20 January 2015

The Rome Dossier


Interiors ∕ Nature ∕ Ornament ∕ Spiritual

Early morning in January, in the Basilica of Saint Mark in Rome. The visitor steps in and is immediately busy observing the beautiful marble statuary, thinking of faraway churches.

Dead but Alive

The janitor has been busy with a floor polisher and buckets and cloths. He moves with a workmanlike stomp that strikes the undevout visitor as insufficiently devout. He is transferring his equipment back to wherever it is stored. He has left the side door open, just to the side of the altar. Approaching from the back of the church, the visitor can see there are some steps leading up to it. Perhaps it leads to an upper corridor, a mezzanine level of some kind, even a storage cupboard. But no, the door contains the already-bright western sky.

Alive but Dead

Nothing prepares the visitor for this. The vertiginous elevation, the light of the sky, the trees with foliage (in January!), the romanesque framing. The officious plastic chain, striped red-white with an idiosyncratically Italian bureaucratic-ecclesiastical flourish, holds a sign forbidding access. The sign is backlit and illegible, but there is no doubt as to its meaning. Forget the altar, here is the religious experience of San Marco. From this cordoned zone, protected by forbidding accoutrements of obscurely intentioned design and meaning, shines the sublime light that reminds you of your station, that this moment of wonder will pass, and that you too will pass even sooner than the marble skull, whose solidity you are now somehow envious of.