It was a gray, overcast morning as I walked along the waterfront of Lake Lugano through the Belvedere Gardens. Two rows of trees created a thick, green canopy overhead and a temporary shelter from the drizzle. In an hour or so, downtown Lugano would fill up with people everywhere: in the Gardens and shops, the sidewalk cafes, and pedestrian-only streets and plazas.
I was thoroughly enjoying vacation in Lugano, Switzerland, south of the Alps and a short drive from Italy. Situated in the canton of Ticino, Lake Lugano enjoys a temperate climate complete with sunshine (usually), refreshing breezes, and lush vegetation like cypress, palm trees, mimosa, magnolias, and jasmine. Throughout the last dozen centuries or so, this region’s breathtaking beauty, as well as the need to put bread on the table, inspired many gifted architects and artists to build and furnish exquisite churches.
On my agenda that week, along with plenty of shopping, pasta, and gelato, was exploring some of those churches. That drizzly morning, I wanted to check out Santa Maria degli Angioli, situated across the street from the Gardens and Lake Lugano, which glistened like a blue-green gem.
Dwarfed by a hotel attached to one side, the 16th-century church had a simple façade, with one round window at the top, which was covered with plywood at that time, plus two long, narrow windows and plain brown doors. It was hard to imagine that this little unassuming church housed an important fresco from 1529 painted by Bernardino Luini, a friend of Leonard da Vinci.
Inside, the church was quiet and dark, lit by dozens of votives. The smell of burning candles welcomed me. The sound of echoing footsteps blended with hushed murmurs and prayers. When my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I gasped at the enormous fresco that completely covered the wall.
Called “The Crucifixion,” the fresco showed Christ on the cross, flanked by the two thieves. His head, with its thorny crown, was down, his eyes closed, his side pierced. He must have just said, “It is finished.” All around Him was bedlam, from grief-stricken women to rough Roman soldiers to the angry mob. Angels hovered anxiously above Christ’s head, ready to free him if he had just given the word.
Behind the Crucifixion are other scenes: Jesus praying in Gethsemane; the mock trial; Jesus struggling to carry the cross; the women tenderly holding their Savior's dead body; the disciples clustered around the risen Lord as Thomas touches the hole in his side; and finally, Jesus' ascension into heaven.
Moved by what I saw in that little church, I thanked God for the painting and the artist’s gift. And I thanked him for Jesus, whose life, death, and resurrection give the beauty of new life to all who believe.
Have you ever been moved by the beauty of a historic church or building or a painting or other piece of art? If so, I'd love to hear about it, either in the comments section below or on Facebook here.