The Religious Backdrop of Italian Life

Religious artwork and graffiti on the walk to Basilica della Madonna di San Luca, outside Bologna

During class, we discussed the irony of Pope Benedict XVI condemning condom use, yet on almost every street corner in Italy, there is a 24-hour condom vending machine.  States Tobias Jones, author of The Dark Heart of Italy, “Being Italian implies being Catholic…it’s a cradle-to-grave religion which is not only devotional, but also political and social and aesthetic,” (pg. 174).  It seems odd that a society noted for being so devout that it houses the Vatican defies, flagrantly, the mandates of the Papacy. 

How do Italians rectify these co-existing, yet diametrically opposed paradigms of the Catholic Church’s puritanical ideology and Italian society’s well-known hedonistic indulgences (mind the pun)?  Answer: The Italians are okay with it.  They are simply comfortable with conflicting ideologies. 

For instance, piazzas were originally meant to be religious, economic and political areas are now areas where Italians gather to drink, eat and socialize.  Additionally, you will find ancient and historically important buildings covered with Biblical references, and shockingly, graffiti.  Local churches, their interiors incredibly decorated, gilded and well looked after often smell of the previous nights’ celebration on the outside.

So, how have the Italians come to be so comfortable with these obvious discrepancies?

Perhaps the influence of Ancient Rome is still alive in many ways.  In Ancient Rome, there was a focus on art, music and literature and entertainment.  The Ancient Romans based their religion on the Greek deity system, where they actually thought of themselves as gods.  Frescoes, graffiti, brothels and sculptures found in Pompeii show a history of lascivious lifestyle, full of physical pleasure seeking.

Henry James may have said it best, “Venice is the most beautiful of tombs.”  James was referencing that Italy, now known for its vitality, has faced changing and sometimes very violent times. 

Whatever the reason, Italy is an interesting and striking country that has largely stayed the same in many respects while the populace evolves around it.

–          Kim


2 Replies to “The Religious Backdrop of Italian Life”

  1. It’s hard to find a reason, if it exists.
    I agree on your conclusion “Whatever the reason, Italy is an interesting and striking country that has largely stayed the same in many respects while the populace evolves around it.”
    That’s exactly the point I sustain: Italy is an old new country, where ancient heritage and well-established traditions co-exist with new and evolving scenarios. Challenges? Keep a balance by respecting both poles. It sometimes works, but it’s not easy as obstacles and disagreements are always around the corner.

    – Miriam

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