On Birth Days Here and There

All of us
spent our earliest days shrouded in darkness,
surrounded with ruddy warmth,
our straining eyes making out the shape of our dwelling
long after our hands and feet had memorized the same.

 
Most of us
were welcomed into a brighter world
where we learned the faces of those who nourished our life
and snuggled in the comfort of their arms,
and this was a strange sort of universe,
but somehow not that much different,
for we were still wrapped in love.

 
Some of us
burst directly from that familiar dimness
into the Presence of the Source of all light
where they behold the Face of the One who gave them being.
These blaze in the brilliance of Glory,
and although it is beyond anything they ever dreamt in the warm dark,
they find themselves not in the least surprised,
for this, this
IS the fullness of all they had ever known:
Life,
Comfort,
Love.

 
All of us
begin life in the darkness,
but some of us do not see the light
until they see Light,
until they become light.

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Naptime and Nazareth

“Feed, feed!” my 17-month-old daughter signs frantically, leaning against the wall opposite the bathroom door as she waits and watches while I use the toilet. It is half an hour before her normal morning naptime, and she is obviously ready. As I prepare to follow her to the bedroom, she runs on ahead, saying, “Vweee, wee, weeeee!” happily. I take off my outer shirt and climb into bed and pull her in with me. She settles into the curve of my arm and eagerly latches on, and I gently massage her body as she lies quietly while I sing. I know she’s still awake, because she lifts her hand to cross herself when I chant, “may all the souls of the faithful departed rest in peace, amen.” Soon she is overcome by a great sleepiness and shifts into fight mode. She squirms and flops her strong, solid body back and forth over mine, struggling to keep her eyes open. I continue singing and massaging her, and she settles back down, her hand tracing the same well-worn path it has followed for over a year, creeping under my camisole to find something soft to squish. Sleep claims her for his own, and as I pull her hand back out, she grasps mine firmly with it, her breathing deep and even.

 I feel the firm strength of her sinews and ponder on the utter vulnerability of newborns while praying the third Joyful Mystery of the Rosary, the Nativity of our Lord. Despite all the new things she is learning to do herself, she is still very vulnerable. She still needs someone to give her food, even though she feeds herself. She still needs someone to take her to the toilet, and will probably not be able to take herself for a year or so. She still needs help getting dressed, or she ends up with both feet poking through one pantleg. She still craves my almost constant companionship, calling out “Mama!” from another room, or patting the floor or seat next to her as an invitation to join her. She still cannot tie her shoes or introduce herself or say “no” to bullies. She is still a baby. But even at this stage of babyhood, she is far stronger and more capable than she was as recently as a year ago. Now, if she gets sick with a cold, it would not be the terrifying experience it was at two months. If  she wakes and finds herself alone in bed, she sometimes knows to simply call “Mama!” and I will come, instead of being afraid that I have abandoned her. She is learning to trust. Looking back at how far she has come, it is incredible to see how truly vulnerable she was as an infant, and even moreso the further back you go, the closer to conception. 

How wonderful, how marvelous that our Lord should choose that vulnerability. That he should choose to accept life as a microscopic being deep within the womb of a Virgin. That he should receive with humility the life that she gave him – he, who gave her life. That he should be content to be fed by her, nourished by her, taught by her, subject to the headship of his foster-father. That he should step from eternity into time, not to brilliantly wow the world with signs and wonders, get his business done, and leave again, but to receive the slow nurturing of familial love. Jesus the Christ embraced the hidden life of home, and in so doing, sanctified it.

My daughter is fully relaxed. Her eyelashes spray out darkly over her cheeks, her hands rest slightly open against her middle, and she suckles slowly. If I remove my arm gently from under her head and pull away quickly, she will stir, fling her arms about, and turn her head this way and that. Perhaps she will settle into a deeper sleep. Perhaps her eyes will fly open and that grin will break over her face, the impish one that seems to say, “You thought you could be sneaky, Mama, but I am sneakier.” Either way, our day will continue on as a series of little things done together, tasks and plays and work and giggles and tears, common, sometimes boring, exhausting, overwhelming, drudging. This is the life our Lord chose, and we too will live it faithfully, by his grace.

  

24 Things I’ve Learned in 24 Months of Marriage

These are a few of the lessons I’ve learned, some hard, some not so hard; some anticipated, some out of the blue. Most have made me cry at some time or another. Pregnancy and postpartum hormones will do that to ya. I hope a few make you chuckle. Enjoy!

1. Some people laugh at you because they’re amused or because they’re delighted with you. You won’t be able to tell the difference, because it’s the same laugh. So ask.

2. Some people like their sauce so much that they put it on all their food all the time. This doesn’t mean they don’t like your cooking. It just means they like their sauce a lot.

3. Stereotypes are just that. Stereotypes. If most of the people of your sex typically have/do not have a certain trait, it will be hard to accept it when you have differences.  You are not alone.

4. Just when you think you’re communicating clearly about everything, you’ll discover another assumption you’re making wrongly that’s completely messing everything up. Communicate some more.

5. There are several different ways to describe or explain any given portion of the budget. None of them make sense (especially not the one your spouse is using!) except the one you’re using. Take a break. Have a drink. Start over.

6. Hashing a problem down to the root of the matter doesn’t repair the problem instantly. It exposes it so you can repair it. Time and grace and work and patience and more grace are what you need now.

7. Reading together goes a long way toward bringing life to conversations, especially when one of you doesn’t get many chances to read alone.

8. The easiest sacrifices for me to make cheerfully are the big ones, the ones that it’s obvious that Someone Will Die if I don’t step up to the plate. It’s the tiny little everyday ones that I have to fight the grumps for.

9. German-Italians have different temperaments from German-Irish-English-French-MaybealittleNativeAmerican-Norwegians. I like to say that the more diverse ancestry makes me more even-keeled. We’re still waiting for me to prove that right.

10. Your spouse’s habits will rub off on you. That means that your spouse’s bad habits really are your problem on multiple levels, and your spouse’s good habits really are your blessing on multiple levels. Ignoring a bad habit will not make it go away; you’ll be more likely to pick it up yourself.

11. Growing together spiritually can be one of the most terrifying and exciting and rewarding and challenging things in marriage.

12. Some people like to taste all the ingredients before and after they mix them in. The recipe will still turn out. Usually.

13. Not everybody likes to take walks in the pouring rain. Go figure.

14. Knowing and living are two different animals. Knowing all the ways something will be hard does not make living all those hardships any less difficult.

15. You know how you can communicate with your family of origin without using words? How you have a sixth sense that tells you when somebody’s trying to get your attention discreetly? That took a similar set of genes and a couple of decades of shoulders rubbing to build up. Getting your spouse’s  attention discreetly will be a far more elite and unattainable art.

16. I like sticking to plans. I’m flexible about certain things (i.e. the baby, because I have to be), but in general, I’m allergic to changing minds. Most of the time.

17. Different people keep different things in the fridge, cupboard, or pantry. It all depends on how frequently they use something or what temperature they like it at or how their family of origin did it.

18. I’m dreadfully particular about getting my full portion of any given food or drink that I’m sharing. Unless I don’t really care for it, that is.

19. I can refrain from crying when my husband gets his hair cut short. This is easiest if I do it myself. The sense of satisfaction and pride from a job well done is greater than the self-abhorrence produced by desecrating those thick waves. Usually.

20. Sometimes it can be fun to spend money.

21. Your sense of humor needs nurturing. It doesn’t just exist by itself and pop up whenever you need it.

22. It’s easy to think your ideas and dreams are too simple or silly or serious or complex for your spouse to understand, or that your spouse will not find them exciting as you do. It’s worth it. Go dream aloud.

23. Someone can take steamy lobster showers and not be able to stand a steaming sink of dishes. That’s okay. Warm water gets dishes relatively clean, too.

24. It’s true that love can stretch far beyond your imaginings, take on shapes you’ve never dreamed of, encompassing souls you’ve never given a second thought to. Love, after all, is infinite. The challenge is letting ourselves stretch and hurt and crack and break open in a cacophony of light as Love condescends to fill us.

 

Dear Maria Grace: A Birth Story

Dear Maria Grace,

630 days ago, your life began, deep inside Mama, where it was dark and wet and warm and safe. You see, you started out so tiny, if you had started in the open air, you would’ve been squished! Daddy and Mama prayed for you every day, sometimes many times a day. You grew very, very fast, even faster than you do now. Mama’s body grew and changed with you. First, her bones loosened up and kept sliding out of place – that would come in handy in eight months or so. Next, she was sick a lot. You know how when you cry for a long time in the car because Mama’s driving and you want a feed, and your tummy feels yucky and some of your food comes out of your mouth? That’s what happened to Mama a lot. And she didn’t like to eat. Can you imagine, Mama not liking to eat? It was pretty crazy. But she ate as much as she could to help you grow. Her body changed the food so it would be fit for you, and it travelled through a cord from Mama’s body to your body (that was still inside Mama’s body!) After several weeks, though, she started to like food again, and other things happened instead. She felt you move, then you started moving enough that Daddy could feel you from the outside! Then Mama’s body decided to start making the kind of food you’d have after you came out, a sort of golden syrupy milk called colostrum. You wouldn’t need it for over twenty more weeks, but Mama’s body wanted to be good and ready for you. It wasn’t long before Mama’s belly was a little hill, just like she makes it when you’re climbing on her, but she couldn’t make it smaller again like she can now. When you twisted and turned inside Mama to exercise or to get into a comfortable spot, everybody could see the lump that was you moving and changing shape. You know those cardboard toilet paper rolls you love so much? Daddy could hold one to Mama’s belly and listen to your heartbeat. Thump-thump-thump-thump, your heart pumped your blood through your veins, just like it does now. As Mama stretched and stretched for you to have room as you grew bigger and bigger, her skin got tired. Little pink lines like grass grew along the bottom of her belly until they reached up to and over the top of her belly button, which was now open like a salad plate, instead of like a water glass. It was time to get ready for you to be born. Daddy and Mama chose fabrics, and Mama hemmed them into blankets to wrap you in when you came out. They walked quite a ways every day to help keep Mama’s body strong and ready to push you down and out. Grandpa and Grandma H made sure everything about the house was just so, ready for a little person. Grandma T made plans to come visit. Every night, Daddy sang your song, the Salve Regina, for you, and soon Mama learned it, too.

366 nights ago, the night before you were born,  Daddy was at work. He didn’t work at the church back then, he worked in a store. It got chilly at night, and sometimes Daddy was cold when he got home very late, so Mama climbed into bed on his side to warm it up. She prayed and talked to you a little bit more than usual. “Whenever you’re ready, Baby,” she said. “We can do this, you and I.” And she fell asleep. But a while later, right after midnight, she woke up, because she was getting the bed wet. This wasn’t because she didn’t get to the toilet on time, it was your swimming waters! She couldn’t hold them back, and they seemed like a lot. They smelled sweet, like you. She cleaned them up, made the bed, and knocked on Grandpa and Grandma H’s door. She told them what had happened, and asked to borrow a phone. She called Daddy, and told him you were coming, but not soon, so he could finish working before he came home. He finished and went to church to pray for a while before he came back to Grandpa and Grandma H’s house. Mama tried to relax, but she was too excited that she would get to see you in a few hours. Daddy and Grandpa H set up a pool in the kitchen, and Grandpa and Grandma went back to bed to try to get some rest. Pretty soon, Mama’s uterus, the great big muscle you’d been living inside for so long, started squeezing. It needed to get you down the birth canal so that you could come out of Mama. At first, it squeezed slowly and not often, and Mama told Daddy he could go take a nap, because he was falling asleep on the couch. Mama knelt over the hassock and decided to watch a movie. She turned on Despicable Me 2, but she didn’t really watch it, she was messaging with her mama and sisters and counting the squeezes. They got harder and closer, and Mama started moaning because it was such hard work. The noise woke Daddy up, and he came out to help. Every time a squeeze came, Mama would lean on the piano or the couch or the counter, and Daddy would push his hands on her lower back and talk to her. Right before the sun came up, they decided it was time to call the midwife. She was a nice lady that had been helping babies come out of their mamas even before Daddy was alive! Grandpa and Grandma H went away for the day so that Mama could labor comfortably without too many people watching. The squeezes were getting much harder and closer together, so everyone thought maybe you would come by lunch. Mama was very hungry, but food sounded yucky, so the midwife got her some lemon yoghurt. She ate it and drank lots of water. Daddy and the midwife filled the pool with warm water, and Mama worked in there for a while. She was getting pretty tired, and was having weird thoughts like dreams between the squeezes. The midwife checked the opening you would come out of, called the cervix, and it was still pretty tightly closed. She said Mama needed to do something to hurry up or slow down, so Mama decided to take a nap. She climbed into bed next to Daddy and lay on her side so that she could rest against Daddy and the midwife could press a hot water bottle against her back during the squeezes. She dozed between squeezes, and they slowed down a little. When she woke up, she threw up the yoghurt. The midwife made her some chicken broth and after a while, helped her back into the pool. But now, something crazy started happening! The squeezes were so hard and long and close together that it seemed like it was just one squeeze that was lasting forever. Daddy said it was a little scary. Mama said it was such hard work and she just wanted a break, but when she got tiny little breaks, she was too exhausted to talk. Soon, the midwife said it was time to go back to bed. She and Daddy dried Mama off, and helped her back to the bedroom. After Mama settled in on her back, the midwife showed her how to hold her legs apart to give you room to come out, and told her to push. Mama pushed. It was a little tricky at first, and the midwife told her she was using her shoulders too much (she was! They were so sore for days!), but gradually she got the hang of it, and started groaning deep, which the midwife liked. Daddy and the midwife held Mama’s ankles, which made it a little easier. It wasn’t long before Daddy and the midwife told Mama they could see a little bit of your hairy head, and held a mirror so Mama could see, and guided her hand so she could touch you for the first time. You were squishy and so, so soft. When Mama pushed really hard, a little more of your head would show, but then when she stopped, it would slide back. That was a bit discouraging, but of course it would have been very difficult for you to just come out all at once! It was hard for Mama to keep going, but she saw Daddy’s face lit up with the joy of finally seeing his baby, and that gave her encouragement to keep on. The midwife said she needed more light, and Mama said, “Please don’t leave!” The midwife opened the curtains, and the golden evening light came in. It was Mama’s favorite time of day. After she had pushed for a long time, your head stopped sliding back inside Mama. She pushed very hard, and your head was born! Your face was square and pale purple. After a moment, the midwife encouraged Mama that the next push wouldn’t be as hard, but you had wide shoulders! Mama pushed, and your body twisted around and around as more of it showed, and the midwife said, “Now Hannah, I want you to reach down and catch your baby.” “I can’t!” wailed Mama. “Yes, you can!” said Daddy and the midwife, and they pulled Mama’s hands down to you as you slipped out of Mama, and all together they placed you on top of the belly you had just been inside of. You were slippery and warm. Mama ran her hands down your body and the cord that was still sustaining you from within her. You had some fluid in your nose and mouth, so we talked to you and rubbed you and Daddy sang your song until you coughed it out and breathed properly. Then Daddy looked and said you were a girl, our Maria Grace. Soon you found a feed and started suckling. Your placenta, a great red cake that held the other end of your cord, was born and when it was time, Daddy cut the cord, because you didn’t need it any more. In a few short minutes, you had learned how to get your own air and food. The midwife weighed and measured you. You were 9 pounds, 6 ounces, 21 inches long, and your head, which wasn’t squishy anymore, was 14 inches around. That was just the right size for you. She swaddled you in a blanket Mama had hemmed for you. Mama still wraps you in it sometimes. Everyone was so excited you had been born. You and Daddy and Mama were very tired and very hungry.


This, sweet baby, is how your birth happened 365 days ago. Happy birthday, Maria!

18 Months + 18 Months

 Grief is a funny thing. Not funny-ha-ha, but funny-peculiar. One can think one’s self well acquainted with it, only to be introduced to another angle of it. I have found myself continuously turning corners in this path of grief I tread, and finding completely unexpected landscapes spread out before me. A few months ago, my memories of Ford’s life and death had become hazy, at best. While I missed him painfully, I was used to his being gone, as used as one can be. But over the past couple of months, I’ve been learning to grieve in a new context, and subconsciously, all my memories and natural patterns of thought have adjusted again. I’ve had sudden vivid memories of the accident and our early days of grief. I’ve had recurring nightmares featuring Ford in rôles he hasn’t played in them since his death. [And lest you think me strange for mentioning my dreams, I have several vivid dreams every night that I usually remember in detail in the morning, so they do make a difference on my morning mood, sometimes even all day]. I’ve come across things that my family, friends, or I wrote those first few months and been moved to weeping by them.  And, once again, I’ve had the urge to tell him something important, or maybe just something he’d get a kick out of, and then remember I can’t make him chuckle or be surprised or pleased or anything anymore.

Valentine from Ford

It’s a little odd, I’d not been to a funeral since Ford’s, 543 days ago, yet this week I’m attending two requiem masses. On a week that I have been constantly pushing aside the memories and the reminders of what happened, trying to escape the reality of death, perhaps to be faced with death like this is just what I need. Grief is an inconvenient thing. It’s far easier to turn off the music that brings a lump to the throat, to try to push back the memories that pop up, and keep on working, than to take time to grieve. Our culture does not take time for grief. We avoid even the appearance of grief. (What better example for this than the way funeral homes are made to look? Fresh, bright green lawns, respectable buildings…just another office or home). We’ve commandeered the colours of mourning for everyday so that it won’t make anybody sad to see someone dressed in sombre raiment. We might grieve a bit with the family and friends of the departed, or send them flowers or a card, but then we expect them to get over it. How can we treat death as something to be “gotten over”? Death is a part of our everyday lives, whether or not someone close to us has died. Not just as the final last breath kind of death, but in a million small ways. To try to ignore these is purely foolishness. It’s like trying to ignore one’s height, or the colour of one’s skin, or one’s accent. Death is a part of us, and therefore grief is a part of us. This is not a shameful thing. Those obnoxious tears that come flowing when you’re in the middle of washing dishes? Let them flow. If somebody else sees them, good. If Christ was not ashamed of showing his grief, why should we be?

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WordPress tells me I wrote those first few paragraphs 542 days (18 months) ago, as I rode the roller coaster of 5-weeks-pregnant-and-not-sure-if-this-baby-will-stay-with-us-or-not. As much time again has elapsed since Ford’s death. Once again, I’m becoming accustomed to grieving in a new context. Once again, I’m trying to put death into a box. Once again, it is being forced before my face as my husband and I talk through the purpose of life insurance and discuss how our family would continue on if one of us died, and with gut-wrenching flashbacks to the moments and days and weeks surrounding Ford’s death, as well as heartbreaking news of baby after sweet baby departing this life. And I tremble and weep and hold my family close and then wipe away the tears and try to pretend I’m a normal person.


The problem with putting death into a box, with tucking away our grief so that we will feel numb, which we persuade ourselves is better than the raw pain of endless brokenheartedness, is that if we deny death, we also deny death’s Conqueror. When we refuse to suffer, we spit in the face of the Sufferer. When we say we don’t want to waste our time grieving, we turn up our noses at the Man of Sorrows. Without the dark bitterness of Holy Week, Easter is nothing but another day. But thanks be to God, we are called to grieve in hope. May our hearts turn to the Light, and the lengthening shadows of evening be seen for what they are.

A New Year

P1010973Much has happened since the last update.  Hannah and I decided to settle in Hillsdale, Michigan for the time being until our way forward in ministry becomes more clear.  God has been teaching us a good deal about the truth, joy, and sorrow of his promise to the ancient clergy of Israel in Deuteronomy 18.  I am presently working as a clerk at a local business, Broad Street Downtown Market.  Sometimes I’m asked what my hobby is these days, and I generally answer ‘Finding church work as a clergyman.’  Pray for us as we seek to walk faithfully before God as his chosen Levites.

P1020006P1020015A cause of great joy for us was given this past October with the birth of our daughter Maria Grace.  She will be three months come the 12th.  I had the great honour and joy to baptize Maria a week ago on the 28th of December, the Feast of the Holy Innocents, at the Chapel of Saint Mary the Virgin, Nashotah House.  Her godparents Dcn. and Mrs. Aaron Prosser and Miss Hilary Tucker were all present.  In fact, Hilary was able to stay with us for a week and celebrate the majority of Christmastide and the arrival of the New Year.

Back in November we traveled to Knoxville, Tennesee to visit with Hannah’s family for Thanksgiving.  As most of the Tuckers are dispersed across the lower-48 and New Zealand, a couple families were absent and sorely missed, but as it was, we had 24 people gathered at Tim and Heidi Enloe’s house and a merry time was had by all.  Maria got to meet many of her cousins, aunts, uncles, and her other two grandparents.  It was also really good for Hannah and I to spend some time with our two goddaughters.  It is amazing how quickly they are growing.

As Epiphany looms closer and our minds turn toward contemplating the Visit of the Magi, I often think about the very unstable nature of life for the Holy Family for those first few years of our Lord’s life.  Born in Bethlehem away from where his parents called home, fleeing into Egypt after the Magi visited them, and then returning to live in Nazareth of Galilee because Archelaus, the brutal successor to the cruel Herod “the Great”, had become Ethnarch of Judah.  It’s too easy to have the sentimental picture of the Holy Family, Mary and Joseph adoring the Christ Child in the comfort of the stable or the house they later lived in.  If Caryl Houselander’s book “The Reed of God” has reminded me of anything, it’s that the life of our Lady and the Holy Family was anything but comfortable.  There is always an Advent before Christmastide, always preparation, emptying, and waiting before God brings his plans to fruition.  And even then, those plans will likely not be so comfortable.  That’s one of the reasons I enjoy having the reminder of the three feasts following Christmas Day: Saint Stephen the Martyr, Saint John the Evangelist, and the Holy Innocents.  We remember death, persecution, and a massacre in the midst of our Christmas joy.  We proclaim with the angelic hosts ‘Peace on earth, goodwill toward men,’ but it is the peace of God, ‘not as the world gives.’  God’s peace is a dangerous sort of peace.  It’s not the friendly handshake at Church or even the more affectionate kiss on the cheek.  God’s peace is the grace to hope in the midst of sorrow, to believe when everything looks bleak, to love when it feels like there is nothing but hate and bitterness in your heart.  God’s peace doesn’t lessen the trials, but it does give you the fortitude you lack to endure them.

With that, I leave you with the best wishes of the Hilgendorf clan for a merry Christmas and a happy Epiphany.

May the Holy Family pray for us all.  Jesu, mercy!

Pilgrimage to Grafton’s Tomb

Thanks to an internet outage and crazy hectic schedules, I’m only just now uploading pictures from our pilgrimage to St. Paul’s Cathedral in Fond du Lac way back on March 12.  I took a kazillion pictures simply because it’s an amazing place, but I won’t subject you to all of them here and now.  We had a couple of wonderful tour guides that were able to tell us quite a lot about the history of the place.  After the tour was over, we all roamed around and studied various things that caught our interest, reassembling at noon for mass in a small side chapel.  The drive there and back was lovely; even though it was chilly, there were many places that had less snow than we had at home at that point, and the rural farm areas are something I love to see/drive through.  It was a huge blessing to be a part of the small group from the House that traveled together on this refreshing trek.

P1000355The baptismal font

P1000365St. Margaret defeats the devil.  On a side note, the dragon’s tongue is removable, and underneath it was a good place to sneak in love notes from the outside when St. Margaret resided in a girls’ school.

P1000362This is one of thirteen gorgeously detailed wooden statues that were imported from Germany in the 19th century.  There are six on each side of the nave, being the twelve apostles.  This one, St. Paul, resides in the back of the nave.

P1000354The windows in the nave depict scenes from the life and ministry of St. Paul.  Here he is putting his hands on St. Timothy, as spoken of in 2 Timothy 1:6.

P1000352Close to the ceiling, there are gorgeous paintings capturing different moments from Christ’s life.  Unfortunately, they are just in such a position that it was difficult to make out all the wonderful details, which is where a decent camera and a zoom option came in handy. 🙂

P1000351These angels were purchased with the 13 statues; they were all originally this honey colour, but the statues darkened when they were sent out to be cleaned.

P1000308Bl. Bp. Grafton’s tomb

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P1000307The preaching pulpit

P1000313The golden-tongued preacher

P1000368Oh. By the way.  Even though it was scarcely above freezing (if at all), I went barefoot, because Fr. Koehler dared me to, and, well, I’ll take pretty much any excuse to go barefoot.

P1000318The organ was huge.  If I remember rightly, 2,000+ pipes.

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P1000331Mary Magdalene: showing Bollywood actresses how it should be done for two millennia.

P1000349The angel of death

P1000334The details on all the woodwork were so incredible.

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P1000297Okay, so this was just incredible.  In a side chapel, a painted/enameled marble altar frontal.  Apparently there has only been one artist able to successfully use this technique, and only three of these frontals existing in the States.

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