Thursday, August 16, 2012

Slovenia Journal V: Aquileia

Watercolor by Hallie Cohen after fresco of decapitation of St. Hermagoras
The Baths of Caracalla and The Colosseum  are the most famous vestiges of ancient Rome, but they merely epitomize ruins of the past. Amphitheaters in cities such as Trieste and Siracusa pop up out of nowhere and take your breath away. There is Rome and then there is Christianity, which is represented not by ruins, but by masterpieces like The Sistine Chapel. In 313 A.D. the Emperor Constantine issued the Edict of Milan which allowed the Christian Church to acquire property. In the mosaic tiles on the floor of the Romaneque basilica built in 343 in the town of Aquileia, the Christian themes of the antelope (devotion) and the stag (action), along with the fisher theme exemplify the synthesis of the two cultures in the early Christian context. One of the frescoes on the wall of the crypts, created hundreds of years later, depicts the beheading of the first bishop of Aquileia, Hermagoras (appointed by Mark), and his deacon, Fortunatus. The crypt also contains a reliquary. As documented by Elaine Pagels and others, early Christianity, perhaps in response to the repressiveness of the Romans, offered a more direct relationship between man and God and one that was not mitigated by the intercession of the church. In fact, early Christianity exemplified Max Weber’s famous distinction between the sect and the church. At the height of its importance in the fourth century, Aquileia had over l00,000 inhabitants. Then it practically disappeared off the map. Today it’s a world heritage site, passed by tourists as they approach the Julian alps on their way to Slovenia.

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