Two events — unexpected and unplanned — happened during our long-term travel. We spent many days traveling in Palestine and Israel before heading to Italy. In Palestine, we spent time in Bethlehem where we saw Shepherds’ Fields, Manger Square, and the Church of the Nativity. While in the Grotto of the Nativity, we joined other faithful ones remembering the birth of Jesus. About fifty women from Brazil were singing in the grotto, and the sound of their voices reverberated throughout the grotto while we visited.
Numerous other chapels are located in or near the Church of the Nativity. One of these — the Chapel of the Innocents — commerorates the infanticide ordered by Herod after hearing about Jesus’ birth from the Magi. In the gospel of Matthew, chapter 2, we read that Herod ordered the death of children aged two and younger in Bethlehem. The slaughter of the innocents is a difficult, and theologically challenging, aspect of the gospel story.
Under the Church of the Nativity, away from the Grotto of the Nativity with its crowds of pilgrims, the Chapel of the Innocents sat quiet and empty. Perhaps that was a fitting testimony.
After leaving Israel/Palestine, we traveled to Italy. While in Florence, we made the rounds of important sites such as the Ufizzi Gallery and the Galleria dell’ Accademia di Firenze. While at the Accademia, I found an unexpected treasure. After seeing Michelangelo’s David, which at seventeen feet tall is incredible and awe-inspiring, I turned left to go into another gallery. There, in a room filled mostly with statues, a few paintings are on the wall. At the far end of the room, on the left side of the wall, I saw a painting that took my breath away.Antonio Puccinelli painted The Massacre of the Innocents in 1852, and in it, he captures the terror of mothers whose children are to be killed because of Herod’s order. In the background, one mother cries out in anguish over her dead child, lifting her hands raised to the sky. In the foreground, another mother carries her child away, covering his mouth to keep him from making noise and being discovered. Her face is filled with worry as she flees.
Puccinelli (1822-1897), a Florentine painter, was best known for his realism. He depicted everyday scenes with special focus on regular people in normal settings. In The Massacre of the Innocents, Puccinelli captures the experience of a regular woman, a mother desperate to keep her child alive.
After looking at the painting for a long time, I rushed to find my wife and encouraged her to see it as well. Then, together, we looked at this painting, marveling at its depiction of the scene in a way that neither of us had ever seen before.