Pompeii: Saturday, April 1

The hotel in Naples is directly across from the site of Pompeii! The clash of modern and ancient begins mere steps from the front door.

The eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 CE

Pompeii is the city most frequently associated with the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 CE. It is much larger than Herculaneum where we could easily see the whole town from the modern street level. Pompeii is different. It is a vast array of ancient roads and buildings.

I’ve always been saddened by the story of Pompeii. Its people, killed by suffocation mainly, experienced a different tragedy than those in Herculaneum. They died slowly, fighting to breathe and to find relief from the heat. Archaeologists, using a casting technique to preserve the original form of the individuals, have recovered bodies in various states of distress. Small children curled next to anguished parents, enslaved persons lying huddled with their oppressors, parents, elders, teens, babies. No one was spared the horror.

I was nervous about visiting, concerned the weight of it would break my heart. Oddly, I felt more acutely the richness of their lives rather than the agony of their deaths. This is no doubt due to the great teaching of our guide, Finn, and of course my sister.

Aileen "Preaching" at Lararium in PompeiiAn amphitheater, a lararium, and an ancient road

We started our visit in the amphitheater of Pompeii, a small–though still enormous–version of the Colosseum. From there we toured an ancient home belonging to what would have been a wealthy family. The gardens have been replanted to represent the form and foliage from the day; the colors of the frescoes remain so vibrant, the details so precise.

In this house, we saw a lararium, a temple of sorts that is located in a home. Naturally, I stopped by to give an impromptu sermon. It’s Holy Week, afterall. The lararium gave me pause for thought: what if we followers of Christ set aside a specific space in our home for personal worship? I wonder if in our conviction that “the whole world is God’s temple,” we fail to set aside sacred spaces. I know I don’t have anything like that in my house. I’m challenged by these ancient people and their determination to make worship a priority.

Walking along the streets of Pompeii, you find a curious construction: stones bigger than a bread box and smaller than a piano Pompeii frescoes and streetbench cemented in place in the middle of the road. We learned that these stones enabled the people to cross the road without the risk of stepping in. . . well. . . .let’s just say plumbing was not yet fully integrated into society. These mini-boulders represented an ancient crosswalk! Plus, Dawn pointed out that the stones are spaced so that a wagon’s wheels would fit in the gaps. Ingenious!

Vibrant frescoes and teeny tesserae

The next house we visited has frescoes so colorfully vivid that, but for the subject matter, you’d be sure they had just been produced. The fresco process is fascinating; in short it involves a form of chemical reaction that seals the color into the surface. Amazing. In one room, the frescoes included a midway border of sorts. It reminded me of the trend in the 80s to put a border at waist level in hallways and bedrooms. Anyway, these panels depicted tiny cupids in the process of daily tasks. I found it so charming and quaint. Little cupids fixing meals or washing clothes. Adorable.

After lunch, we went to the Naples Archaeological Museum where preservationists have housed some of the most fragile and precious items from Herculaneum and Pompeii. We saw more things than I can describe, each one so ridiculously awesome that I’m reduced to words like “ridiculous” and “awesome.” What I’m most amazed by here is the contrast in scale and size. In one room, you’ll find exquisite sculptures the size of a present-day tiny house; in the next, you’ll see mosaics that look e x a c t l y like paintings until you get close enough to see that they are made of miniscule tesserae that would be dwarfed by a baby aspirin. The skill is mind blowing. Let us never underestimate the ancients!mosaic in naples

These terrific teens

The kids are equally amazed with the sites and relics, drawing as close as allowed to the artwork in order to take it in. They ask questions, they step aside, they make room, they take one more look. I’m so grateful for this opportunity for them, but also for me in witnessing their interactions with these artifacts. Not one of these students is over 18 and they are as respectful as any octogenarian I know and even more so than some!

We sleep tonight in Rome and begin our tour there tomorrow.


By Aileen MItchell Lawrimore

Aileen Mitchell Lawrimore is a mother x 3, wife x 35 (years not men), minister, speaker, writer, retreat leader, and lover of beagles and books. She has a lot to say.