The Prayer Closet

While touring Italy, Joel and I saw countless magnificent multi-century old churches and religious artifacts. These works of art are so commonplace there that by the end of our trip no hairs would stand up on our arms anymore and we were no longer tripping over our jaws. History and colossal beauty are everywhere over there with an ornate church on every corner and marble floors in the subway system. The grandeur scale apparently has a 10-day ceiling and we had reached it. The most inspiring space that I saw in all of Italy, however, wasn't a cathedral all polished and frequented... it wasn't a fountain or a fresco ceiling or even a sunset on the Amalfi Coast. Rather, the most memorable space I saw in Italy was a small side chapel in an inactive, unassuming 15th century church in Monteverdi, Tuscany that was practically nothing more than a storage closet. On a private tour of this unused, sterile church, we were permitted to step into this doored-off room for a quick peek. Behind the boxes and water buckets and stored bicycles was a tired altar domed with chipped paintings and crumbling stucco walls.

Don't be fooled by the images... this room was very dark. To my fellow photogs, I'm talking 6400 ISO f/2.5 1/60 of a second I-wish-I-had-a-tripod type dark. It would have been easy to poke our heads inside, politely nod, and move on unimpressed. I was hooked though. I was intrigued by the way the single beam of window light so gracefully illuminated the chapel's secrets. Upon an altar ever so appropriately laid as the sacrifice that He was was Jesus…. a 500-year-old dusty, deteriorating polychromed wood crucifix too fragile to hang and inconsequential. It pulled me closer.

The injuries were real. Time was cruel. The cracks and tears in the construction were evidence of the flogging Jesus had endured. Time had relentlessly whipped and scourged open wounds in the polychromed flesh, and he laid there battered and neglected. This crucifix had hung for centuries until clearly it was released and placed here in this tomb to continue to deteriorate... or miraculously rise again have you.

I couldn't help but wonder about the artist who created this crucifix. Was he commissioned? Did creating this piece of art feed his family for a week, a month, a year? Was he proud? Did he ever imagine that his art would hang for hundreds of years and then retire in a broom closet? I tried to imagine how many people came into that small chapel for over 500 years to pray, each dressed differently from one century to the next. How many prayers were lifted there? How many praises? How many wars had passed? How many epidemics? How many tears were cried? How many souls were surrendered? How many people privately yelled at God here in this intimate, safe place? How many people heard their calling? This holy space... now a resting place for things forgotten and too fragile to use.

It was hard to be beckoned out of this room as I gently laid my hands on Jesus. I'll never touch anything so old again. I'll never again see something so magnificently ruined and placed upon the altar. THIS was the most beautiful thing I saw in all of Italy... this lusterless, neglected tomb of a prayer closet with Jesus quietly laid to rest.

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