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Rome Diaries - Week 29

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.


August 6th, 2007

By chance, I meet the former rector of the Church of Sant'Onofrio al Gianicolo. He offers to take me on a tour of the place. The church was founded as a small chapel in the woods in the mid-1400’s. It was dedicated to a saint who spent his last decades as a hermit in Upper Egypt. For five hundred years, the complex was cared for by the Gerolamini, a group of monks who followed the ancient rule of Saint Jerome (another hermit saint). In 1933 the Atonement Friars took charge and few years after that, the church also became home to the recently restored Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulcher. This serendipity allowed visitors to recall that it was the friars of St. Francis who were sent to the Middle East for pastoral ministry after the Crusades ended. The life of St. Onofrio is told in the 15th century frescos of the monastery’s cloister: a Persian by birth, Onofrio spent most of his time in Egypt as a monk and then a hermit. He just wore leaves and dates were his only food. A scroll in one fresco has Onofrio explaining his longing for desert solitude: it was “a most excellent way to learn how to rely on the providence of God.” After his death, his cave and date palm were soon destroyed; this signaled his disciple to go back to his own monastery and spread the word about his master. The 4th century saint’s radical choices still inspire those who make their way to Sant'Onofrio al Gianicolo.

August 9th, 2007

The city of Rome has over 280 ornamental fountains. I can see one from our terrace, The Fountain of Moses. A few months ago, a newspaper columnist decried the “ugly wall” tourists have to see upon leaving Bernini’s exquisite “St. Theresa in Ecstasy” in the Church of Santa Maria della Vittoria. The very next day that wall (part of the Fountain of Moses building) was covered with scaffolding. Now the crew has expanded its renovation to the warren of rooms behind the 16th century fountain. Just about every other fountain has a classical theme except this one. Unfortunately, the figure of Moses by Leonardo Sormani is ludicrously short; he comes close to looking like a garden gnome. Contemporaries deemed it painfully bad in light of Michelangelo’s incomparable Moses, completed a few years earlier, now at St. Peter in Chains. The Fountain of Moses served to show off Sixtus V’s grand urban planning scheme for this neighborhood of Rome, as it was the terminus of an ancient Roman aqueduct, which he restored. I’m glad it will be spruced up, but nothing can be done to help “little Moses,” no matter how ugly he is. For better or worse, he is part of the “historic patrimony.”

Rome Diaries - Week 29
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