I never went to church growing up, which I have always understood to be a gift in many ways. I was handed a blank canvas as a child, an infinite realm of possibilities or paths to follow when, or if, I decided to pursue my own practice of religion. Living in Viterbo, in many ways, has been a surreal experience, or rather, introduction to being comfortable in a formal worship setting. During my first month in Italy, not once did I venture into one of Viterbo’s many medieval churches. One of the many reasons for my hesitation was the reality that I had no experience or concept of how to behave in a church. Looking back on it now, I am certain a large part of my weariness was due to the fact that I was afraid I would disrupt the purines of such sanctuaries. Would I be cursed with bad luck for stumbling down an ancient aisle and disrupting the balance and peace?
I finally mustered up the courage to explore Viterbo’s churches after my temptations over powered my fear. One church in particular changed my whole conception of how I could find my connection with the world. In the most medieval quarter of Viterbo, stands a small church locally called Chiesa di San Pellegrino. During the fall, on one of my weekly walks, I noticed that the doors to the church stood invitingly open. For some reason, that day felt like the right time to make my first entrance into a church, let alone an Italian church, at the heart of it all. I had never seen the doors opened to the public before, so I naturally ventured in.
I remember stepping inside and feeling like I had traveled back in time by hundreds of years. I stood at the entrance of the church, still, taking in the space between myself and the medieval walls. The ceilings were vaulted with rustic planked wood beams, which the entirety of the church laid carpeted in red brick. Along both sides of the church hung framed bible scenes, paint chipping away at the canvas. Pews lines both sides of the sacred place, designed of old dark wood. The undisturbed essence of the space is a concept that enters my mind every visit. How can a place, so protected and preserved, exist in a modern day world like ours. A world, where most, tend to forget the importance of places like this, too often becoming swept up in the contemporary chaos. I wasimmediately drawn to a shrine along one side of the wall, a cavity carved out of the structure filled by a painting of Mary. In front of the cave-like space stood a metal tray balancing a candelabrum. Upon the candelabrum, beneath wax drippings, stood a dozen lit white candles, placed in their space by the previous visitors. I was taken back by the pure energy and beauty of the lit candles against the shadows in the church. I lit a candle in silence and slowly exited only after taking one last moment to admire the stain glass window casting dancing lights on the floor.
Zelda is an Environmental Science student from California who is currently studying abroad in Italy. In her free time, she enjoys cooking, photography and painting. In addition to attending school in Italy, she also manages a travel blog where she documents her experience abroad and discusses culture, food, and her adventures.
Zelda è un’americana della California. Studia Environmental Science e abita in Italia. Quando ha del tempo libero, le piace cucinare, fotografare e dipingere. Inoltre ha un blog, dove descrive la sua vita in Italia.