On Aug. 24, in the year 79 AD, Mount Vesuvius erupted. Ash began to fall on the 8,000-year-old city of Pompeii, which was home to more than 20,000 people. Before two days had passed, more than 2,000 people were killed by the heat and deadly fumes and the city was buried in volcanic ash.
In 1764, by accident, remnants of the ancient city were unearthed. Archeologists considered it a miracle as they dug into the preserved homes, theaters, libraries, temples and artifacts of daily life at the beginning of the first millenium.
Walking along the streets of Pompei, one can see a mosaic of a bird stealing a string of beads at the House of the Faun, with a statue of a man dancing still the house’s foyer. Bodies are preseerved in their postures of death, some reeling with agony, one kneeling and blockng his face from the fumes, in what seems like an attitude of prayer — frozen forever. Ancient stepping stones help people cross the muddy streets.
These stepping stones, Bishop John Schol pointed out, are spaced to allow for the wheels of chariots to pass between them. The wheel-span of the chariots is based on the width of the hindquarters of two horses standing side-by-side. More than 1,500 years later in the United States, the width of railroad tracks is consistent with this measurement. Iron horses mimic their ancient counterparts — and the more things change . . .
Our guide, Antonio, unlocked the secrets of the city, revealing ancient shops, temples, brothels, bars and civic spaces.
He pointed out the white stones that lined the streets. These, he explained, were set out strategically by city leaders to reflect the moonlight and provide light to those who might stumble in the dark.
This seemed an apt metaphore for Christians today, who are called to be out in the world, reflecting the light of Christ to illuminate the darkness for others.
On the way back to the boat, the bishop led the people on the bus in prayer, that “we might be the Gospel.” As we begin our journey homeward, this feels like an apt way to honor Paul’s legacy — to be present, and to shine, bearing witness to the glory of God.