Protestantism and Exoticism


Walking into St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice is entering another world. It is dark inside compared with the dazzling Venetian light outdoors, which seems to emanate from all directions. What is also disorienting is the undulating floor. Centuries of settling have made it like the surface of the sea, but the waves are frozen and mosaic tiled. Above, it is another sea, this time of gold. Opulent and heady, everything seems to be encrusted with gold, with spectacular mosaics lining the multitudes of domes that make up the ceiling.

I wanted to share an idea that popped into my head after visiting Saint Mark’s in Venice. Plainly put, what if the Protestant Reformation was not what it claimed to be about—a rejection of the Roman Catholic Church’s corruption and intention to act as a gatekeeper between man and God—but a rejection of exoticism and “orientalism” as represented by Saint Mark’s Basilica? Christianity, after all, is a Middle Eastern religion, and I cannot help but wonder if the Reformation, centered as it was in Germanic (including Anglo-Saxon) northwestern Europe, was a reassertion of a Germanic sensibility. I am reminded of certain undercurrents in Norse mythology, which (itself derived from Teutonic myths), namely a suspicion of the feminine and of mysticism. I suspect that these cultural undercurrents were merely dormant as Christianity spread throughout Europe, and reasserted themselves in Northwestern Europe.
I am trying to make this a brief blog post, just to get this idea out into the world. The subject is so complicated, and I am aware that I will be stepping on a lot of toes, offending some. Yet, an idea is an idea, and I wanted to write about it while it was still fresh in my mind, especially since I was inspired by my visit to baroque Venice. This baroque opulence was the visual manifestation of the Counter-Reformation. If the Protestants in the north where going to be iconoclasts, the Roman Catholics intended to further embrace visual imagery as part of the religious experience. I should mention that St. Mark’s dates from the byzantine era with later additions, some of which date from the baroque period, if I have my facts correct. Most significantly, it represents a lavishness that was antithetical to Protestantism.

Please feel free to post comments. I’m grateful for comments and encouragement regarding my nascent theory that I received from my fellow students at IDSVA, Lorena Morales and Shadieh Mirmobiny, our professor, Simonetta Moro, and last but not least, the inimitable Brittany Olsen.

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