A Letter to the Most Illustrious the Contessina Allagia degli Aldobrandeschiwritten Christmas EveAnno Domini 1513
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.
And so, at this time, I greet you, not quite as the world sends greetings, but with profound esteem and with the prayer that for you, now and forever, the day breaks and shadows flee away.
Fra Giovanni Giocondo
Over 500 years ago, Giovanni Giocondo wrote this letter to a dear friend. He was 80 years old at the time and had already lived a full life as a teacher of Latin and Greek, a Franciscan priest, archaeologist, translator of ancient manuscripts, architect, and engineer. Many of his designs still stand including Loggia del Consiglio in Verona, Fondaco dei Tedeschi in Venice, and the Pont Notre-Dame bridge in Paris. Works he translated went on to advance architecture, medicine, and theology. Yet these sentiments shared with a friend are his most personal legacy. Although authorship can’t be verified with complete certainty, it doesn’t really matter. What does matter how touched the Contessina must have been to receive it 503 years ago. We have no way of knowing what cast shadows in her life, but it’s easy to imagine her unfolding the page to read again and again, until each word was committed to memory. All these centuries later, the letter still has the power to nourish hope in our hearts. May it do so for you too, my friend.