class | Meandering
in a bottle | That
old-time religion | Ross
. . . Robyn Ross
ranked 14th in the country for offering students chances to go abroad.
Bronson C. Davis
When Religion Prof. Ken Lawrence '58 became Lorenzo, I knew I was in Italy.
Cathy and I had finally decided to make his renowned alumni study trip
to Italy. It was his 19th trip to Italy -- hence Lorenzo, his standing
nom de plume -- and his 24th educational excursion. He made a 25th later
in the summer to Greece and Turkey for TCU's philanthropic Clark Society.
His first happened at McMurry University in Abilene when he was asked
to help with a trip to Italy. He saw the transformation in his students
when they participated in the analysis of art and architecture directly.
to become more independent in their observations," Lawrence said. "After
a month's time, they were immersed in the language and the art. It happens
on every trip whether it's older adults or students. It's why I love to
lead these things."
his trips have become legendary. Alumni and friends fill the rosters quickly
and there are even "Lorenzo" groupies who have made five or more adventures
with him. These trips are no frolics in the vineyards. Three meetings
before you leave. Suggested readings and guidelines for deportment, dress,
and travel equipment. There are also no free weekends. You had to want
to experience the art of Italy for this trip to satisfy, but if that was
your mission, then you would be satiated.
there wasn't time to smell the Ginestra or sample the pasta or test the
wine, we soon found. Lorenzo knew all the good places, and it was only
the walking that prevented massive weight gain from the glorious bread
and the five-course meals. The highlight was certainly the three-hour
meal in Florence at Leo Bossolini's Ristorante Leo in Santa Croce. It
is a restaurant festooned with photographs, and TCU has its own little
section on the wall. Mere mention of the school will get you prime service,
a glass of wine and a discount!
was our artistic leader, the organizational muscle of the trip was provided
by his wife, Carol Jane. Quiet and unassuming, C.J. kept the show on the
road and herded at the rear of our group, keeping her eye on stragglers
and slow shoppers. The two met at TCU, where she was a religion major
and he studied art, psychology and religion.
interests he continued to pursue through a divinity degree at Brite, a
PhD at Boston University, and then teaching and publishing. C.J. works
close by at University Christian Church, guiding programming for older
adults. Our nom de guerre was "Il Gruppo." When Ken would call that out
in piazzas, museums and train stations, we would know to gather and pay
attention. We were his largest group at 46, ranging in age from 21 to
81. Being part of Il Gruppo reminded me of my army days. We were a slow-moving
platoon, but we gradually bonded like brothers and sisters as we bussed,
trained and even boated across Northern Italy. Sometimes our travail would
bring us together. One such event took place in Venice where we were to
stay at a four star hotel. The difficulties began when the vaparetto dropped
us and our luggage at the wrong dock, fully 1.5 miles from our hotel,
but we didn't know that. We became Lorenzo's army of the elect, dragging
our 80-pound bags up, down and across four-foot bridges through throngs
of bemused tourists and out onto the magnificent Piazza San Marco. We
were a strange parade. By the time we made the hotel lobby, we had become
an exhausted, irritable mob. But it only took a nap, some good wine and
the glories of a Venetian night to transform "the trek" into one of the
journey's memorable moments.
It was art
and religion, though, that was central. To stand before works you had
studied in college or seen on TV such as Bernini's baldachino in St. Peter's
or Ghiberti's doors to the Baptistry of the Il Duomo in Florence, or Michelangelo's
ceiling in the Sistine Chapel was a better experience than you could imagine.
Seeing the frescoes from the middle ages juxtaposed against those from
the early Renaissance in the Lower Basilica of St. Frances, we began to
understand what the Renaissance was about, and the fascinating transformation
in their perspective on humankind's place in the world. Ever prodded by
Lorenzo, we reentered that time through its forms of expression.
is not reproduction, it represents something. What did it symbolize for
the artist and the people of that day? What does it symbolize for us?
What does it point toward?" he asked over and over again. "This is the
way they related to ultimate reality, through these symbols. Some are
dense and difficult to understand, but they are trying to express their
deepest feelings about meaning and life." And in front of the Duomo in
Mantua he pointed out how easy it is to see the progression of Christianity
through the architecture of the church.
words the architecture here attempts to make dynamic the religious traditions
of the periods it passed through, and to reflect what was relevant and
important to the religious experience and understanding of Christians
in the Middle Ages, the Renaissance and the Catholic Reformation."
more than an academic approach, however, for Lorenzo transmitted his passion
to us. He confessed that as a graduate student he had sat for four full
days in the Uffizi Gallery in front of Giotto's altar screen of Madonna
and Child, trying to best understand its meaning. At other times he became
so intense in his descriptions that he was overcome with emotion and had
to stop to gain control. It happened as he stood before Michelangelo's
Pieta in St. Peters, describing Mary's expression as "grief beyond tears,"
and then again in Assisi on the steps outside the Monastery of San Domiano
explaining the irreparable break between St. Francis and his father; and
then before Carravaggio's painting on the Sacrifice of Issac in the Uffizi
Gallery. Art is not a spectator sport for the good professor, it is the
stuff of life and calls for serious engagement.
It was only
on our final day that Lorenzo allowed us to totally enjoy the sybaritic
side of Italy in Chernobbia and then Bellagio on Lake Como, one of the
world's most beautiful spots. He seemed especially happy. Mission accomplished.
He had ignited the spark and made Renaissance people out of another group.
He was already thinking about next summer's journey to France, Germany
and England to study Medieval and Renaissance art and architecture. That
night, Il Gruppo celebrated its journey together in song, poetry and toasts.
Then we provided a keepsake gift for our venerable teacher, the highest
honor we could bestow in the summer of '98, a T-shirt with the face of
another remarkable Italian emblazoned on the front.
DiCaprio shirt fit Lorenzo just fine.
Davis is vice chancellor for university advancement.