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Crossing the Bridge of Sighs

Crossing the Bridge of Sighs

I made my way through the narrow passage, following a single-file line of tourists. But if this were the 1600s, I would be following a line of prisoners, and our friendly tour guide with the headset would most likely be our jailer.

I reached one of the small windows and, like everyone who shuffles down this passageway, I peeked through the decorative grill and caught a peek at one of the canals of Venice, Italy.

And then I sighed.

I was crossing the Bridge of Sighs, one of the most famous bridges in the world. In the 1600s, this bridge carried prisoners from courtrooms where they had just been sentenced into the Venetian jail cells. The bridge is sparse and Spartan on the inside, but the outside is gorgeous—an ornamental structure made of brilliant white limestone.

According to legend, prisoners crossing this enclosed bridge would take one last look through the barred windows at the beautiful world of Venice outside—and they would sigh. A more romantic legend about the Bridge of Sighs says that if a man and woman kiss in a gondola beneath the bridge, their love will last forever.

The name of the bridge comes from a poem written by Lord Byron, which says, “I stood in Venice, on the Bridge of Sighs, a palace and a prison on each hand.”

A “palace and a prison”—Whether the legend of sighing prisoners is true or not, the poem is accurate in that description, because the bridge truly does connect a palace with a prison. Before crossing the Bridge of Sighs, our tour group strolled through one of the most magnificent palaces I have ever seen—the Doge’s Palace, with ceilings of gold and rich, intricately carved wood. Then we headed from the palace, across the bridge, and into the prison.

Bridges are a powerful symbol—a metaphor for “crossing over.” And our lives are all about making different crossings. We cross from childhood to adulthood. We cross from suffering into healing. We cross from sin into salvation. And we all eventually cross from life into death.

In addition, the Bible is filled with many crossings, although most of these do not involve literal bridges. Moses led his people across the Red Sea, from slavery to freedom; the Israelites crossed the Jordan River, from the Wilderness to the Promised Land; and Jesus crossed the Sea of Galilee with His disciples, carrying them through a storm.

Sometimes, we have no choice about our crossings. For instance, we will all someday cross from life to death. But even in those crossings, we still face a different sort of choice. We must choose what we believe is on the other side of the bridge. Do we believe we are going to cross over to a palace or a prison? Freedom or slavery? Wilderness or Promised Land?

We try to peer to the other side of the bridge, and we wonder…Is there a palace or a prison waiting for us on the other side? Or something else? What does God have in store for us? What do we choose to believe?

In Venice, I saw the palace, and I saw the prison.

I choose the palace. And when I make this final crossing, I have a sneaking suspicion that I will let out a deep, satisfied sigh. A sigh of unspeakable joy.

History by the Slice Family Activity

Read Joshua 3 and check out a map of the Jordan River. Also, do a Google search for images of the Jordan River, as well as images of the Bridge of Sighs in Venice. Then discuss these questions:

  1. How did the Israelites cross the Jordan River in Joshua 3?
  2. What is the Ark of the Covenant?
  3. Why did the priests carry the Ark of the Covenant ahead of the people before they crossed the river? Why did the priests wait with the Ark in the middle of the river until everyone had crossed?
  4. What are other “crossings” in the Bible?
  5. What are some of the “crossings” that you have made in your life—the major changes in your life?
  6. What choices did those crossings involve?
  7. How is God with us in our crossings?

By: Doug Peterson has written 42 books for VeggieTales and is the author of four historical novels: The Disappearing Man, The Puzzle People, The Vanishing Woman, and The Lincoln League. Visit Doug at

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