I visited the cathedral of San Lorenzo three times before finding its doors open, and whilst I had cause to be glad of my persistence there was a disappointment in store for me too.
The striking zebra stripes of the exterior continued within and drew my attention to the Romanesque styled arches running the length of the nave, but then my eye met that disappointment; a wall of scaffolding that meant the choir and altar were closed for restoration, so the richest of the decorations were beyond me.
This was one of those occasions where the decision to carry my heavy telephoto lens was vindicated; not because it allowed me to compose and capture some great shots (the scaffolding was too intrusive for that) but because it enable me to view some of the details at distance and enjoy the craftsmanship nevertheless.
Once again it seemed to be the sculptor’s art that had greatest impact upon me. (There were some interesting Byzantine fresco fragments, but too high and too faint to earn my prolonged attention). Altars, chapels, the stations of the cross; all were decorated with statuary and bas-reliefs of great quality.
There was one statue however that really irritated. Unmistakable as a representation of Pope John Paul II it was considerably more modern than its fellows, but that wasn’t the reason for my ire, nor was the choice of subject though I’m conscious that he is a fairly divisive figure. Some see him as a saint, whilst others are critical of his seeming unwillingness to consider progress on the ordination of women and contraception, and lack of action on child abuse allegations. Personally I’m more inclined to the latter than convinced by stories of miracles attributed to him but if the citizens of Genoa want a statue of him, then that’s their affair.
It’s where they put the statue that irked me. Behind it there’s a fresco of the last supper, and John Paul stands before it in such a central position that he seems to outrank those within the painting. It’s almost sacrilegious, and whilst as an atheist that’s of little concern to me, from an artistic perspective the composition is ruined.
Still, there’s cause to be grateful that it’s even there.
During WWII (as part of the prosaically named Operation Grog) the British fleet were shelling the naval dockyards of the city when a gunner aboard HMS Malaysia made an error in his calculations that resulted in an armour-piercing shell being fired at San Lorenzo where it breached the walls. Remarkably it failed to explode and is still on display within the church with a plaque that translates as follows:
This bomb launched by the British fleet pierced the walls of this great cathedral and fell unexploded on February 9th 1941. In permanent recognition Genoa, City of Mary, inscribed in stone this memorial to such great grace.
I may not have seen the choir, but I was lucky to view any of it.