I had the opportunity to visit a truly spectacular religious and historic site in Bologna the last time I was in Italy, the Complex of St. Stephen, which is a series of seven churches meant to be a recreation of the churches of Jerusalem, with the Church of the Holy Sepulchre being the most prominent.
I revel at the comparison between medieval Italian brickwork and St. Louis brickwork, the tan and the red. The majestic dome soars above what is actually a fairly interesting copy of the tomb of Jesus in Jerusalem. What is so cool, and what we even see in St. Louis in places, is the rotunda is built upon and even still uses, the round sanctuary of what had been a temple dedicated to the Egyptian goddess Isis, worshiped throughout the Roman Empire.
The other churches reveal a raw, but immediate Romanesque style, dedicated to other saints. Probably the most memorable part of my visit is when I got up the courage to talk to an elderly priest who was standing inside the front door. In my broken Italian, I told him how beautiful I thought his church was, and he proceeded to give me a whole history of the complex, and the story behind each of the seven churches. This little piece of ground has a history that goes back two thousand years, and shows how we here in St. Louis can use the multiple layers of history that we possess to enrich our cultural heritage.
The exterior is decorated with the same sort of playful brickwork I often see in the masonry of St. Louis: done by individual initiative by artisans inspired by their handiwork and their craft.