A true Renaissance man, Fra Giovanni Giocondo was an architect, engineer, antiquary, archaeologist, classical scholar, and Franciscan friar. He lived out his facinating life from 1435 – 1515. His accomplishments were great, including the building of well-known bridges and famous European fortifications. He stimulated the revival of classical learning by making collections of ancient manuscripts available to people like Lorenzo de’ Medici. His influence was significant and visible, but today he is best remembered for a beautiful letter that he wrote to his friend, Countess Allagia Aldobrandeschi on Christmas Eve 1513.
Giocondo was a learned man who lived a long and prosperous life. He certainly accomplished much, and left his mark on the world. It is interesting to me, however, that it was his “letter to a friend” as it is often called, that he is most remembered for. The sentiment is so deep and meaningful that it has lasted longer than some of his buildings.
Somehow Giocondo discovered a powerful truth. He knew a secret that can make all of life’s challenges, reasons for gratitude, all of our struggles, reasons to pause and look at little deeper. He knew the Goodness of seeking beauty, trueness, love and life-giving things. He knew how to peek behind the veil.
This mystery is available to each of us. Read his words and ponder them as if written to you. Print off the letter and keep it near. Think about it and let its meaning come to you, and most of all… Take joy!
I salute you. I am your friend, and my love for you goes deep. There is nothing I can give you which you have not. But there is much, very much, that, while I cannot give it, you can take. No heaven can come to us unless our hearts find rest in it today. Take heaven! No peace lies in the future which is not hidden in this present little instant. Take peace!
The gloom of the world is but a shadow. Behind it, yet within our reach, is joy. There is radiance and glory in darkness, could we but see. And to see, we have only to look. I beseech you to look!
Life is so generous a giver. But we, judging its gifts by their covering, cast them away as ugly or heavy or hard. Remove the covering, and you will find beneath it a living splendor, woven of love by wisdom, with power. Welcome it, grasp it, and you touch the angel’s hand that brings it to you.
Everything we call a trial, a sorrow or a duty, believe me, that angel’s hand is there. The gift is there and the wonder of an overshadowing presence. Your joys, too, be not content with them as joys. They, too, conceal diviner gifts.
Life is so full of meaning and purpose, so full of beauty beneath its covering, that you will find earth but cloaks your heaven. Courage then to claim it; that is all! But courage you have, and the knowledge that we are pilgrims together, wending through unknown country home.