Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Sant'Andrea Church of Mantua, and the Relics of the Blood of Christ.

Yesterday, we switched locations, from the New World to the Old World, from Mexico to Italy, from Mexico City to Mantua, in the Province of Lombardy. We started our first report with a small church, the size of a chapel, in one of the corners of the Piazza delle Erbe: la Rotonda di San Lorenzo.  

But as we walk out of the Rotonda, and let our gaze cross the Piazza, we see another hidden jewel: Sant'Andrea, or Saint Andrew's Church. Designed and built by true representative of the Renaissance, a painter, a mathematician, and above all, a architect, Leonbattista Alberti, a man with the passion of recreating in the quattrocento of Italy the theories of the Roman writer and architect, Vitruvius.

The Church of Sant Andrea crouches on top of the small
XVII century archway, stores and apartments.

The façade is a modernized copy of the arch of Titus (see below),
while the brick bell tower from the preexisting Benedictine
Monastery is an example of Lombard Romanesque.
The façade looks out on the small Piazza Andrea Mantegna.

The Arch of Titus in the Roman Forum, Rome,
a template used by architects designing churches
12 centuries later during the Renaissance.

Sant' Andrea is a beautiful example of
Renaissance architecture in Northern Italy.
The ceiling of the interior is coffered barrel vault,, somewhat like the ceiling of the Basilica of Saint Peter's in Rome.
As we enter Sant Andrea, the marble floors glow,
in the Basilicas central nave,
rich in light and shadows,
drawing our attention forward,
towards the transept and beyond.
A view across the Latin Cross formed in the Transept.
A view of the dome and the vault of the transept.

The relics of the blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ are withdrawn every year during Holy Week. The authenticity of the relics is obviously quite difficult to confirm, but the local people in Mantua take it quite seriously, as the opening of the depository every year, must be done, not only in the presence of local religious authorities and dignitaries, but in the presence of a public notary. But why precisely here in Mantua, are these relics of the Most Blessed Blood? How did they find their way here?

Here is the depository of the relics of the Blood of Christ,
brought to Mantua by Longinus, the Centurion.

When Estela and I went to visit this Basilica this past Holy Week, we saw another couple asking about the relics. The woman seemed quite interested in the explanation being given, while the gentleman who came with her, had something of a smirk on his incredulous face. He turned around to me and asked me in English, "Do you think anyone really believe that the blood of Christ is here?"
There is a plaque that describes the history of the relics,
on the railing outside the depository.
I decided not to entertain the fellow. Sometime I realize that whatever I might answer, I will only get a reply with derision. One thing is honest intellectual curiosity and another is someone who has already came to a conclusion, and his thinking on the matter is already precluded. What I did decide was to get more information on the subject of this relic.
The coffered barrel vault of the main altar of the aspe.
The best place to start is in Chapter 27 of the Gospel of Saint Matthew, in verse 54. When Christ died on the Cross, there was a trembling of the earth, rocks split, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, many dead rose from their tombs. In the midst of this commotion, the Centurion in charge of the crucifixion said: "Truly this man was the Son of God." This is probably the same centurion who pierced the side of Jesus after his death with a lance, and out came water and blood. The name Christians gave this centurion was Longinus, which means lance.
In Latin the depositary beckons us to
You who pass, adore here the price of your redemption.
Then come a series of legends about the life of Longinus. That he was blind in one eye, but the blood of Christ poured into this eye and he recovered his sight. Another legend said he picked up the blood of Christ that had fallen on the ground, and that he picked it up, and that is what forms the contents of the vessels holding the Sacred Blood of Christ. Another legend said that Longinus became a monk, and later was martyred. The vessels containing the relics were lost for almost a thousand years, and were rediscovered in 1049, and later validated by Pope Leo IX a few years later.
The tomb of Andrea Mantegna
in the side chapel of Sant Andrea .
Before we leave the Basilica, we visited the chapel to our right on the way out, where we found a simple marble slab on the floor, marking the tomb of Andrea Mantegna.

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