Rome Diaries - Week 22

From 2006 to 2011 Paulist Father Tom Holahan served as vice rector of the Paulist

church in Rome. During that time he had the opportunity to spend time exploring the

historic sites of Rome as well as the hidden ones. The blog features excerpts from this

travel diary. A new selection appears each week.

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May 15, 2007

In the morning, I visit Castle Saint Angelo, that “perfect storm” of a building which combines imperial tomb, medieval fortress and papal residence. Hadrian, an emperor and architectural dreamer who, some say, came up with the idea for the Pantheon, built it in the mid-second century. Within a hundred years, the beautiful marble drum, that held not just a tomb for Rome’s emperors but a majestic hill of trees topped by a bronze of Hadrian in the guise of the Sun, was beginning its life as a fortification, having been made part of the Aurelian walls. The image of the pope as military leader is kept vivid by the proximity of artillery and piles of cannonballs to his frescoed apartment. An angel is said to have appeared above the castle in 590, signaling the end of a plague in Rome. The bronze angel that tops the building today is the sixth version, a testament to the usefulness of having reserves of metal at hand to be melted down for guns during a siege.


May 28, 2007

I have a wedding in Tuscany. We are staying at a meticulously restored farmhouse. The entire wedding party of 60 is accommodated here, thanks to a “made to look old” collection of outbuildings. Even the bricked-up windows and lichen-encrusted tile roofs are new. Roses are let to go to seed and sage and rosemary can be found all over the gardens, which have hilltop views. Our wedding coordinator tells me this idyllic and expensive setting would be impossible without strict zoning and building codes. “If you want to build in Tuscany,” she says, “you must build as if you were repairing a ruin – except first you must build the ruin!” The wedding ceremony itself is at the Cathedral of Pienza, a city built by Pius II between 1459 and 1462 as a model Renaissance town. The village previously on the site was taken down except for the pope’s birthplace, the castle of Corsignano, and the Church of St. Francis. It is an ideal place for a wedding. Renaissance thought believed the human and divine worlds could be harmonized. To that end, streets have names like “Via dell’Amore” (Street of Love) and “Via del Bacio” (Street of the Kiss). The entire valley is preserved as a cultural and natural park which underscores the impression that you have stepped back in time. Although it has been drizzling most of the day, a rainbow appears just after we leave the church. Hours later, at 11:00 PM, the wedding guests are invited outside for a “special surprise.” In a slight rain we ooh and ahhh at fireworks being set off for us on a distant hill.

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