The following post is by my paisano, Mark Brucato, who with his dear wife Ruthi serves Christ in Italy.
Those of you who have traveled in Italy, or are familiar with basic medieval architecture, know that there is significance to the layout and design of Italian towns and villages. At the center of each historic town, one can almost always expect to find an open piazza (possibly with a fountain), a bell tower, old church building, and even a baptistry. Then there will often be the key governmental buildings or royal palace. Florence is probably the best example of this within the Renaissance era.
The significance of this layout is not hard to interpret. At one point the most important aspects of life were also the central architectural structures. Many centuries ago Italian social and political life was arranged around matter of faith and practice. Bishops and priest often had significant influence (even power) in the affairs of a town and its governance. The bell tower called people together in the town square and central church. Family life also found a key point of reference with the baptistry, where each new baby was brought.
Now these town centers welcome markets and tourists, and the occasional gelato stand, but seldom worshipers. This reality was impressed upon us in a crude and stunning way this weekend, and it reminded us of why we are here. Just thirty minutes from where I grew up is the beautiful walled city of Ferrara. Its pedestrian historic center, castle with moat, and open market are picturesque. What struck us however, was not in the main square but a few blocks away on a side street. There we discovered a 10th century red brick church replete with leaded stain glass windows. Ruth immediately commented, “what a marvelous church building!”; then, a moment later we gasped as we saw a sign which read: “Cinema Mignon – Film a Luci Rosse. Tutti i Giorni 2 Films Diversi. Spettacoli Continuati.” (tran. “Mignon Red Light Theater – Every Day 2 New Films. Continuous Showings”). This medieval church (Chiesa San Giacomo) is now a pornographic movie theater!
We were speechless. We circled around the building and read the plaque with the church’s history: constructed in the 10th century, rebuilt in the 15th century and then refurbished in 1941. For almost one thousand years this place welcomed worshipers; now, its glory was exchanged for the pornographic image. The words of Romans 1:22-23 came rushing to my mind, “Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling moral man …” (in this case, moral woman).
While buildings will remain brick, mortar, and stone, and their function changes and structure decays, true worship arises from within people (John 4:21-24). The tragedy of this architectural structure is in its representation of sin’s arrogance and attendant defilement which resides at the core of human hearts. Many historic Catholic structures, devoid of worshipers and funds sell their buildings to the highest bidder. While purchasing back these buildings would be a clear sign of the transformative power of the gospels, it is within human hearts and minds where the gospel must first penetrate and transform, liberating from sin and its defilement, drawing forth from within true adoration for God in the name of Jesus Christ.
We are here in Italy to see, by God’s grace, the triumph of the gospel in the lives of Italian individuals and families, and for true worship to once again arise in the name of Jesus, our Savior.
Please pray for Marco and his family!