Resurrection in RomeBMJ 2008; 336 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.39520.498449.94 (Published 20 March 2008) Cite this as: BMJ 2008;336:672
- James Owen Drife, professor of obstetrics and gynaecology, Leeds
Winter holidays used to be for the idle rich. Then they became the norm for junior doctors. Now even consultants (the least idle of hospital staff) sneak off for a week or so. But we feel guilty about it. With Christmas lasting longer every year, half term looming, and Easter following on, can we justify more rest and recreation?
My wife and I, raised as Scots presbyterians, avoid beaches or ski slopes and head for town, seeking somewhere stern and mind improving. This year it was Rome, which turned out to have everything we wanted: art galleries, museums, pouring rain, and a gale whipping up the Tiber.
Rome is refreshingly unselfconscious, with nothing left to prove. Or almost nothing. Her biggest monument is to a king who unified Italy in the 19th century. Leadership at last, it proclaims—no more squabbling and being pushed around by others. People dislike the huge memorial, but as British doctors we sympathised.
Western Christian art is everywhere. You can have too much of it. In gallery after gallery saints were sadistically martyred, babies were massacred, and Christ rolled his eyes in agony on the cross. We were familiar with the theology that justifies all this stuff, but it was never very convincing. We longed for some Orthodox icons to cheer us up a bit.
It was music, not pictures, that had attracted us. Our group, mainly senior citizens and Radio 3 listeners, walked to churches and palazzi to experience the delights of the Baroque. The local musicians, stocky men with shaven heads and designer stubble, nipped out for a smoke in the interval, and when they left, carrying violin cases and dressed in black, people got out of their way.
The climactic performance was Handel’s Resurrection, with full orchestra and chorus. The soloists, including an angel, St John, and Satan, sang in Latin, but you got the gist without looking at the translation. Despite his wonderful bass voice, bags of personality, and appeals to the audience, Satan was never going to get a result.
“Strange,” wrote Noel Coward, “how potent cheap music is.” He didn’t comment on expensive music, and Handel’s power surprised me. It made the Easter story seem almost logical. The triumph of goodness was inspiring, even to jaded doctors. And when we emerged the sun was shining.