Growing up north of Chicago meant that school field trips often meant going downtown. One of the ways we were instructed on how to be “safe” in the big city was to not look up. Looking up was a telltale sign to nearby ne’er-do-wells that you were a stranger to town, and were fruit ripe for the picking. However, I never really worried about getting robbed. In school it was always about fitting in, and if you went downtown and looked up, upper classman would tease you for being a hick. At that age, getting teased was a fate worse than being burgled.
When traveling, particularly overseas, it took me a while to get over my adolescent scars from looking up. Friends would excitedly say, “Look up there!” and without moving my head, I would cast my eyes upward—mostly into the back of my head, unsuccessfully trying to get a glimpse. Don’t be a hick, don’t be a hick, don’t be a hick was running through my mind the entire time. One day I cast caution to the wind, and began throwing my head back in enthusiastic ecstasy, absorbing every bit of wonder that soared into the sky. “Yes, Big Ben is big!” “Wow, look at the light shine from the top of the Eiffel Tower!”
At this time of year, we hear a lot about the story of the star in the east. Lots of people were tossing their heads back in wonderment—shepherds, wise men, perhaps even some people in the little town of Bethlehem. This “looking up” has me thinking about what causes me to pull out my camera, crook my neck, and gaze heavenward while on vacation in Italy—the inside of church cupolas.
Used as a huge canvas to convey a message, the interior surfaces of church cupolas, or domes, are spectacular. No two are alike; famous painters more artfully render some, while others are simply white plaster. Almost all domes have a lantern at the top. I don’t mean a literal electrified or fueled lighting fixture. The lantern is a series of windows that allows light to shine into the church to help illuminate it—it’s a round skylight. [From the outside, the lantern is the “nipple,” if you will, that sits on top of the cupola.] Often, on the inside ceiling of the lantern is an image of a dove or of God. It is as if the entire inside surface of the dome pushes your eye heavenward toward the light. How’s that for symbolism!
Here are photos of my favorite Italian cupola interiors. I hope they will inspire you to look upward whenever something catches your eye—even if you look like a hick or a stranger!
From my home to yours ~ Buon Natale ~