Is a Picture Worth a Thousand Words? Entry #37

November 23rd, 2009 by Wordsman


“Aha!” Jack cried out, stopping suddenly and allowing Matthew a chance to catch up to him.  “Now that’s a house worthy of the family that secretly rules Italy!  Only the biggest show in town would be good enough for the Medico.”

After resting for a moment or two to catch his breath, Matthew adopted his usual role of explaining to Jack things that he felt should have been obvious, even to a child.  “First off, it’s Medici, not Medico.”  Most of the time he dismissed correcting Jack’s pronunciation as a Sisyphean endeavor, but he did occasionally make the effort in particularly important cases, or when the mispronunciation was actually a different word (especially when the word was likely to get them into trouble).

“Second, the Medici never ruled all of Italy.  They just controlled the Republic of Florence or the Grand Duchy of Tuscany, as political boundaries shifted over the years.”  Matthew decided to move on rather than attempt to explain the political history of northern Italy.  Jack had a very hard time understanding that the names and shapes of countries had not always been the same as they were in the modern day.  Matthew had once tried to tell him about the Holy Roman Empire.  That was a period of several hours that he would have liked to have back.

“And third, that’s not a house; it’s a cathedral.  The Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, more commonly known as the Duomo.”

Jack frowned.  Matthew wasn’t sure if it was because he had just contradicted him or if his friend was trying to process all the information he had been given.  His response suggested it was the latter.  “Dwomo?  Oh, I get it.  Because of the huge dome on top, right?”

“No, actually,” Matthew said.  As far as Jack’s misinterpretations went, this one was fairly reasonable.  “Duomo means—” he began, quickly stopping when he realized he was about to sound stupid.

“It means ‘house,’” finished the mystery woman as she appeared behind Matthew.  She seemed to have gotten much better at sneaking up on people than she had been the other day.  Matthew wondered if she had been putting in extra practice ever since Jack had smacked her in the face with his shovel.  “However, your friend is correct.  The building is a church.  No one lives there.  The word is used to refer to cathedrals all over Italy, both current and former ones.  The meaning ‘house’ is because the church is the house of God.”

Jack turned back toward the cathedral and stared at it for a while, presumably until he was satisfied that it looked like a church.  Then he faced his companions again.  “Right.  House of God.  Got it.  So what’s important about this place?”

“The Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore is the fourth-largest church in Europe,” Matthew rattled off.  “Construction was begun in 1296 based on the design of Arnolfo di Cambio, but the project would last more than one hundred seventy years under the leadership of more than half a dozen different architects.  The distinctive octagonal dome was designed by Filippo Brunelleschi, one of the greatest architects and engineers of the Renaissance.  Formerly the largest dome in the entire world, it remains to this day the most massive dome ever constructed out of brick.”

“Yeah, yeah, it’s big,” Jack agreed.  “I can tell that just by looking at it.  What I wanted to know was if there’s anything important about this place.”

“The construction of the dome was tremendously important to modern architecture,” Matthew countered.  “It was by far the largest project of that type since the construction of the Pantheon in Rome more than a millennium earlier.  Brunelleschi had to invent machinery just so he would be able to lift—”

“I think,” interrupted the woman, “that your friend means, ‘Have any important events occurred here?’ or ‘What famous historical persons have been in this church?’”

Matthew shrugged.  “It was one of the biggest construction projects of the Italian Renaissance.  It’s the seat of the archdiocese of Florence.  Along with the rest of the center of the city, it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Lots of important famous people have been here.  And Brunelleschi was one of them!”

Jack looked half-bored, half-mutinous, but the mystery woman interrupted again.  “If I remember correctly, I once read that Giuliano de’ Medici was assassinated in the cathedral on Easter Sunday as part of the Pazzi Conspiracy.”

“See?  That’s what I’m talking about!  Assassination!  Conspiracy!  And it always comes back to the Medici.  Come on, let’s go investigate this crime scene!”

Matthew did not know what Jack expected to find at a crime scene five hundred years old.  Probably just as much as he would have been able to find at a crime scene five minutes old, his cynical side suggested.  It was also most likely the exact same amount of information he would be able to get out of the mystery woman, but that did not stop him from trying.  “I don’t get it,” he said, as Jack raced off toward the Duomo.  “Do you actually think that the thing we stumbled on has something to do with the Medici?  I mean, there aren’t any of them left, right?”

“Officially, no.  But that does not mean that there is no one who might try to claim descent from the family, either for political gains of because he truly believes that his ancestor was Lorenzo the Great.”

“But what would be the point?  The Medici haven’t wielded any power in Tuscany for almost three hundred years.  And does anyone actually buy the old ‘I can trace my ancestry back to some illegitimate son that no one’s every heard of before’ story anymore?”

“The point?  I cannot say.  This is a country where history is very important.  Is that not what drew you here in the first place?”

“Yes,” Matthew agreed, adding in a mutter, “though I generally prefer it when history stays in the past.”

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