Salerno, Italy: Finding the Tomb of St Matthew
“Behold, I send you as sheep in the midst of wolves” Matthew 10:16″
Indeed it was not easy to to be an evangelist and to be one of the apostles. I could only imagine someone preaching the words of God inside a bus, a train and nobody; including myself, would pay attention. How much more to preach and travel on foot? If people believed that the earth was the center of the solar system during those turbulent times, surely it wouldn’t be that easy telling otherwise, that it was not the earth but the sun instead. The good thing was, there was science to justify such claims. But how could you convince everyone that Jesus was the Son of God? And most importantly, where can you find such courage at that time to brace the maddening crowd, lived in simplicity and just even walked for miles just to proclaim God’s words? This I believe was the greatest test an evangelist could face- writing just to prove God’s existence!
Standing in front of his tomb at the underground crypt of the Cathedral of Salerno was like a feeling of dejavu. It seemed like a past episode of my life, passed before my very eyes. When I heard that the Cathedral bears his relics, I immediately changed my clothes and hastily left. It was raining heavily at that time and my jacket was no match against the cold wind. My friend even dissuaded me from going as she described the weather to be somewhat a hurricane and not suitable for traveling.
As soon as I entered the Cathedral, an air of silence engulfed me. It was almost empty with only two people praying at the front pews. I hurriedly went to the front and use all my Italian knowledge in reading signs for the location of St Matthew’s tomb. I was afraid that the church was closing during lunchtime and I only had almost 20 minutes. Then I saw an old priest praying in one of the confession boxes. I tiptoed and politely disturbed his thoughts. He showed me direction of the crypt and I ran. I just couldn’t contain my excitement. It was just the longest crypt I had ever seen.
As I was moving towards his tomb, I just remember one painting by Rembrandt in the halls of Western Art section in the Hermitage Museum in Russia where Rembrandt lovingly portrayed St Matthew with a quill in hand and silently listening to the voice of an angel. A fitting description to the man who poured his heart into writing God’s words. All I knew was that the New Testament was full of letters from him. He was an Evangelist to a core. Jesus chose his disciples perfectly, maybe except for one (still debatable). To be a tax collector; one must be adept with so many languages, and should have an education to match. St Matthew mastered the Greek and Aramaic languages. He devoted his life to writing, perhaps a modern term would be blogging about everything he knew- his experiences and travels with Jesus.
St Matthew was a tax collector. A job hated by everyone at that time. But when Jesus called on him to follow, he did not think twice. He left his so-called corporate job and walked His path. When Jesus died, all the surviving apostles fanned out and continued their missions. It was believed that St Matthew was killed in Ethiopia where he spent his mission. Other schools of thought said he died in Persia. Some believed his relics were in Georgia while others believed they have been transported to Italy.
My sole purpose today was to write a little about him, as I knew nothing about his life and if I could also add, a saint that I didn’t value that much. In a way, I underestimated St Matthew. And standing in front of his tomb, there were so many things I would have wanted to tell St Matthew but I was just tongue-tied. How I wished I could have the gift of writing for one and perhaps that unshakeable devotion for another.
The Catholic and Orthodox Churches believed in his martyrdom. Many proclaimed he wanted to live a long life writing about his faith. He embraced his life, his devotion and maybe his final verse could might as well be his epitaph…..
“Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.” Matthew 28:20
Salerno, Italy is one of the prosperous towns at the Southern part of mainland Italy. The town is very accessible with trains running every hour or so from Naples. This place could be a perfect base in exploring the beautiful Amalfi Coast. Buses and coaches are running frequently to Positano, Sorrento and Amalfi. A regular boat service connects the town to beautiful resort isles of Capri and Ischia. Salerno is definitely one good place for shopping, gastronomy and other cultural explorations.