Walking into the Palazzo Comunale (Town Hall) gallery of San Gimignano, Italy, we are instantly surrounded by beautifully grand images of the Virgin Mary cradling the sweet baby Jesus.
Most of these paintings go unnoticed by my five year old son. It’s when he comes upon a giant crucifix, standing in the center of the room, that the questions begin.
“EEEWWWW! Mommy! What’s that in his feet?”
I respond gently, “It’s a nail, honey.”
“Why is it in his feet?”
He steps closer and looks up.
“MOMMY! His hands! What is that?”
Speaking in a soft tone, hoping he will follow my example, I explain. “Those are also nails.”
He continues softly, “Why is he nailed to that cross? Is that blood? Who is that guy?”
“Yes, the nails in his body are causing him to bleed. That is Jesus.”
His voice raises back up, but this time with concern.
“WHAT? I thought Jesus was good. Why would someone do that to him? He will die like that.”
“Some people thought that he was doing bad things, so they were punishing him.”
I do my best to answer him in the most simplistic and comprehensive way.
“But, why would they do that to him? Did they kill him? Did he die like that? MOMMY! Look at his head! It’s bleeding! Did they put nails in his head too?”
He is now shouting.
“That is a crown. It has thorns on it and the thorns are making his head bleed.”
My son, almost in tears, is shocked.
Standing in the middle of the museum, I question myself as to how much I should say. Luckily, we are alone in the room. I watch him and wonder how he is filing all of this away in his impressionable mind. He stands there, mouth agape, staring.
I decide to divert his attention to the frescoes and paintings on the surrounding walls. We go through the characters in the scenes and I teach him how to identify everyone. He enjoys finding the commonalities in all of the pieces. My son is now more at peace with the comforting visions of this beautiful mother with her baby at her breast.
He seems to have forgotten the violent scene that had presented itself to him just moments ago. Until we get to the door, where he sees an imposing painted crucifix hanging on each side.
He turns back to look at me, with the same worried expression retuning to his face. My five year old son then turns around and runs quickly through the door, leaving it all behind him. Knowing the conversation is only delayed for another time, I follow him out.
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