Rome Diaries - Week 33

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 19, 2007

I come across two odd tales today. One is in “The Geometry of Love” about a reception held on the grounds a St. Agnes Outside the Walls for Pope Pius IX on April 12, 1855. After dining, the Pope held an audience for the 102 people who had shared the meal. During the program, the entire floor crashed down into the storeroom below. Miraculously, no one was injured. A dignified oil painting of the event now hangs in the building the pope built to make amends. My second tale comes from a visiting nun who says her community’s religious habit has a certain creases that are rather difficult to maintain. Their inclusion in the design was due to an over-zealous sister who mistook the wrinkles made during the shipping of the original pattern as part of the habit. I am not sure if I believe that or not.


August 21, 2007

I’ve been here almost a year and this is the first day I am going to use Rome’s suburban bus system. My destination is Grottaferrata a town in the Tuscolo hills known for its 11th century Abbey of St. Nilo. The saint was born in Calabria, then part of the Byzantine Empire. Nilo travelled north with his band of monks, trying to avoid the Saracen (Arab) invasions further south. He was welcomed to the lands of the Count of Tuscolo, father of two popes. The monks chose the beautiful site of Cicero’s villa and ultimately used all it’s stone to build their church and monastery. At times the monks were immensely prosperous, but war took its toll and one report from 1432 describes the place as little more than a barracks. A few decades later, the monastery began a period of expansion and development under a series of cardinal protectors. Originally, the monks used the Byzantine Rite but, given the monastery’s new location, it gradually became Latinized but in 1881 Pope Leo XIII restored the Byzantine Rite to the monastery. The Ministry of National Education began a book restoration laboratory here in 1931. A few decades later, over a thousand flood-damaged books were restored here after the devastating flood in Florence. Soon after, the monks rebound the largest collection of Leonardo da Vinci’s writings and sketches, Codex Atlanticus. A mushroom-themed restaurant sits right at the bus stop. First plate is a salad of basil and porcini mushrooms, second plate, tagliatelli with truffles. The bus back to Rome appears just as I leave the restaurant.


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