Following the Footsteps of Paul: The Catacombs
We are here. Never thought I would see Pompeii, yet as it turns out this is a very significant sight. Yesterday we made it to the museum in Naples where they have housed many of the treasures that were collected from Pompeii. We heard that a Bourbon King, Charles VII, when the city was discovered in the 19th century, said, “Bring me all the best stuff.” Those treasures found their way to the National Archeological Museum in Naples.
What a treasure it is, laying hidden, buried in ash for 20 centuries. We saw some of the finest ancient frescoes and mosaics as well as statues, pottery, glassware jewelry, etc., all the stuff of life.
We spent the day wandering in a Roman town, walking the streets, exploring the houses, shops and temples. Fantastic. I have never seen anything like it. One could imagine the life flowing around us; people, dressed in their togas, coming and going with carts and horses. Shopkeeper and servants, aristocrats and children living and enjoying their life completely unaware of the danger that reared its cinder head toward the Northeast.
Pompeii began in the 7th century BC. By 80BC it was a Roman city that was steeped in Greek culture. Under Augustus there was a revival of interest in the Greek Myths. Pompeii loved all things Greek. The city was full of colour. They stuccoed and frescoed everything, everywhere. Pompeii glowed with scenes in ochre colours of red, brown, green and gold.
The temples were stately and graceful with soaring Doric and Corinthian columns and large public courtyards. Within the 20,000 seat amphitheatre in Pompeii, the oldest Roman Amphitheatre now in existence, there were chariot races and gladiator contests – all free to the public.
Their homes were frescoed with pictures and scenes from the Greek myths. Statues, fountains and mosaics were everywhere. Compared to Pompeii, our cities are rather drab in appearance, especially in our municipal areas where everything tends to be concrete and dull.
The people here lived in villas with porticoed courtyards centred around gardens and fountains. There were also large and sumptuous public baths where the community would gather in the evenings. The closest comparison in our culture might be the public swimming pool and community centre or a local health spa. The Roman bath had large and ornate changing rooms which were obviously designed for conversation. Then there were three rooms with pools of varying temperatures, the tepidarium (warm), cauldarium (hot sauna) and fridgidarium (cool). There were often exercise areas and servants were available to massage and anoint your body with with scented oils. They would then scrap the oil off with a special tool. Sounds pretty luxurious to me.
The Pompeiians had no compunctions about the human body. Having adopted Greek culture, these Roman’s were comfortable with nudity. Their statues, their baths, their athletes, all commonly displayed in the nude. But there was a more disturbing aspect to their morality. Within the city there was a legal bordello with frescoes on the wall advertising the various services offered by the women there. Some of the art found in Pompeii gives the impression of Bacchanalian orgies.
It was left intact, almost the way it was in 79AD when sudden disaster struck. The grace was that a big earthquake in 65AD seriously damaged much of the city so that of an initial population of 20,000 only about 2,000 were still living there. These had no chance. On August 24th, AD 79, Mount Vesuvius blew. The first initial blast would have killed them all. A hot ash cloud buried the city, suffocating it under lapilli many meters deep. Archeologists found cavities in the ash in the form of bodies. When they poured plaster into the cavities the casts which were left tell the story of men, women and children in their final seconds of life, unaware, unprepared, overwhelmed by sudden death.
It gives one pause to think, doesn’t it? Really, you never know what lays ahead, what a day will hold. Jesus taught us that we should be ready today. He speaks of the end of time when people will be living normal daily lives and sudden disaster will come unexpectedly upon them.
“But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. (Matthew 24:36-39)
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