Stephen Travels

And he's ready to take you with him.


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Unique Churches in Unique Venice

Church of St. Zachary, Venice, ItalyWhenever you cross one of Venice’s more than 400 bridges over its placid canals, you’ll catch sight of one of the city’s nearly 140 churches. They come in all shapes and sizes, from massive cathedrals to smaller parish churches. Most are Roman Catholic, but you can find a few for other denominations, such as the Greek Orthodox church with its leaning tower. And, while Saint Mark’s Basilica is the biggest draw, it’s often the less-visited churches that brandish the best surprises. Read about the top five churches in Venice, Italy >


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Busted: The World’s Best Heads

Bust of Queen VictoriaAn artist’s ability to carve a human head and have the result bear an uncanny likeness to the model never fails to impress me. Such busts may very well cause you to do a double-take, as you question yourself whether that is the real flesh-and-blood person, or their image re-created in marble, copper, stone, or whatever other material the sculptor has chosen to employ. Some, of course, rise head and shoulders above the rest. Read about the world’s top five busts >


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St. Stephen Rocks

St. Joseph Cathedral, Buffalo, New YorkAt last count, there are at least nine St. Stephens, including a Byzantine monk, an English abbot, and a Russian painter and missionary. I’m familiar with only two: Stephen I, the man who united Hungary into one nation a millennium ago and served as its first king for nearly 40 years, and my namesake, the Biblical Stephen who was stoned to death for his faith, thus becoming Christianity’s first martyr. With the latter’s feast day coming up, on December 26, it seems like an appropriate time to take a look at how this Stephen is presented in art—very often, but not always, holding the rocks that were used to kill him. Read about the top five depictions of St. Stephen >


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Bodies of Work

Jenners Department Store, Edinburgh, ScotlandIf you feel like the weight of the world is sometimes pressing down on you, imagine if an actual building were doing the same thing. Since the sixth century BC in ancient Greece, stone women have been supporting entablatures on their heads; their male counterparts came along a little later, in the Greek cities in Sicily and southern Italy. These caryatids and atlantids not only served a practical function, as a column or pillar to support the weight of a structure, but they also added impressive panache. Read about the top five atlantids and caryatids >


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How Great Thou Arch

Queenstown War Memorial, New ZealandThey seem simple: vertical curved structures that span an open space and may, or may not, support weight above it. Of course, arches are much more complicated than that, a complex balance of compression, stress, thrust, bracings, and transference. The Mesopotamians got the jump on them four thousand years ago, but it was the Romans who used them systematically in a wide range of structures, leading eventually to a worldwide adaptation of this most beautiful form. Read about the top five arches >


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Marking Mark’s Feast Day

St. Augustine Catholic Church, Montpelier, VermontApril 25 marks the Feast Day of St. Mark, one of the Four Evangelists who wrote one of the gospels and spread the Word of God. His life mission took him around the eastern Mediterranean, to Cyprus and northern Africa, and his death, in 68 AD, is the stuff of legend. Over the centuries, he has been portrayed as both a young and an old man in just about every form of art imaginable. Read more about the top five depictions of St. Mark >


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First Impressions That Last

Pitons, St. LuciaYour journey begins in your mind, when you ruminate about a place you’d like to visit. After you’ve made your itinerary, selected the places you want to explore, and booked your accommodations, there’s only one thing left to do: Go. And when you get there, it’s that ever-important first impression that can set the tone for your entire trip. That initial reaction all depends on how you arrive, and the mode of transportation you’ve selected can make all the difference. Read about the world’s top five arrivals >


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The Most Heavenly Celestial Intermediaries, Protectors, and Guides

Angel on St. Angelo Bridge, RomeAngels are a common motif during the Christmas season (particularly noteworthy is Clarence in the classic It’s a Wonderful Life, and in the holiday markets in Düsseldorf, Germany), but they’re not restricted to December. You can find them throughout the year, in myriad locations and captured in various materials and emotional states, from joyful angels blowing horns to mournful ones grieving at gravesites. You may even have one of the guardian type of your own. Read about the top five angels >


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The Eternally Beautiful Churches of Rome

Church of the Twelve Holy Apostles, RomeRome and religion are intrinsically intertwined. Completely surrounding the Catholic mini-state of the Vatican City, the Italian capital has been influenced by the church, and vice versa, for centuries. Italians still go pazzo for Il Papa, and a papal Mass in the Basilica of St. Peter is an unforgettable experience (at least, from what I’ve heard). Of course, getting into one takes a lot of doing, so most of us will have to be satisfied with just popping into a regular run-of-the-mill church that a pope may or may not have visited at some point. But in Rome, that means you inevitably step into a dazzling place that could stand on its own against most museums. Filled with long histories, incredible architecture, and art by some of Italy’s heavyweights, the churches of Rome — and there are many of them — rank among the most beautiful in the world. The first one I entered was so sublime that I needed no further motivation to visit every other one I came across. Read about the top five churches in Rome >


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Animals That Come to Life in Art

All pet owners know that their four- and sometimes two-legged friends have distinctive personalities. But that doesn’t apply solely to our domesticated companions. Go into the wild and watch how different penguins or baboons behave, and you’ll start to notice the uniqueness of each individual. Animals are just as complicated as humans (with a lot less baggage), capable of learning, surviving against the odds, and feeling, everything from fear and compassion to sadness and joy. We’ve all seen the videos of elephants crying, a husky going absolutely bonkers when his master returns home after an extended tour of duty overseas, the Labrador gently interacting with a curious but cautious three-year-old boy with Down syndrome, and the giraffe kissing his caretaker goodbye, sensing the man’s impending death from cancer. When animals are portrayed in art and an artist can brilliantly capture their entire being and personality — their characteristics, beauty, and emotions — in static media like marble or paint, you’ll find yourself looking at something that comes this close to being the real thing. Read about the top five animals in art >