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On our Italy trip last week, Irina and I visited Torcello, one of the several islands in the lagoon around Venice.

Spiritually, Torcello is both right and wrong. Once a thriving island community with its own cathedral and bishop, it was reduced by competition from Venice, then malaria, as much of the island turned into a swamp. Of a dozen churches and monasteries, two churches only remain in functional condition, the rest having been recycled as building material for Venice and nieghbouring islands.  The former cathedral church boasts high quality mosaics, and the judgement fresco on the west wall, very likely by refugee Greek painters fleeing the sack of Constantinople, is one of the most moving pieces of Church art I have ever seen. Badly missing is the almost total lack of contemporary Christian reference. The place calls loudly to be looked after by a Christian community, not by the Venetian tourist board. If I wanted to be a hermit, and could distance myself sufficiently from tourists, the place would be tempting.

Apologies to everyone, but I do not like Venice. For me it is a strumpet city, latterly converted into a sort of upper class Disneyland. In its heyday it was rich and carnal, its Christian buildings and art a reflection more of pride in wealth and power than real piety. Strikingly, if I am not mistaken, Venice lacks its own local medieval saint: no Francis of Assissi, Bernadino of Siena, Antonio of Padua or Catherine of Genoa. Indeed I suspect that any budding saint criticizing the city’s merchant oligarchy would have gone the same way as Savaronola in Florence. Once you have done the mosaics in St Mark's, there is precious little that is spiritually uplifting, other perhaps, than for some occasionally very good glassware (one shop in ten in Murano) or quality fashion. Exposure to the loud comments of budget travel North Americans on the ferry boats is certainly not good for the soul. Those of their Russian counterparts is not much better.

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