After having just spent two weeks in Italy, I thought, “Stendhalism” would be an appropriate blogging topic. The inherent beauty lingering around every Italian corner was almost too much for one person or for one journey. Part of me wanted to visit in slow motion so that it could all be soaked in slowly, but there was really also much to see.
We began our sojourn in Lucca, then went to Siena, Florence and ended in Rome. The actual word “Stendhalism” was termed in Florence and created by one of my favorite authors, 19th century writer, Stendhal (pseudonym of Henri-Marie Beyle). In 1817 while visiting the Basilica of Santa Croce where the tomb of the artist Michelangelo is located, he felt this overwhelming sense of beauty.
This condition is also called the “Wow Effect.” Some say “Stendhalism” is a psychosomatic syndrome that can cause fainting when someone is in awe of unbearable beauty. In some persons, the result can be rapid heartbeat, dizziness, confusion and even hallucinations when exposed to art. This usually happens when the art is particularly “beautiful” or there is a large amount of art is in one place.
The term “Stendhalism” may also be used to describe a similar reaction when confronted with immense beauty in the natural world. There are many natural spots in the world which can create a similar effect, such as driving through Big Sur, the Grand Canyon and other American landmarks.
In a recent conversation with a colleague, I learned of a variation of “Stendhalism” which can happen in the city of Jerusalem in Israel. In this case it is appropriately called the “Jerusalem Syndrome,” whereby the body’s “overwhelm” response is in reaction to the sense of awe in the presence of spiritual or religious significance. Apparently, the local police in Jerusalem are very aware of the syndrome and know how to deal with the many daily cases encountered by the thousands of Christian, Jewish and Muslim pilgrims who visit this destination—the Holy Land to all.
What do you think of this syndrome? Is there a place that you have visited in the past which brings out this syndrome in you. How have you dealt with it? Does creativity such as writing or taking photos help?