Rome Diaries - Week 30

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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August 10th, 2007

I make an excursion to the Spanish Steps and pass the Palazzo di Propaganda Fide. Originally it was a private palace donated to the Vatican and in 1622 Pope Urban VIII wanted it redone to make a college and offices for a new department that would coordinate the missionary efforts of the Vatican. Bernini and his archrival Borromini both worked on the renovation at different times. The Propaganda di Fide still uses it today, except for the ground floor where the possibilities for lucrative rentals dictate that upscale tenants like Lacoste take over. So the friendly Lacoste alligator winks out at you from the sober windows of the ground floor, amid papal coats of arms and insignia. This evening I attend festivities at the Church of St. Lawrence Outside-the-Walls in honor of the saint. On this date in 258, Lawrence was put on a grill to slowly burn to death. A stained marble slab on which the body was placed immediately after his martyrdom is displayed in the elegant 6th century part of the church, built from “spoils” of ancient Roman temples. And, if you have a little imagination, the evening’s annual Perseid meteor shower (dubbed tears of San Lorenzo) and pig roast also commemorate the saint. Wandering the booths that ring the piazza, I discover all the candy store candy I remembered as a child, including licorice whips and banana shaped nougat. A pitchman is selling “Tornado,” a special cloth “made in Germany” that absorbs an immense amount of water and cannot be set on fire. (Lorenzo would be happy!) In the midst of this commerce, the statue of the saint emerges from the church and, with his own spotlight, is carried throughout the neighborhood. Those in the procession recite the rosary, their prayers echoing through a loudspeaker. The festival ends with fireworks that include many Roman candles and a construction that becomes a brilliant, burning grill.


August 13th, 2007

Today is the feast of our patron saint, the martyr Susanna. I first go to venerate the sponge that tradition says was used to wipe blood from the saint. (Earlier in the year, I made the mistake of thinking this was the sponge given to Jesus as he hung on the cross, and when I identified the relic in this way, no one corrected me. Were they just being polite or where they even listening?) We celebrate Mass in the crypt just beneath the main altar of the church, amid 16th century frescos of her ascent into heaven. In the tiny chapel, our few voices resonate with hymns that recall her courageous death over 1700 years ago. Rome does this so well, remembering events from an impossibly long time ago, keeping memories fresh and alive.


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