Another chance discovery I made while browsing the Europeana Collections: When I first saw this photo, I immediately felt I recognized that doorway, though I couldn’t quite place it. But just looking at the picture brought back an almost physical memory of being somewhere high above the ground. Then I remembered: This is the platform high up on the unfinished facade of Siena’s Duomo Nuovo, a popular lookout point for visitors to the city. Well, that’s the architecture covered, but who, you may wonder, is the man in the photo?
As it turns out, he is Aldo Capitini (1899-1968), an Italian philosopher, educator, antifascist and pacifist. He played a key part in establishing the non-violence movement in his home country and is therefore sometimes dubbed “the Italian Gandhi”.
The picture of the young Capitini in Siena belongs to a large collection of images from his family’s private photo albums, provided by the Fondazione Centro Studi Aldo Capitini in Perugia and also available through the Europeana database. The material seems to span the period from the late-19th to the mid-20th century, and, as you’d expect from such a private collection, it includes everything from holiday snapshots to posed family portraits, offering sometimes intimate glimpses into the lives of long-deceased strangers.
But there are also more formal images of Capitini in the database, pertaining to his role as a public intellectual and educator. Also included are photos documenting one of his most enduring achievements, the Marcia per la Pace [Peace March] from Perugia to Assisi, which he organised in 1961, at the height of the Cold War. The March has since become a regular event, held every two or three years, and to this day marks an important date in the calendar of the Italian peace movement…
As you may know, in the Christmas story according to the gospel of Luke, the angel’s message to the shepherd’s reads: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men” [King James version]. No matter what you think of the first, “heavenly” part of that message, I do believe that, in any case, its second, “earthly” part is as relevant today as it was 2000 years ago. In this spirit: Merry Christmas!