Author: The Crusader Staff Writer, Amil Werr
Just yesterday I was walking up the steps from the grotto towards the monastery and basilica. I noticed facilities personnel had one of the manholes open. Curious, I peeked inside the manhole and noticed old brick walls surrounding what looked like a water main valve, all underneath the asphalt driveway. I was then much more aware of the ground beneath my feet.
I thought to myself, “Wow! Are those part of the old monastery walls? Was it part of a cellar, a monk’s cell, a refectory? How far do those walls go down?”
Memories of Art History class with Dr. Pastryk returned as images of Basilica di San Clemente with its 1st century structures underneath its 4th century basilica underneath its now standing, above ground, 12th century basilica. I had previously thought Art History only involved looking through frames of paintings or glass cases of coins, pottery, and sculpture. I was wrong. The windows through which we can peer into different times are myriad, beyond museum walls, kind of like that open manhole in the asphalt driveway. It was helpful for me in furthering my understanding of the nuance and depth of Art History to know that it can also be called “Material Culture.”
When I think of the word “culture,” I think of wine, beer, cheese, bread, yoghurt. I think of each culture, each community of beings endowed with distinct capacities to take material and, through it, express themselves. I think of beings, too small to see with bare eyes, partaking in expressive and transformative action. Those old brick walls underneath that manhole were built by beings I cannot now see.
However, if I am curious or perceptive (or lucky?) enough I can see, study, and appreciate how some ancestors expressed themselves and transformed their world. Though I still forget, I have been aided in my remembrance that, more often than not, we tread unawares right on top of the transformations our ancestors partook in. Having participated in Art History class, it seems as though I’ve received tools of perception that facilitate just enough awareness and interest that I can stop and wonder in wonder, for at least a few seconds, “In what kind of world and with what kind of people were those old brick walls not underneath a manhole in an asphalt driveway?”
This article was originally posted in the Fall 2022, Issue 1 of The Crusader Newspaper. Download the full issue.