On my recent trip to Verona, Italy to attend the World Congress of Families, I also took time to explore some historic sites and museums in this ancient city. For example, I visited the Arena di Verona, a massive structure only slightly smaller (but also older) than the Colosseum in Rome. There is also an amphitheater carved into a hillside, the Teatro Romano, with an archaeological museum adjacent to it.
An arena or a theater for public spectacle and performances was just what I expected as a vestige of the Roman Empire. I was not quite as prepared for what I saw in the archaeological museum. Almost every artifact on display was an altar to one of the pagan gods of ancient Rome. They included pieces paying homage to: Saturn, Hercules, Diana, Jupiter, Mercury, “winged Eros,” “the naked god Bacchus,” and the “goddess Fortuna” (pictured).
Of course, I knew intellectually that the ancients Romans were polytheists (worshippers of many gods). But it was still somehow startling to realize how seriously the Romans took their paganism, with shrines like these having an honored place in their homes.
I think even non-Christians might have shared my reaction. That illustrates how deeply our own culture has been shaped by Christianity—even for those who do not actively practice it. In the Western world today, I suspect most people who believe in the divine at all generally believe in only one God, bearing at least some resemblance to what is portrayed in the Jewish and Christian Scriptures. To be confronted with the evidence of sincere, active, committed polytheism was startling.
And to me, as a committed Christian, it was even disturbing. After visiting that museum, I had to spend some time in prayer—and I wondered whether Italy values its Christian heritage as much as it does the Roman.
I had my question answered (and my faith somewhat restored) the next day when I visited the Castelvecchio Museum. Located in a medieval castle, this museum featured an extensive collection of Christian art, much with biblical themes, that was absent from the archaeological museum. For example, a stone crucifix, carved by an unnamed 14th-century master artist, depicts Christ’s agony on the cross in a graphic way. The bulging ribs, the open mouth, the gaping wound in his side where pierced by a spear—all these dramatically communicate the “passion” (as in suffering) of the Christ. (See picture above.) I found it deeply moving.
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SOURCE: Christian Post, Peter Sprigg