Dante Alighieri: 1321-2021

This year Italy celebrates the 700th anniversary of Dante Alighieri’s death, a genius born in Florence but whose remains now lie in Ravenna in Italy. The poet found Ravenna to be the ideal place to complete The Divine Comedy and as the home of his burial, the city has been preserving Dante’s memory for seven centuries since his death in 1321. How his bones came to be in that city of glorious mosaics is quite a story.

Dante Alighieri: Photo by Rhodan59 via Pixabay

Although his name will be forever associated with Florence, the city of his birth, when he died in 1321 he had been an exile living outside the city for some 20 years, exiled for life by the Florentines themselves, after being on the losing side in a local fight for control of the city. Despite offers to return home, Dante defiantly refused to do so, regarding the terms as unjust.

Ravenna has the world’s most important Byzantine mosaics, a glittering jewel-box of 5th and 6th century art, described by Dante as being of “the sweet color of Oriental sapphires.”

Tomb of Dante Aligheri in Ravenna

He had been invited by Ravenna’s ruler to settle there and he had been a resident of the city for 3 years when he died aged 56, already a major figure in the world of letters. He was buried outside the cloisters of the church of San Pier Maggiore (now the Basilica di San Francesco) in a Roman marble sarcophagus where it remained for the next 160 years as his reputation in Europe continued to grow. 

The Cloisters

It is said that it was the lectures in praise of Dante given by fellow poet Boccaccio (who followed Dante’s precedent and wrote in the vernacular instead of Latin) which caused the Florentines to re-think their loss, and seventy-five years after Dante’s death Florence made the first of many requests for the return of his body. Ravenna said no!   In 1430 Florence tried again, and again in 1476, but got the same firm “No” as an answer.  Meantime, the sarcophagus was moved to the other side of the cloister and a sculptor was commissioned to make a marble bas-relief of the poet at work.

View to the Cloisters from the tomb

Florence, now a very powerful city, took umbrage at this. It was 1513 and Giovanni di Lorenzo de’ Medici had just became Pope Leo X giving the Medici family the ultimate authority in the Christian world. So, using the most powerful weapon in his authority he issued a Papal Decree and demanded the return of Dante’s remains. Ravenna ignored the Decree. 

After this last attempt by Florence, Ravenna then moved the remains inside the cloisters for safe-keeping where they were guarded by the monks for another 150 years. We know from a note left by a friar named Antonio Santi that on October 18th, 1677, he put the remains into a wooden casket and it was recorded in 1692 that workers carrying out repairs on the sarcophagus were supervised by armed guards to make sure nothing was stolen.

The tomb with bas relief

Dante’s reputation continued to grow over the ensuing centuries and in the late 18th century Ravenna decided to give Dante a more imposing tomb, to which end they commissioned a local architect to erect a small neoclassical mausoleum. This was lined with marble and topped with a dome to house the original sarcophagus and 15th-century bas-relief and completed in 1781.

In 1805, a new threat appeared from France in the shape of Napoleon who had declared himself “Emperor of the French and King of Italy”. Ravenna fell under Napoleon’s rule and as his armies looted their way through religious orders up and down the region, the friars were forced to abandon their monastery. But first they made sure that the poet’s remains didn’t become war spoils. After less than 30 years in his new mausoleum Dante’s remains were gathered up and put back in the wooden chest in which they’d spent most of the 18th century and in 1810 they were hidden in a wall of the chapel. Then the friars fled, forgetting to tell anyone what they’d done or where to find the bones, so that right up to the middle of the 19th century, pilgrims continued to visit Ravenna to pay homage to the poet, not realizing that the mausoleum was empty. 

There are many Via Dante Alighieri’s in Italy and many other countries too because, like Shakespeare, his work is universal. This street sign however, is in Ravenna, the city in which he choose to live.

The remains, hidden inside the wall, might have remained there had they not been discovered by a worker at the basilica in 1865.  Of equal, if not more importance, was the fact that someone spotted the note first put in the casket with the bones and labelled “Dantis ossa” (“Dante’s bones”). On examining the bones, doctors pronounced them to be the almost intact skeleton of an older man between 165-170 centimetres tall, and so they were accepted as the remains of one of the greatest writers of all time.

At last the bones, now in a heavy wooden casket lined with lead, could not be placed in the mausoleum in Ravenna, the city that had opened its doors to the exile and where the poet wanted to be laid to rest.

Portrait of Dante. Credit: Photo by Gordon Johnson via Pixabay

But rest for Dante was not yet possible in the 20th century because World War II was now raging over Europe. In 1944 Northern Italy was occupied by the Germans, and the Allies were bombing day and night.  Once more the poet’s bones had to be moved: this time they were buried in the garden of the basilica, where they remained until hostilities ceased. Finally, on December 19th, 1945, Dante was back in his Ravenna mausoleum.

Florence has given up seeking the return of its famous son and in a gesture of friendship, the city sends local Tuscan olive oil each year to burn in the lamp that lights Dante’s mausoleum. 

Lens-Artists Challenge #178 – You Choose

 

This week Tina has suggested we choose something for ourselves. This is more difficult that it sounds as too many choices put themselves forward, places and people, themes and tunes, and some just beautiful images.

I’ve chosen to look at a time in my childhood which seemed magical, life was good, the world – and the fields- were full of flowers, and the future was something we didn’t think about. And now I think, Where have all the flowers gone?

That’s me on the right with my four cousins picking dog-daisies on our Sunday walk, way back when. We used to walk across the small mountain area called The Bernish in Co. Down, now a famous look-out point and tourist attraction. I’ve just looked it up and it’s totally unrecognisable now. As for wild flowers ….

Wild broom growing in the Languedoc area, France.

Wild poppies and grasses growing on the lava that had poured down from Etna in Sicily.

Please add your Post but be sure to link your post to Tina’s, and to use the Lens-Artists Tag so that you can be found in the WP reader. 

Lens Artists Challenge No. 177 – Celebrations

There’s always plenty to celebrate in the world and here I offer three different celebrations. The first one is the annual Old Gaffers Festival on the Isle of Wight, Old Gaffers being boats which since the time of King Charles I, have favoured the gaff rig, where the mainsail has a spar at the top (the gaff, hence gaffer), and at the bottom, (the boom).

The annual Old Gaffers Festival takes place in the historic Isle of Wight seaside town of Yarmouth and includes entertainment, parades, bands, sideshows, eating and drinking tents and everything needed for a celebratory weekend. Not forgetting the Old Gaffers themselves which are ranged out on the waters of the Solent, bedecked with bunting and flags.

Next up are two Japanese weddings which were taking place at Miyajima Island when we were there a few years ago. The bride and groom looked so elegant in their traditional dress as did most of the guests, the setting was perfect and everyone looked happy to be celebrating the wedding of the young couples.

And lastly we come to the Flower Festival in Limassol, Cyprus, which was a glorious village affair where things went wrong, the children ran off to greet grandparents in the stands, the band played as village bands do and everyone, including the onlookers, had a wonderful time. One of the best flower festivals I’ve ever attended, it was done for the people of the village, few tourists were around (it was out of season and the few that were there had mostly gone off sight-seeing), and everyone, from the Mayor down to the littlest tot, had a thoroughly good day.

Lens Artists Challenge No. 176

Ann-Christine this week suggests that we go for a minimalist challenge but, as she says, that doesn’t mean just one picture. Use 1, 2 or 3, as long as you use only one image for each story you have captured.

What is a photo story? Some photos are taken just for their story, and some stories come to mind when you see your photo on the screen. A lot of photographic storytelling involves shots of scenes and phenomena that cannot easily be explained through words.

Here are three of mine.

My first images are of a young man I met a few years ago in the violin-making centre of Italy, Cremona. The afternoon I spent with this young luthier in his workroom watching him undertake the delicate tasks of cutting and filing, staining and painting taught me more about dedication, passion and love of a craft than I’d ever hoped to learn. And while he talked to me about how he sourced the wood and what it meant to go into the forest to find just the right tree, I was conscious of the mass-produced violins that were flooding the country from China and how his future is no longer as assured as it was a few years ago. Below is a postcard of the Conio family, grandfather, father and Stefano, all luthiers. Their life inspires me when the world seems full of dross.

The Conio family of violin makers in Cremona.

If you’d like to know more about Stefano, read my blog about him which covers in more detail exactly what he does.

My second subject is somewhat similar in that he too, is totally hands-on. A bodhrán is an Irish frame drum, a circular wooden frame covered with goatskin on one side, the other side open-ended allowing one hand to be placed against the inside of the drum head to control pitch and timbre. It is played by striking the skin with a bone known as a cipín.

Eamon Maguire makes his bodhráns from start to finish totally by hand. So hands-on is Belfast dwelling Eamon (above) that he first catches his wild goat, one of those that roams the hills of Antrim (he has a special licence to do this), kills it and then cures the skin to make the drum. Then and then only, he can begin the delicate work of making the bodhrán, before fine-tuning and embellishing it with his signature mark, a tuft of goat-hair and a quotation from the Book of Kells.

Eamon makes the finest bodhrans in Ireland and he supplies these to most of the Irish bands we are familiar with today including The Chieftains and The Fureys, to musicians like Bob Dylan, and to celebrities and Presidents of the USA. His work can also be seen in private homes and galleries from San Franscisco to Tokyo. He is also a fine sculptor in Irish bog oak which, yes, he digs up himself from the bogs and he plays in a band and teaches Irish set dancing!

Although like the two men above, she may have been hands-on from beginning to the end of this effort, she lives a somewhat different life. It is just after dawn on a beach in Thailand and this old lady is setting up to sell hard-boiled eggs to the early workers, locals, who will shortly pass by. Not for her the more lucrative tourist trade which the umbrellas in the background will soon welcome for beers and snacks, those sites are too expensive, so she buys eggs in the market, carries them home and boils them (probably outside on an open fire as few women like her have kitchens) and then hauls them down to the beach in the hope of selling them.

Before the tourists flock down to the water’s edge she will have packed up and gone, and they’ll never know someone like her existed. This is subsistence.