For my 40th birthday, I traveled with a friend to Italy and spent a week roaming churches, perusing art and eating cheese. Oh yeah. And drinking wine.

So much wine.

And of course, I had an ulterior motive: research. My WIP takes place primarily in this beautiful, ancient, storied country and I wanted to experience the feel and look and smell of things before I wrote about it. (Write what you know, right?)

I’m currently writing Chapter 16, which draws the characters to the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore, or the Duomo, in Florence.

What I loved about this church was the very idea of it. The Medici family held all the wealth and power in Florence at the time, and most the buildings were funded by them and therefore provided them more control. They stamped their family symbol everywhere, like a cat who sprays its scent, in order to remind the people who was in charge.

But this church was built by the people of Florence, for the people of Florence. Though they tried, the Medici were not allowed to put any money toward it, and therefore wielded no control. Later on, when the people’s defenses were down, they snuck their way in, holding a Medici wedding in the church and adding one stamp to the floor with their symbol on it. But the simple fact that the people pulled this off in the face of such wealth in the first place is amazing.

The Duomo is medieval and ornate on the outside (the facade was built much later than the church itself), but on the inside, it is plain and simple. Because the goal was to welcome anyone – rich or poor – to worship here. They wanted to ensure everyone felt comfortable, no matter who they were. And that is a truly beautiful thing.

Inside is more my speed. It’s beautiful, but it’s the bones – the careful craftsmanship and elegant architecture – that make it that way, not the showy facade. Which is a metaphor for life, is it not?

Interestingly, that clock above the door still works. It runs counter-clckwise and there’s 24 hours on it, instead of 12. Here’s a closer look at that if you’re interested.

The light shineth …

I didn’t get a great photo of the lovely mosaic floor, because I was too busy looking up.

The primary grandeur inside is the dome – the feat of architecture from which the Duomo gets its name. While tons of old buildings boast a dome or two, the world refers to this one as THE DOME. Because today, it remains the largest masonry dome in the world. And no one knows quite how they pulled it off. The dome was built using experimental methods that architects still ponder over six centuries later.

Our tour guide told us Michelangelo came to study this structure when he was designing the dome for the Basilica in Rome.

One thing that struck me most about Italy is the way art and religion and science all seemed to blend together. As an example of this, hanging in the Duomo is a painting of Dante and his Inferno.

Part of the romance of this country is that things aren’t always black and white here. The Medici, though powerful and overbearing, were also regarded whimsically as generous contributors to art and science. It was the Medici who secured cadavers and a forum to allow Michelangelo and Da Vinci to study human anatomy, which contributed significantly to their art. And some of the greatest art and science in this era was funded by the church. It all blends in a way that leads to the possibility of discovery and education and intelligence. The heart of the Renaissance.

In the Duomo is a basement. It is in this basement that the characters in my WIP are heading now. In real life, we didn’t tour the basement. But I recall walking by the entrance and thinking, hmmmmm …

So my imagination is going to be fueling this one. Let’s see if I can figure it out …

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