Most of the foreign languages I have studied --Latin, biblical Greek, Old English--are "dead," and so I am not used to encountering a language I know outside of a book. But in Italy, the walls whispered to me. Words, incised in marble or hammered into gold, surprised me at every turn. I find Ecce ancilla domini over that doorway, and something shakes the dust off my high-school Latin, tumbling me into a beloved chapter from Luke's Gospel. Behold the handmaiden of the Lord.
In Santa Croce, the tombs were speaking. Rich panels of marble paved the floor of the nave and transept, memorializing a body and soul at rest. Mostly they told me that so-and-so was buried here, many spoke of resting in peace. The ornate graves sang of the mighty artists and thinkers who had done so much to the glory of God. Of all these voices of the dead, one quickened me more than all the others.
vixi in deo · quiesco in spe · resurgam utinam in caritate æterna
Common hope in a foreign land. Cradle-truths from a half-forgotten tongue. Baptist girls are not accustomed to treading on tombs -- most of our churches don't even have their own graveyards. When I entered Santa Croce, I looked at the monuments of the Greats and thought, I am here to revere the work they have done. But no. The dead said, we are resting here in hope. Walk on us, climb over us, read, recite, and pace over our words, polish them to transparency until the grace blinds you in its shining. Come join us in the floor of the church. Listen to the faithful sing and step over you. Rest here, and rise in love everlasting.
* Before publishing this entry, I checked with some scholar-friends whose Latin skills are sharper than mine. They suggested a few other translations, including the lovely possibility that the final clause should be, "would that I might rise to everlasting love." However, others argued that my (simpler) translation is actually more likely, since the tomb is medieval. I am choosing to include the text as it came to me in the moment, but I make no claims that it is a perfect translation.