Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

`It Is a Church First' Visitors to Duomo of Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence, Italy Often Fail to Show Proper Respect

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

`It Is a Church First' Visitors to Duomo of Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence, Italy Often Fail to Show Proper Respect

Article excerpt

Other beautiful houses of worship also struggle with problems caused by mass tourism. The coordinator of the duomo's seventh centennial celebration will share some of his experiences in a talk at the Art Museum.

When someone mentions visitors' lack of respect for sanctuaries, many pastors and rabbis bond instantly.

Some lift eyebrows at funerals when men arrive without ties, or women wear slacks. Others complain about teens who go to services while chewing g um or wearing holey jeans or midriff-baring halters. Some visitors go to the Rev. Timothy Verdon's church without even considering praying. Verdon, an American, is on the staff of the Duomo of Santa Maria del Fiore - the Catholic Cathedral of Florence, Italy. Busloads of disrespectful people turn up there daily. If they are not stopped, they will walk into the church licking ice cream cones, sipping soft drinks, snapping gum, smoking or talking loudly, he said. "Many visitors are more respectful, quieter when they are in a museum than when they are in the duomo," he said. Many young people do not intend to offend - they just have no sense of what is appropriate, he said. A painting of the pink, green and white duomo with its bell tower by Giotto hangs over the entrance to the St. Louis Art Museum for the Italian Celebration that runs through April 20. Verdon, a former university art history professor, will talk about the 700-year-old cathedral at 7:30 p.m. March 11 in the museum's auditorium. He is coordinator of the cathedral's seventh centennial celebration, which runs through Sept. 8. "It is a great historical monument and part of our universal heritage, and we want to make it available to the public. However, it is a church first," he said in a phone conversation from Italy as he looked out his window at the duomo's baptistry's golden doors, which Michelangelo called the gates of paradise. "We have the sacred charge of preserving a cathedral and never altering it from the original function of the community." Clergy members who run beautiful houses of worship struggle with similar problems of mass tourism. In the 1980s, Westminster Abbey found it could cull the crowds by charging a fee to visit the royal chapels and most of the abbey. Paris' Notre Dame Cathedral opened a lower-level archaeology museum to give tourists site history. To keep milling tourists out of the central section of the church during Sunday Mass, workers block the area off with waist-high partitions. The Washington National (Episcopal) Cathedral requires worshipers to write for free passes in advance for its Easter Sunday services. Six days a week it offers tours for a suggested donation of $2 a person. The Mormon Temples in Salt Lake City and in Washington are closed to visitors, but adjacent buildings offer church history exhibits and music. …

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