St Paul’s words couldn’t be more accurate when he wrote in his “ Letter to the Artists” that “Art is the meeting place with mystery, because the beauty of created things stirs up God’s emotions, nostalgia”
This would be the perfect sentiment when you reach Amalfi and stand before the majestic Cathedral of St. Andrew (Sant’Andrea). The cathedral sets on top of a 62 foot hill, built in what appears to be Baroque in its present form, but gently hiding the true Romanesque architecture inside. As you delve deeper into its cloister, you will see the different changes that took place through the years. According to studies, the original Basilica dates back as far as the year 596 AD. Then an adjacent one was built in 1100 in Romanesque and later when Baroque came another design took place, making the whole area appear like two distinct churches. The restoration was initiated and in 1994, the Baroque layer was removed bringing into the light the true medieval form.
Amalfi was one of the powerful Maritime Republics of the Medieval Ages. The other three consists of Pisa, Venezia and Genoa. Rich and powerful, the city took the name of the whole coast, consisting of beautiful cities like Positano, Sorrento and Salerno. It became the envy of other republics and later became the object of conquest. The city lost to so many raging battles and all these stories reverberated in the different corners of the city.
But as you come and visit the town of Amalfi, what will definitely attract you is this massive colorful medieval architecture in front of a small piazza. The Cathedral of Amafi is a living witness to its glorious past. The pride and honor of every Amalfitani. And as you climb up the 62 steps of the Cathedral, your eyes will wander endlessly taking in as much of the whole edifice, like a wide angle lens, of such panoramic beauty in front of you.
The four paragraphs above may appear as boring banter as definitely you will read all these things too in the internet. But on a personal level and having visited almost all of the towns of the Amalfi Coast, what sets Amalfi apart is not only its distinct topography but its rich and powerful heritage – the crypt of the monumental complex or simply put; the Crypt of the Basilica.
The Crypt of the Basilica is where the ‘the head and other bones’ of St. Andrew were preserved. St Andrew, Jesus’ first disciple who had evangelized Greece, ranging as far as modern day Russia and Scotland, was crucified in Patras. And forgive me if I say this, but no other church along the Amalfi Coast bears so much past as to the one of Sant’Andrea of Amalfi. This is truly the heart of Amalfi.
The preserved bones of the apostle Andrew was brought to Amalfi on the 8th of May 1208 by the Papal Envoy to the Fourth Crusade, Cardinal Pietro Capuano. The body was brought first to Constatinople and later to Amalfi, in front of the joyous Amalfitani crowd and buried in the crypt.
Admittedly, I only discovered the heart of Amalfi on my third visit. Like any first time visitor, you will be so confused on what to do first and you ended up doing the same mundane things. You sit in a bar, order a cappucino maybe and wander the streets with a gelato on one hand and a camera on the other. You finish your gelato, go inside a shop and repeatedly do the same things all over again. This could be a typical day out especially on beautiful towns like Amalfi.
Sometimes I laugh at the idea that the more I go into all these adventures, I ended up doing some sort of a pilgrimage. Definitely, it’s not my plan and when the reality hits me, I just go with the flow and ended up, surprisingly; rejuvenated! I blame it sometimes to the wine or maybe to some Force I can’t define. But whatever it was, I only have nothing but gratitude. Because I learned that good adventure is something that makes you look back with a smile and after which you continue on to the next adventure in store for you.
To end this soliloquy, I remember one of the stories in the Bible. Jesus said to Andrew “Come, follow me”. Andrew believed Him, left his fishing boat, nets and followed Him. Funny, but most of the time, this is what we do when we travel to distant places. We just felt it was time to go and wander. And with hope and courage, we just leave our nets and fishing boat behind, hoping for the best; and semi-blindfolded we ventured into the other side of the horizon.