Rome Diaries - Week 45

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.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

February 15, 2008

I go again to the Vatican Gardens to visit the nuns in the monastery there. With fifteen minutes to spare before my appointment, I wander behind the monastery building to an enormous artificial grotto with three rushing streams of water. I sit on what looks to be an ancient marble bench and read with the sound of the fountain in the background. Just behind me is Pirro Ligorio’s summerhouse, built in 1560 from the beautifully carved rubble of Domitian’s stadium (now beneath Piazza Navona). The nuns spend their days praying for the intentions of the pope and making lemon and lemon-orange marmalade from the pope’s citrus trees. (A basket of the preserves is regularly sent to the papal kitchen.) The computer-printed label has a picture of St. Peter’s dome as seen through the branches of an orange tree. “Where do you sell this?” I ask. “Oh, Father, we don’t sell it, we give it away!” I forgot where I was – in Vatican City – where often a spiritual economy prevails. As I walk down the Vatican Hill, boys from the Sistine Chapel Choir are coming up, their music scores in hand. They look like they are dressed for soccer but are probably going to rehearse a 16th century Mass. Late in the afternoon El Al Airlines calls with questions about the group I am taking to Israel on Sunday. “Do you know all the people in your group?” “What countries are their passports from?” It is the usual list of questions that has kept the airline safe from terrorism so far. As I hang-up, the idyll in the Vatican Gardens is a world away


February 16, 2008

My gluing job for the head of a 150 year-old shepherd statue in our Neapolitan nativity set (presepio) has not been a success. Today he is taken to a presepio hospital on a side street off the Piazza del Popolo. A middle-aged man and his mother run the small shop, filled with terracotta plates, vases and figures. Only terra cotta is repaired there. First the man has a good laugh at my “brainless” and “one-armed” shepherd; then he promises, for 150 euro, to have it done by Easter – ample time before the shepherd’s next appearance at Christmas.