Orvieto and light

May 15, 2013

Pentecost, Orvieto, light and alabaster

A couple of years ago I spent a few days in the Umbrian hill town of Orvieto. The town’s cathedral is a remarkable building. There are so many ‘bloggable’ reflections that this Duomo inspires. But I will leave these for future blog entries.

For today, just one aspect.

The nave of the Cathedral is constructed in strips of ‘black’ and ‘white’ marble. The windows from the outside are a bit distracting. It seems as though the spaces for the glass have been filled with plywood, as if the glass had broken and the glazier hadn’t got around to the repair yet. Perhaps the plywood is a temporary measure to stop the weather getting in?

And then I went inside.

The interior of this magnificent building is flooded with light. There is no plywood. The windows are a most natural colour and design. Clearly an artist has been at work. No plywood, but the most exquisite glass work.



After my visit, which was the first of many visits, I sat at a little cafe reading a brochure about the Cathedral.

I had presumed that the ‘plywood’ windows, were made of glass. But I was wrong. These windows are alabaster. This stone is sliced paper-thin to create the windows that flood the dark interior with light.

And it is this Orvieto memory that comes to mind as I prepare to celebrate Pentecost. Let me share the reason.

The disciples of Jesus were gathered together, probably out of fear. They had good reason to be fearful. The Romans were on the warpath. They had crucified Jesus. Perhaps their little group would be next?

But within moments, at the arrival of the Holy Spirit, they realised that because the Spirit of Jesus was with them, they had no reason to be afraid. They then boldly left the room and lovingly confronted the powers they previously feared. 

Because of Pentecost, things are rarely what they seem. What appeared to be plywood, then I presumed was glass, was in fact stone.

What seems to be a cause for fear, in the light of the presence of the Spirit of Jesus with us, is in fact an opportunity for greater intimacy with Jesus who dissolves all fear.

And now, this Pentecost vigil, I remember the Holy Spirit window in St. Peter’s basilica in Rome. The window appears to be the most exquisite work of a glass-crafter.

But it is in fact… alabaster.

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