In Christ Alone (Easter at the Cattedrale di Sant’Agata)

unnamed-26.jpgOriginally constructed in 1078-1093, the Cathedral de Sant’Agata has been destroyed and rebuilt several times because of earthquakes and eruptions. Built on the ruins of the ancient Roman Achillean Baths, by order of Roger I of Sicily, it appeared as a fortified church.  In 1169 it was almost entirely destroyed by an earthquake, leaving only the apse area intact. Further damage was caused by a fire in 1169, but the most catastrophic event was the 1693 earthquake, which again left it mostly in ruins. It was subsequently rebuilt in the Baroque style, which is now seen today.unnamed-27.jpg

All the orders are decorated with marble statues of Saint Agatha over the gate,  Saint Euplius on the right and Saint Birillus on the left. The main door, in wood, has 32 sculpted plaques with episodes of the life and martyrdom of Saint Agatha, coats of arms, and symbols of Christianity. unnamed-41.jpgunnamed-42.jpg

(The above is a gallery. You can click on any of the photos to circulate through all of them)

On Easter Sunday, Trenton, Stephanie, and I braved the commute into Catania and sipped cappuccino and ate pastries in Elephant Square (Piazza del Duomo).unnamed-45.jpg

unnamed-28.jpgWe watched the little old men gather in the square, take long drags on their cigars and wish each other “Buona Pasqua!” or “Happy Easter!” with short kisses on each other’s stubbly cheeks.

Finally, we walked across the Piazza and up the stairs to the church. Soft somber organ music trickled outside the cathedral’s doors and gently wrapped us in a warm embrace, guiding us in further than expected.

Music from the organ

We chose a pew toward the back. The very last pew on the left to be precise. And we sat. And stood. And knelt. And prayed. And tried to cross ourselves without making a mistake. And debated whether or not we could partake in the sacrament of the Eucharist.

Trenton whispered, “I wish I was Catholic so I could have those crackers and juice, too.” At that point I was very thankful we were surrounded by Italians who couldn’t translate his misunderstanding of the blood and body of Christ.

We tried to follow the “Passion story” in Italian and could only understand bits and pieces. The term is derived from several instances in the original manuscripts that mention Jesus’ pascho, the Greek verb meaning “to suffer.” Later when the Bible was translated in Latin, this Greek word was translated as passio. Since then Jesus’ passion has been synonymous with His betrayal by Judas and Peter, the agony in the garden, His trial, Crucifixion, and death. In Christian belief, the Passion includes not just His physical suffering, but His mental and spiritual anguish as well. The Resurrection stories are not considered part of the Passion narratives themselves, since they are not part of His suffering and death.

As Christians, many times we gloss over the Crucifixion. It’s gory. And brutiful. And painstakingly familiar as we pick up our crosses and march with Christ to his death. But, we can’t experience the Resurrection without first remembering the Crucifixion.

*The Crucifixion was quite possibly the ultimate punishment one could receive:  “Anyone hung on a tree is under God’s curse,” says Deuteronomy, and so being crucified over the course of days, left to wild dogs and carrion birds, and then thrown into a shallow grave full of other cursed bodies was an especially effective deterrent to ancient peoples, and especially pious Jews.

This is the fate that most likely befell Jesus.  Whether or not He was historically buried in Joseph of Arimathea’s tomb, whether or not He was afforded the extremely rare privilege of a proper burial, the physical pain was not the worst aspect of Jesus’s crucifixion.

Most harrowing was the humiliation, the impiety, the marking of what Jesus was:  a revolutionary, a rebel, perhaps a messianic claimant.  Jesus’s Crucifixion was a warning to all those who might follow in His footsteps:  “Fall in line, or this is what happens to you.”

It also tells us, as much as any of Jesus’s sayings, what He was.  He was no banal, celestial body who came only to save our eternal souls.  Crucifixion was not necessary for substitutionary atonement; substitutionary atonement was created to make sense of the brutal torture Jesus had gone through.

But one of its many unfortunate consequences was that it stripped the political context and content of Jesus’s movement.  Jesus set out to challenge the unjust nature of power, of inequality, of wealth and greed, and of the State.  There would have been no need to crucify Him if He did not do these things.

State power, as it always has done and continues to do, fought back by making a violent example of Jesus.  Christians must always keep at the front of their mind that the Crucifixion is a message to anyone who might be inspired by Jesus:  “Do not confront power, and do not try to change things, or this is what you’ll get.”

It is only by understanding and internalizing this message that we can truly understand the Resurrection. If the Crucifixion is the worldly powers of injustice saying, “Obey, fall in line, accept the world as we have made it,” then the Resurrection is the Godly powers of justice replying, “No.”*unnamed-9.jpg

*researched content by wikipedia and



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