Letter from a vagabond 22 October 2018 Whispers in time…


            Friday, I woke, had coffee, and strolled to the Cathedral in Cologne, a beautiful building, much devasted in WWII by bombing, twinned now with Coventry, in England, where that Cathedral suffered from German bombs.  Seventy-three years since war’s end, scaffolding still climbs the exterior of the building and work continues on the edifice.  Inside, it was dark and chill, with light bounding through windows, though the light seemed contained, taunting but failing to bring brilliance to the interior.

At noon, there was a worship service, possibly Mass, though there seemed no Eucharist; I stayed for it after lighting candles, a habit I have had since my Catholic childhood, for things for which I am thankful or for which I am hopeful.  When the service was finished, the Nave was re-opened, and I stared long at the reliquary for the Magi, their relics a gift to the Cathedral from the Holy Roman Emperor, Friedrich I, Barbarossa, as a thank you for support in the siege of Milan.

The Three Kings fascinated me as a child, perhaps because I was cast as one in a Christmas pageant.  “We Three Kings of Orient Are…”

Once reaching cognizance, I never thought of them as real historical characters; they were part of the Jesus myth and here I was, facing a golden object that contained their relics, an object that suggested a medieval artist’s take on the Ark of the Covenant.


Next to the Cathedral is the Roman Museum, a reminder that Cologne began as a Roman fortress city, defending the western boundary of the Empire.


It was somewhere near here that Gaius Julius Caesar, named for his ancestor, Julius Caesar, got the nickname “Caligula,” because as a little boy he was dressed in a soldier’s outfit, including little boots, the Latin word for which came the nickname.

He became the Emperor Caligula and, after suffering some illness early in his reign, seemed to have become quite mad, obsessed with the testing the limits of being Emperor.   Three short years later, the Senate and the Praetorian Guard ended his reign, killing him, so legend goes, with the same number of knife strokes given his ancestor Julius.

Here, you will find one of the world’s most impressive collections of extant glass from the Roman Era.

In another collection, there are the adornments of Roman women, hairpins, jewelry, mirrors.  Somewhere in time, a woman used those hairpins to hold up her hair, the mirror to put on make-up, slipped on a carefully crafted necklace, adorned her wrists with the carefully tooled silver bracelets and went out, to a dinner, to the games?  Did she laugh while reclining on a dinner couch?  Scream with pleasure in the amphitheater as some gladiator met his fate?

Some time, there was a woman who used those things, who lived and whose name we will not ever know but some whisper of her remains in the things she used and wore.   We remember Caligula and not the woman who lived her ordinary life, her whisper unknowingly transported through time.

It is that whisper that haunts me as I move through museums like this one.

An uncovered mosaic graced the courtyard of a Roman villa.  People walked there, on their way, hither and yon; perhaps back and forth through the night, comforting a crying baby or on the way to a meeting with the Provincial Governor.  Living feet walked those mosaics, laid then for the living, not thinking two millennia hence, the mosaic would be looked over by humans, an undreamed of number of generations later.

It is the whispers of the real people, reverberating in time, that makes such a place almost holy, a sanctuary for the ordinary made extraordinary by time.




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