(June 28) Western civilization is magnificent, our Judeo-Christian heritage is precious, and human achievement inspired by God is wondrous indeed.

Such are the overarching impressions from my two weeks in Italy, my first-ever visit to that civilizational nursery of the Western world. An American can be well-educated, can have seen the pictures and read the books and watched the videos, yet still not come close to appreciating the scope, the scale, the grandeur, the beauty, of what mankind achieved in the flowering of pre-industrial Western culture.

Yes, for example, one naturally expects Vatican City and St. Peter’s Basilica to be mega-impressive. Yet this traveler at least had no conception, not even close, of just how many, just how stunning, just how inspirational, are the breathtakingly beautiful churches, basilicas, and cathedrals throughout the Italian peninsula. All built, mind you, without motorized equipment, almost all before and thus without benefit of Newton’s explanation of gravity or the engineering uses of Leibniz’s calculus.

The vastness of the space inside and the magnificence of the columns supporting the Duomo in Milan, for instance, literally made me catch my breath. The multiple domes of St. Mark’s in Venice made me dizzy to view from below. The woodwork in the chapel of the cathedral in Bologna had the aspect of a great Renaissance painting. And the frescoes, some by Giotto, in the two basilicas (one right on top of the other!) of St. Francis in Assisi are treasures to behold.

The multitude of architectural styles — Romanesque, Gothic, baroque, Byzantine, Palladian — sometimes combined in a single structure, astonishes when seen firsthand rather than just in some documentary. How does human imagination expand and vary so grandly?

And almost every last bit of it was created, produced, built, painted, carved, or sculpted in profound tribute to our God, either directly or in honor of saints who dedicated their lives to Him. Pray, ever, that modern man does not lose that sense of gratitude to our Creator…..


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