This is the blog of Steve Burkett of Italy, Our Italy

Transforming the Cathedral of San Andreas

Today’s transformation contains a bit of a history lesson. This transformation is one where my original, very weak looking snapshot of the Cathedral of San Andreas in Amalfi, Italy is renovated into a much nicer photograph.

It is typical of photos taken aiming either up or down, that there will be a good bit of distortion. Aiming your camera up creates a convergence of lines toward the top. Aiming your camera down does the opposite.

But, did you notice that I am publishing this article on Monday, rather than the usual Tuesday. Well, there's a reason for that. You'll have to read down a bit to find out why I did this.

Original, yucky, unaltered snapshot

But for now, here is my original, blah snapshot. Pretty pathetic, huh?

Remember two weeks ago when I discussed JPEGs vs RAW photos. What you see here is the unaltered RAW snapshot – none of the JPEG’s alterations have been applied, as this was not saved as a jpeg image. If you are a bit confused by this, go back and read that article from two weeks ago.

So, Who is San Andreas?

Before I show you the transformation of this snapshot, I think you will find it interesting to know more about the man for whom this cathedral was named. You probably know San Andreas by his more common English-naming version of Saint Andrew. Yes, he’s none other than Saint Peter’s brother. Both were fishermen who became disciples, called by Jesus at the same time to become ‘fishers of men’.

Oh, and there’s a geological formation in California that was named after San Andreas – though through no fault of his own. I’ll pause for just a bit to let the laughter die down before continuing.



Detail of Saint Andrew and brother, Saint Peter

In this enlargement from the still-drab snapshot, you can see Saint Andrew (with a stringer of fish) and brother Saint Peter (with the Keys to the Kingdom) as they appear with the other disciples on the facade of the cathedral.


Statue of San Andreas in the Cathedral's piazza, with saltire cross

And here is a photo of the San Andreas statue that sits in the piazza in front of the cathedral in Amalfi. Note the diagonal cross? That’s pretty significant to the death of San Andrea (and to Scotland it turns out – but more on that later).


That diagonal cross is called a ‘saltire’ cross. Saint Andrew – as was the fate for all of the disciples – was martyred. But their martyrdom, unlike many of those today, was personal, as they were the only ones to perish in the process. Saint Andrew's martyrdom was in the form of crucifixion on a saltire (or diagonal) cross.


Here is a depiction of that crucifixion by the artist Juan Correa de Vivar, painted about 1545. Not a very pretty sight, but I think that was probably the point, wasn't it?!

Artist's depiction of Saint Andrew's crucifiction, by Juan Correa de Vivar

The Scottish connection?

In 832 AD, a leader called Óengus II (in what is now called Scotland) led an army of Scots into battle against the Angles (the Angles were one of the Germanic tribes who settled in Britain after the Romans left, and they founded Anglo-Saxon England – so basically, they formed what we call today 'the English'). As Oengus was heavily outnumbered he engaged in prayer on the eve of battle, and vowed that if granted victory he would appoint Saint Andrew as the Patron Saint of Scotland.

On the morning of battle white clouds forming an X shape in the sky were said to have appeared. Óengus and his forces, emboldened by this apparent divine intervention, took to the field and despite being inferior in numbers, they were victorious.

Flag of Scotland

Having interpreted the cloud phenomenon as representing the saltire cross upon which Saint Andrew was crucified, Óengus honored his pre-battle pledge and duly appointed Saint Andrew as the Patron Saint of Scotland. The white saltire set against a celestial blue background became the design of the flag of Scotland. Here is that flag of Scotland. 

Flag of the United Kingdom

And that same cross was then incorporated into the flag of the United Kingdom, as seen here. 

So now you know why there is an X in the flag of Scotland and the United Kingdom, including Australia.

Back to Amalfi

OK, back at the Cathedral of San Andreas in Amalfi.

You’ve heard of the Crusades, right? There were four of them. The first three had to do with the Holy Land. But the fourth was a bit bizarre in that, when the Crusaders arrived in Venice to get onto ships to head off to the Holy Land once more, those conniving Venetians talked the whole gang into going off to sack their financial rival, Constantinople, instead. So, that’s what they did in 1204. As Constantinople was the seat of the Eastern Catholic Empire, there were many relics of the saints ensconced there, including a good part of Saint Andrew's body.

Then, in 1208, following that sack of Constantinople, some of those relics of Saint Andrew which remained in Constantinople were taken to Amalfi, by Cardinal Peter of Capua, a native of Amalfi. A cathedral was built, dedicated to San Andreas (as is the town itself), to house a tomb in its crypt where it is rumored that most of the relics of the apostle, including an occipital bone, remain. FYI: Saint Andrew's skull is said to be housed in one of the massive pillars of Saint Peter’s Cathedral in Rome. 

As a side note, the room at the entrance to that crypt is one of the most beautiful I've ever seen. Here are a couple of photos of that marvelous room. 

So, that’s how the Cathedral of San Andreas that sits in the town of Amalfi came to be. Now back to the transformation.

The Transformation

It is typical of photos taken aiming either up or down, that there will be a good bit of distortion. Aiming your camera up creates a convergence of lines toward the top.  Aiming your camera down does the opposite. So, as you can see in the original photo, the real-life vertical lines of the Cathedral are skewed. Additionally, as I was not standing straight-on to the cathedral, the horizontal lines are also a bit skewed. And then there is a bit of scaffolding. There is always a bit of scaffolding.

Photo with distortion alterations, only

So, my first job was to make vertical lines vertical and horizontal lines horizontal and then to remove the scaffolding. After removing the scaffolding, I had to borrow a bit of the facade from the left of the cathedral to balance out the right of the cathedral. Here is the result of this first step.

Now that things are straightened out, it’s time to work on the color elements of the photo. Like in the discussion of jpeg images, I needed to add color saturation, contrast and sharpening to this RAW image. So, that’s what I did. Here is the spruced up photo as it stood then.

Almost completed transformation...that sky is a bit blah

Artist Bob Ross liked 'friendly little clouds', and so do photographers. A photographer's best friend is often a cloud – we do have other friends, but clouds usually add a good bit to photos where the sky is visible, where our human friends do not. See this photo, and this one, to see what I mean. So, as I didn’t particularly like the plain, blue sky of this nice Amalfi-Coast day, I went to my cloud file (yes, I have many, many photos of clouds that I’ve taken over the years) and selected clouds that I felt really added another dimension to the photo. So, here you have the final version of the photo.

The final image, complete with friendly clouds

And here is an enlarged segment of the façade which reveals some interesting things. One is that the façade is actually a very well done, and colorful, mosaic.

Detail of mosaics, bowing kings, and Apostles

Another is the depiction of kings, who are bowing down and offering their allegiance to Christ through the offering of their crowns.

Finally you will note three animals and one man, all winged and haloed. These are the traditional symbols of the Apostles. To Christ’s extreme right is Mark, who is always shown as a lion (and as he is the Patron Saint of Venice, it is called ‘The Lion City’). Then there is an ox, which represents Luke. To Christ’s left is a man, who depicts Matthew. And finally we see an eagle, which is the symbol for John. You will often see these animal effigies of the Apostles in various forms of Italian art.  

So there you have it. Another example of transforming a blah, lifeless image into a fine-art photograph. If the original image, all skewed and lifeless, had been saved as a jpeg image, there would have been little that could be done to improve it beyond straightening it out. When I first looked at my original snapshot, I actually considered deleting it...but then I thought, 'hmmmmm'.  And, since the photo was saved in a RAW image format, there was a lot to be gained in transformation from the original photo.

I hope you enjoyed this transformation. Feel free to leave a comment. 

Why on Monday Instead of Tuesday?

And oh, I almost forgot to tell you why I released this article for my blog on a Monday instead of a Tuesday. That is because today, November 30th, is both the 'Feast of Saint Andrew Day', as well as 'National Day' in Scotland, both related of course to the subject of today's article. 

Ciao for now.




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