdom of Lombardy-Venetia, it was tied up with Italy after the third war of Italian independence.

Vicenza was heavily damaged by World War I and World War II. But after World War II, economy began to bloom slowly. And now Vicenza is home to the U.S. Army post Caserma Ederle, also known as the U.S. Army Garrison Vicenza.

Some famous people from this area are: Flavio Albanese, architect; Roberto Baggio, football player; Giuseppina M. Bakhita, saint, Valerio Belli, sculptor and engraver; Maria Bertilla Boscardin, saint; and many others.

a. Bassano del Grappa

Following this, I really made an effort to visit Bassano del Grappa. It is a place where we have a seminary. And now it is housed by our elderly and sick.confreres in the congregation. For me it was like another episode of reconnecting so meaningful that I almost shed in tears when I saw them.

It is a city and comune in the province of Vicenza, region Veneto. Its neighboring communes are Cassola, Marostica, Solagna, Pove del Grappa, Romano d’Ezzelino, Campolongo sul Brenta, Conco, Rosà, Cartigliano and Nove.

The city was founded in the second century by a Roman called Bassianus. It was under the family of the Ezzelinos in the 13th century. But it was acquired by the Visconti of Milan in 1368. It became famous in all parts of Europe because of the Remondini printers.

During the French Revolutionary Wars Bassano was the seat of the battle. It was part of the unified Kingdom of Italy in 1866. Napoleon Bonaparte stayed here in Bassano del Grappa for many months.

The original name of this place was Bassano Veneto. Because of so many casualties during World War I, the name was changed to Bassano del Grappa, meaning Bassano of Mount Grappa. This was made to honor those soldiers who were killed during the war.

My friend and I went to the Bridge of the Alpini which was designed by the architect Andrea Palladio in 1569. This bridge was destroyed many times. The Alpine soldiers, or Alpini have always revered the wooden bridge and Bassano del Grappa. It was a memorial marker for them, so significant that they would remember songs from their days as alpine soldiers.

We took a number of pictures around this area. It was so meaningful that I could not help but associate it also with our seminary. It was like a connecting bridge to sacred forces – bringing life and hope to the local church.

There were also other sights to see such as: the Cathedral (Duomo) built around the year 1000 but renovated in 1417, The Castello Superiore (Upper Castle), the Church of St John the Baptist which was built in the 14th century and restored in the 18th century.

The many facets of these places made me reflect the different set of values for defining beauty and truth, achievements judged according to popular standards like wealth of the nation, power, prestige and on the other side of the coin, achievements judged according to divine standards like service or compassion. The immense beauty and historicity of Italy have enormous wealth to share with people of all ages. As a pilgrim on the road, I will hold ever dear in my heart those works of art, people’s inner beauty, faith, and solidarity as life and memory go on through time and space.

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