As we were leaving our last stop in the town of Barolo, at the wine cellar (or cantina as they are called in Italian)) of Marchesi di Barolo, where I was paying for a couple of bottles of wine and a book, I told the cashier, a helpful girl in her young twenties (I will explain further down, why we felt her age was relevant), that our next stop would be the town of Barbaresco.
She said: "Barbaresco? Hmm! Yes! Great! You will like Barbaresco. But on your way, don't forget to make a stop over and spend some time at Neive!"
"Neive?" We had never heard of "Neive" before that moment. But my experience on the Road of Faith and Art has always been to pay attention to tips given "in locu", that is, by the locals.
This sign was our only guide
to Il Castello di Neive
But before I give you a more detailed description on Neive, I would like to ask a question: "Who is God?" That is the question that I, as every other Pilgrim before me, must ponder. It is so easy to invent a Golden Calf in His place, as the Hebrews did, at the foot of Mount Sinai (Exodus 32,4).
Estela stands at the gateway of
what was Il Castello di Neive.,
quite an work of ant of wrought
iron and brick columns.
The first commandment: "I am the Lord your God. You shall not have other gods before me (Exodus 20;3)."
In his "Frohliche Wissenschaft", Nietzsche contended that "God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed Him. How should we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers?" Last week, Holy Week, this was exactly the idea we meditated on.
My intentions here are not to deliver a sermon, but to share with you, my fellow pilgrims, my personal reflections, as I travel with you down the Road of Faith and Art.
Cherry blossoms in bloom in
We might not like the way Nietzsche expresses himself about God, Some find Nietzsche blasphemous. At best, disturbing. "Gott bleibt tot" ("God remains dead") is usually interpreted as Nietzsche denial of the Resurrection of Christ on Easter Sunday.
I differ. I find those words profoundly spiritual, and when he continues: "Und wir haben ihn getoten" ("And we have killed Him"), accurate and profound.
The Casaforte dei Conti Cotti di Ceres.
When you hear someone say in German about someone else "...bleibt tot" the sound of the expression has an uncertain fatality and finality, something like "dropped dead" in English.
Part of what initially was part of the Castello di
Neive is the Regional Bakery School (down the
alley behind Estela) bustling with young people.
When Estela and I were at the Santa Sindone in Torino last month, and we contemplated the image of the Holy Shroud, those were exactly my thoughts. "Christ was really dead. Not comatose. Dead." Or as Nietzsche puts it "...bleibt tot." .
This bell tower and city clock
stand as a symbol since the 13th
Century of Neive as a free and
independent commune or town,
in spite of having to wage many
a battle with nearby Alba and
But here we are in this beautiful town of Neive, with vineyards and cherry blossoms, what does Nietzsche have to do with all of this? Please bear with me. I promise thee, there is method in my madness.
I believe that Nietzsche, when affirming that "Gott bleibt tot", was referring more to an undeniable fact of life of the secularized society of Germany in the late 19th Century, than to any Theological point on the Resurrection.
I am not giving the Philosophical works of Nietzsche, especially his nihilism, a nihil obstat (an endorsement), but at least here, I think he has a point. After the Rationalism of the 17th Century, the Idealism of the 18th Century, the Materialism of the 19th Century, God was socially quite dead.
So I come back to the question: "Who is God?" What is our vision or perception of God? As Catholics, we form part of the Judeo-Christian tradition.
Yet the perception of God of Roman Catholics today varies substantially not only from that of Jews, but even in comparison with Orthodox Christians.
Church of San Michele
For Jews, Yahweh merits above all reverence and respect. With Roman Catholics, Jesus Christ, Second Person of the Divine Trinity, through the Incarnation, became man, and, our approach to the Divine is more intimate, more familiar, and more so, thanks to the Sacraments.
Late Baroque-style of the Façade
of San Michele built in the
Orthodox Catholics in their forms of worship, seem to represent a cultural bridge between the Judaic traditions of respect towards the Divinity and we, Roman Catholics.
As we entered in this church in a
remote Italian village, we were
startled to find a Catholic Church
with a beautiful iconostasis for
the worship of Macedonia
This is the connection between Neives and the subject at hand: we visited a Catholic Church, San Michele, where Macedonian Orthodox Catholics come to worship, and where we saw an iconostasis firsthand.
The church of San Michele is
built in the form of a Greek
The Orthodox use the iconostasis, a screen separating the sanctuary of the Church from the nave, as a veil, similar to the veil of the Temple of Jerusalem, so that only the celebrants witness directly the consecration during Mass, hiding it, our of respect, from the view of the simple faithful. In the Temple of Jerusalem, only the High Priest had access to the equivalent of what we call in Christian Churches, the Sanctuary, or for the Jews, their "Holy of Holies", the place of deposit of their Arc of Covenant.
The iconostasis is accompanied by a series of
icons depicting in traditional Byzantine style
Our Lord, the Blessed Virgin and Michael
The Icons of the Byzantine Church did not change in style after the 14th century in the same way Sacred Art became more realistic, more detailed.
Store in the church of San
Michele offers a selection of
Byzantine-style holy icons.
In the Byzantine Church, these new aspects of Sacred Art in the West were not a priority. The Greek tradition has always been more focused on the gnosis.
Pipe organ in gilded organ case
in the rear chorus balcony.
The Macedonian Orthodox Church has very old roots, specifically from the times of the Apostles. In Cahpter 16, Verse 9 of the Acts of the Apostles, a Macedonia appeared to Saint Paul in a dream, urging him to bring the Gospel to his land, and Saint Paul lost no time.
The Archangel Michael guards
the entrance of the Church
Saint Paul sailed off with Sila, Timothy and Luca the following morning to the Macedonia City of Filipi.
Only a few steps away from the
Church of San Michele is the
Church of San Pietro e San Paolo
with its neoclassical façade.
Macedonias are very proud of the fact that Filipi was the first European City to be Christianized. Yet if we come back to the point at hand ,"Who is God?", and more precisely, "What is the position we should assume in the presence of Our Creator?" During the Transfiguration of Christ, Peter fell to his knees and covered his face, in the presence of God.
San Pietro and San Paolo is very
different from San Michele:
Latin cross layout, three aisles
Neo-Renaissance style vault.
We Christians should cherish our tradition of intimacy with Christ but never permit our intimacy with God to degenerate into familiarity, in this sense learn a valuable lesson from our older brothers in the faith, the Macedonians, and even more so, from the Jews. I feel that the Jewish people, in their way of expressing their faith in God, show that do not lose their bearings, their position in front of God, as easily as sometimes we Christians apparently seem to do.
San Pietro and San Paolo not
only has a bright interior thanks
to its large windows, but because
the spandrels help diffuse the
light that enters.
One person who perhaps understood divine positioning better than other Christian in the last 500 years, was a military commander, who while defending his native town against an attack from the French invasion forces, received a almost fatal wound.
The interior of San Pietro e San Paolo is very
bright and elegantly decorated
While in his convalescence, Iñigo started to rethink about his life and his purpose in life. Iñigo asked himself during his long recovery a lot of questions: Who am I? What am I? What is my purpose here in this life?
Iñigo understood that he was a Creature of God, and that he owed his allegiance no longer to the noble family of Pamplona, nor even to his local town of Loyola, but to God his Creator. Iñigo wrote down this line of thought which has become what his followers, the Jesuits call "Spiritual Exercises"
Even in this Church, the devotion
of Saint Michael Archangel is
In his native language, Basque, his name was Iñigo. But you probably know of him by his name in English, Ignatius, Ignatius of Loyola, the founder father of the Jesuit Congregation.
Ignatius of Loyola was a military man, in mind and soul, even after he let down his arms. In the military, the first thing you understand is rank. Another thing a military man understands is the mission.
Four subjects decorate the vault
the Blessed Virgin, Saint Peter
the Holy Spirit...and the eye?
It is the all seeing eye of
Providence, used widely in
Holy Art, long before its
adoption on the rear of
the U.S. Dollar bill.
For Ignatius, as well as the rest of the Congregation of the Jesuits, the Mission is to achieve "maiorem Gloriam Dei", the Greater Glory of God. Like the Jews, like the Macedonians, Ignatius understood his position vis-a-vis his Creator: Ignatius, the servant, God, the "Dominus", the "Lord".
Main altar of San Pietro e San
Ignatius of Loyola invites us to follow his example in his Spiritual Exercises, to develop a spiritual life of intimacy, not familiarity, with Christ. Familiarity breeds contempt. If we are intimate with Christ, we avoid sin, and we strive to do His will, the will of His Heavenly Father. Intimacy, with respect, is true love.
Virgin with Child on side altar
Around the same time Ignatius of Loyola sought to receive the approval of the Pope for his new Congregation, the Jesuits, there was a young priest in Rome, "Pippo, Pippo il Buono!" Rome in the times of Pippo, was a city full of urchins, abandoned children, begging for alms in the streets. Pippo gave them shelter and schooling, and taught them how to sing. Pippo went out every morning asking for alms. One day, he heckled a rich man so much for alms for his group of poor children, that the man turned around and slapped Pippo on the face. Pippo il Buono, instead of becoming angry, got back up on his feet, and said to the offender, "That slap was for me! Now I want the alms for the poor children."
The Sacred Heart escorted by
Angels on a side altar.
Pippo was discontent that many pilgrims that came to Rome to receive the blessings of God, fell into idleness, debauchery and drunkenness. Pippo organized pilgrimages to the Seven Basilicas of Rome, and copied the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius of Loyola, giving talks from the Spiritual Exercises at each stop along the pilgrimage to the different basilicas. At one point, someone asked Ignatius of Loyola, "Why don´t you invite Felipe (Pippo is a nickname for Felipe in Italian) to become a Jesuit."
Saint Peter overlooks the pipe
organ in the rear chorus balcony
Ignatius answered, "God has a different mission for Felipe!" Ignatius of Loyola was right about Felipe. Felipe was Felipe de Neri, and he went on to establish an Oratory, the Oratory of Felipe Neri, a religious congregations with priests in Rome and in many countries all around the world. Even the Pope offered to make Felipe Cardinal of the Catholic Church. Pippot answered the Pope quite simply: "Grazie, ma non celo voglio!" ("Thank you, but I don't want it".) So the Pope asked him, "Pippo, what do you want?" His answer was simple: "Soltanto il paradiso!" ("only Paradise!")
Vineyards everywhere in the surrounding Langhe
This is what each one of us as pilgrims should search for: at the end of the road, the Road of Faith and Art, to look and to find;
"soltanto il Paradiso!"
The clear mountain air of Neive and the late
winter breeze across the fields, together with
a morning full of pleasant strolls, has left
Estela and I famished.
More than wine cellars, castles, schools, what is the most common element of Neive is its crowds of young people. That is why I mentioned at the beginning of this article, that it was a young cashier in Barolo that suggested we visit Neive in the first place.
So after this last snapshot, we
went back to our van, and took
the road across the valley to
nearby Barbaresco, and on the
lookout for a spot to have
So if you are close by and want to see a beautiful town, surrounded by vineyards and full of young people, come to Neive. And enjoy a piece of "il paradiso!"