Saturday, 18 February 2017

'Like living on a film set...'

Venice on Wednesday with the Doge's Palace on the right
Yesterday we flew back to Britain after a week in Venice.  The lagoon sparkled in early spring sunshine and the city was gearing up for Carnival – a sort of last ‘fling’ before Lent!

One of the most interesting visits we made during our time in this Italian masterpiece was to the Doge’s Palace on the waterfront.

The Doge was the elected Head of the Republic of Venice – and over its thousand year history it had one hundred and twenty of them. They were elected for life, they couldn’t refuse the honour and neither could they step down from it. 

Their ‘life-long’ appointment was most unusual in that almost every other post in government was for a strictly limited time span: usually for three or six months or possibly a year.  After service for that specific period the holder of the office stood down for exactly the same period of time before the possibility of standing again came along.

All of this was Venice’s attempt to stamp out corruption.  If you didn’t serve overlong then, it was reckoned, you wouldn’t be in anyone’s pockets! 

The Doge wasn’t so fortunate.  He served for life, so was usually appointed around the age of 80.  He also served at his own expense.  He received no salary; quite the reverse, he had to pay for the upkeep of the palace and all the state entertaining out of his own fortune. Our guide thought that’s why one Doge died two days after a significant part of the palace burned down.  She thought he just couldn’t face the repair bill!

All this talk of power and its use and misuse touched a chord with me.  It reflects the constant struggle we humans have.  As the adage goes: Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.  We even experience that in religion and I couldn’t help but notice as we looked at many of the painting’s in Venice’s galleries how often Mary and Jesus were depicted not as a marginalised woman or wondering rabbi but with crowns upon their heads seated in thrones.  All too quickly we invest them with an earthly ‘power’ that is surely so foreign to the lives they lived or the message behind their story.

Power – it’s something all of us in the Church need to ‘handle with care’!

There is, however, another reason for this reflection about Venice.

At AFC we have just lost one of our central members, Mary.  The last time I saw her, just a day before she died, we talked of Venice.  She reflected on her visit there ten years ago and said: I felt for the first two days as if I were living on a film set.  I couldn’t get Mary out of my mind as we walked through Venice last week.  Mary was a great servant of God at AFC and her family go back almost to its inception.  We are sad she has left us and we will miss her gracious character, wise counsel and faithful example – but we rejoice that she dwells today upon another shore, in a greater light in the loving presence of the God she served so well.

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