Rainy Days and Mondays (Feb. 27th in Rome)

I awoke early and glanced out to the street to see that it was raining quite hard. I had overslept and missed my opportunity to make the early morning visit to St. Peter’s (I kicked myself for not having purchased the nifty traveler’s alarm that was on sale for about $10 at Brookstone at the Philly airport). When we had viewed the weather channel’s web site for the weather in Rome it predicted rain for everyday that we were there, so far it hadn’t rained but today it would never let up (something those living there say is rare).
We set out after some pastry and expresso for me toward the bus stop in front of Vatican radio. We caught the express and got off around where we thought the Pantheon was, but it turned out we were closer to Piazza Navona. Then we started making our way through the streets toward the Pantheon walking as close to the edge of the buildings as we could to avoid getting wet. Joseph had worn his Star War’s shoes and had managed to get his socks wet and was complaining rather loudly about this fact–so began another penitential day in Rome.
Sant ‘Eustachio offered the first respit from the heavenly deluge, but only briefly. Next it was to the Pantheon which is actually Santa Maria ad Martyres. Now I had seen this in works of art in many museum, usually with a beam of sun coming from the hole in the center of the dome (today it was a sheet of rain coming in)…the marvel of this structure is that it is huge and ancient. It is hard to imagine the mixing of cemement and transporting it to the heights necessary for the dome to be constructed. And it still stands in tact! Originally a temple dedicated to all the gods, later it was consecrated as a Church, first to the Holy Spirit (one can imagine the opening as an invitation for the Spirit to rain down the fire of God’s love…someone told us that on Pentecost each year rose petals are dropped from the opening to shower down into the Church like tongues of fire) and then later to Our Lady and the many martyrs–those witnesses who point to the reality of the one true God. The major feasts for the Church then are Pentecost and All Saints Day. The great artist Raphael is buried here, along with several Italian monarchs. The blury picture to the left is of Amy and Katie standing looking at the tomb of Raphael–not sure why it’s so blury or why it is the only picture I took (I was using a digital camera that had 1mb of memory and could have taken 1600 photos).
The outside of the Pantheon is rather unremarkable, partly because the bronze that once covered the roof was stripped by Bernini to be used on the colonades of the canopy in St. Peter’s Basilica. We returned to the Pantheon on Tuesday when it was sunny and I took this picture of the dome:
A short walk from the Pantheon was one of the highlights of the day, especially for Katie whose patron saint is Saint Catherine of Sienna–Santa Maria sopra Minerva a Gothic church that we spent a long time in, probably because it felt normal to us, among other things. Saint Catherine’s body lies under the main altar covered in white plaster (I read somewhere that until recently this plaster was painted). We all took turns praying at the tomb of Saint Catherine, lit candles and then proceeded to tour the many side altars and other treasures of this beautiful church. Each of these side altars was richly decorated with great art. To the left of the main altar is the tomb of Blessed Fra Angelico, here is the baby Michael paying his respects: If I remember correctly this area from Fra Angelico’s tomb to the Sacristy to the left were all sponsored by patrons whose last name was Fragapane, the same family name of one of my good friends who live in another Rome–Rome, NY. I took a picture of this also but it is so blurry that you can’t make it out. While looking through the grate of the sacristy, an Italian Dominican nun came through and offered to take us to the room where Catherine of Sienna died. I rushed over to get Katie who was sketching the tomb in the main church and the five of us went on this very special personal tour by the nun who spoke no English but communicated with hand gestures. There were times while I was in Rome that I felt like a Trappist, communicating in some manufactured sign language but getting the message and recieving it okay. The room had been converted into a small chapel, and the nun pointed out the parts that were originale and those that were not (a frequent qualifier on any Roman tour…this is not original). This church also includes a half Michaelanglo sculpture (the other half was finished by his students) of Christ holding his cross.
Our next goal was the Gesu, but we didn’t find it. Now that I know where it is, I’m not sure why we couldn’t find it but on this rainy day reading maps wasn’t easy and the winding alleys that are Roman streets all look the same when you’re still suffering from jet lag. What I did find, was a building that I thought was a church undergoing renovation, what it was in fact was the Galleria Doria Pamphilj. I only got a peak inside, but if you go to their web site you see what I got a glimpse of before Amy beckoned.
Down the Via Di Sant’ Ignazio we came to the Church of Sant’ Ignatzio, truly a fascinating place! Check out the ceiling:
What you probably can’t make out in this image is at the center St. Ignatius is having a vision of the cross and then spilling out to the corners are missionaries being sent to America, Africa, Asia and Europe. Further into the Church is what I took to be a fascinating dome, but it turns out to be nothing but an illusionistic ceiling painting of a dome. Something that you learn both at this church and at the Gesu is that the Jesuits are pretty good at debunking that what you see is worthy of belief. Saint Aloysius Gonzaga is buried here, and we said prayers at his tomb. I inquired about visiting his rooms but instead of seeing them our visit to the Saint Ignatius came to an abrupt ending and we were kicked out. It wasn’t anything I said but rather it was 12:30 and the Church closed, again this was mostly communicated by a porter who motioned us and a few others t follow him down a number of hallways and eventually deposited us onto the Piazza di Sant’ Ignazio. What followed was a windy, cold walk down a street and then waiting at several different bus stops waiting for a bus to take us back to St. Peter’s–after much time one came and we packed like sardines into it and when it deposited us–stopped to pick up some delicious pizza that we ate back in the warmth and dryness of the apartment.

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Sunday Afternoon (Feb 26th)

After a quick lunch (pizza, what else?)we headed toward the Metro station to catch the A Train to St. John Lateran’s to meet up with Zadok who had so generously agreed to give us a tour of two of Rome’s greatest Churches. We were still pretty green when it comes to the whole Metro system and walked (rather than took a bus) to the station, so by the time we finally arrived we were late and Zadok was nowhere to be seen (at least not at the Metro station where Amy had thought he had said he was going to meet us). So Amy went out the other possible exits and Katie, Joseph, the baby (on my back) and I went a bit further and bought a bottle of water. When Amy came to say that he could not be found, we decided to go on further to the Church and see if he might have gone on there when we had not arrived on time. Sure enought there he was…
I should mention that at this point we had already walked quite a bit (given two treks through St. Peter’s, a good half mile to the Metro and another two or three blocks from the Metro to St. John’s) while we stood and listened to Zadok’s interesting history of the surrounding landmarks, Joseph sat. And even looking at the front of the Church’s pavement now, makes me tired to think about even walking that distance. Most people think that St. Peter’s is the Cathedral Church of Rome, but it isn’t–St. John Lateran’s is. While the chair of Peter is in St. Peter’s, the Bishop of Rome’s chair is at St. John Lateran’s and this is the central feature of the apse of the Church, now that I think of it in a similar way to the way that the Chair of Peter is in the apse of St. Peter’s. When St. Francis of Assisi came to Rome to see the Pope, he came here to the Lateran and their are large statues of Francis and his crew directly across from St. John’s that seem to be in communication with the large statues that are on the facade of St. John’s. After his election as pope last April, Pope Benedict XVI came here to the Lateran to be formally installed as the Bishop of Rome (ever wonder why the Bishop of Rome isn’t an “archbishop”?).
St John’s has it’s own Egyptian obelisk (just like St. Peter’s) and a very impressive Baptistry which next to the Pope’s chair is what I remember most about this part of our tour. The Baptistry was huge (I had seen one at the ruins of St. John’s in Ephesus twenty-seven years earlier that was quite small in comparison). There was some type of festival going on outside of the Church that seemed to be a “Mardis Gras” or “Carnivale” type of celebration, remember this was just before the beginning of Lent. So next to the obelisk were booths, screaming kids and some people dressed in costumes giving the “pope’s church” the feel of a regular parish back home.
Across the street we visited the Scala Santa–the holy stairs, said to have been brought to Rome by St. Helena the mother of Constantine and to have been the stairs that Jesus would have walked on during his Passion when he came before Pontius Pilate. The faithful climb up them on their knees and as this picture will attest–there were no shortage of takes on the day we were there, in fact there were so many that it was really impossible to get near the steps to see them.
We walked up the side steps to another chapel called the Holy of Holies because it contained many holy relics and an image of Christ reported to have been painted by St. Luke entitled “picture painted without hands”….any student of Catholic piety knows there are many images reported to have been painted by St. Luke (Our Lady of Czestochova being one example). I had never thought about it much before, but I wonder if another meaning might be that Luke’s Gospel inspired the works? I doubt the people working their way up on their knees think so..
Around the other side of the Holy Stairs was the remains of the Papal dining hall and an impressive mosaic, as we were viewing this site a woman begging rather aggressively started coming at us, and we moved on toward the Church in the distance…St. Mary Major.
Walking along Zadok shared his knowledge of another area of his expertise the Irish Catholic Church begining with the Irish College, its history and various locations. We talked about the contributions the Irish priests had made to the world at large, Africa in particular and the United States (anyone who lives in the South knows the debt the Catholic Church owes to the Irish priests). What a marvel that where the Church is most vibrant right now is where the Irish planted the Faith. Pray for the Catholics in Ireland.
At this point I became very tired, I think the baby might have fallen asleep on my back and as we learned this made him very heavy. So we stopped and Zadok, Amy, Katie and Joseph had gelato. I sat.
Then up and at it again. A short visit into the Redemptorist Church where the original Our Lady of Perpetual Help is enshrined–a modern enshrinement, simple and I must say not much to my liking. Mass was being said so we weren’t able to really get close.
Next to Saint Prassede, a very interesting Church decorated in a more Byzantine style with beautiful mosaics. This church contained the column that Christ was bound to when he was scourged.
Evening was falling as we arrived at Saint Mary Majors, built on the spot where snow fell one August after Pope Liberius had dreamed that this would be a sign for him to build a church dedicated to Our Lady. As we entered the Church, the chanting of Vespers could be heard. My back was aching from the baby on it and I stole away from our tour to go into the side chapel and join in the praying of Evening Prayer. I grabbed a book and went to the first empty seat I could find which was in the front where I sat next to Cardinal Bernard Law. In spite of the comotion that I created, he did not even seem to notice. I fumbled around in the book trying to locate the point the prayer was at, but to little avail and after about five minutes Michael the baby decided to join in speaking loudly his own version of chant–at which point I made my exit. We toured the church and then started making our way back to the Metro station, thanking Zadok for his time and well presented tour.
When we arrived back on Borgo Vitorio we stopped at a restaurant that Amy had spied the evening before. It was in the cellar and proved to be an excellent choice. We had a meal where everyone had what they wanted, for me it was a pasta with cheese and pepper and it was great,Joseph had a cheese pizzza, Katie a giant calzone, Amy another pasta dish, the baby had some of it all.
Evening came, the second day.

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