Before we were familiar with any new professor this fall, we students were able to recognize Dr. Cook, visiting professor for two years. His Florentine ties, scarlet shirts, and rainbow wardrobe betrayed him those first days of school. In a similar way, John the Baptist is the first saint after Francis that we students recognized. While Dr. Cook pointed out Saints Apollonia, Reparato, and Zenobius, we would forget their names as quickly as we would hear their stories. But from the first frescoes in the Basilica of San Francesca and the Cathedral of Siena, John the Baptist stood out for his clothes: his ascetic animal skins revealed the haggard martyr who immersed penitents in the Jordan.
It is fitting, perhaps, that as John the Baptist was the first to be recognized, so he is the last I see as we leave Florence: “Where he began, there he blessedly ended,” writes Thomas of Celano in the hagiography of St. Francis. So it was for our trip. St. John was the first we saw, and now as we jet away from Florence, we can just see his monument, the Baptistery of San Giovanni, through the morning fog: elaborate homage to the patron of the city.
As baptisteries go, San Giovanni sets the standard. Not alone for the mosaic across its ceiling, the shimmering image of God the Father stepping into Florence, but also for the weight of genius immersed in its waters. Dante, Machiavelli, Botticelli, Michelangelo, Brunelleschi…all experienced the holy oils of their second life in this one building. And, in turn, their ministries baptized the world into the Renaissance, a second birth anointed by the creative force of the Arno.
The city still echoes their giant passions, their genius. The narrow streets live and breathe in the lapis lazuli and gold foil that filled the commissions of the Medicis. Silk scarves and leather jackets litter the stone walls like medieval banners, dark Chianti and fashion epicenters delight our appetites, the architecture, sculpture, and frescoes capture the sensuous sparks of the city called Firenze.
These colors have stayed in Italy. On my way back to Crawfordsville, caught as I am between a great marshmallow earth and a so very sky-blue sky, I am can only imagine in memory the fragrances, the feel, the fire of Florence and elegance of Italy. But with the sun burning through my window as it does at 32000 feet, I still feel the intensity of this last week, the beauty and grace of a country as viscerally experienced in this immersion, our proper baptism by the man in the funny clothes.
Seth Einterz- ‘11