I had never heard of Orvieto, I confess, before Kris and I begain reading Rick Steves’ guide to Italy. It is one more of what Italy is full of: cities on the top of some hill, a city of stone buildings, stone, narrow walkways, and composed of what appears as an endless maze of little pathways.
But every Italian city has its story, and most of the stories go back to the Medieval age. Orvieto’s story got its push when a priest was showered with blood when he rose the Host and it overcame his doubts, the Pope was summoned, and the place became a pilgimage center.
The Duomo (or Cathedral) of Orvieto is majestic in color from the front and gaudy in the other three sides. The facade is colorful, the rest is an alternation of white and black rocks, giving the appearance of a building that is a set of white and black lines — stripes as it were. No kidding.
More importantly, there are four “pillars” to the facade. Each pillar contains graphic images (starting from below and climbing upwards) of the “history of the world.” Pillar one is about Adam and Eve until the discovery of the Arts as the center of education. Pillar two focuses on Old Testament scenes that have messianic significance. Pillar Three is the life of Christ — ending as it always does in women at the tomb. Pillar Four is the Final Judgment. (For the art experts, there are two chapels inside the Duomo, one of them filled with the art of Signorelli.)
If you take the A1 from Orvieto down to Rome, and ascend the Capitoline to the Museum, you can peer into Roman art — and it is about male muscle, flashing swords and metal shields, about emperors who waged war and won, about horses that carried the heroes, about fame, and honor, and about the past, the past, and more of the past.
Nothing clearer: one notable gift of the Christian faith to the Roman Empire was an eschatology, a final eschatology. Orvieto represents all the churches of Italy — and they are everywhere. Christianity lives in light of the future — a life now as a “life-before-God.” Its future shapes its present; not that Christians are to “opt out” of this world. Jesus’ teaching about Kingdom clearly means that he is all about a society in which the Jesus Creed is practiced. But, still, there is a dominant eschatology that shapes the Christian life.
It might be said that Rome was shaped by a past, and Christianity by a future. Both lived the present to the max, but the difference is dramatic.