top of page

Rome Diaries - Week 58

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.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- June 6, 2008

A chance remark to a young Polish priest who happens to speak English with a Scottish burr leads me to look into the 500-year affinity the two countries share. Today we would call it “globalization” but then they called it “being an adventurous merchant.” Many such merchants in Scotland set their sights out beyond Denmark to the free port of Danzig (now Gdansk, Poland). In Scotland, Leith, the port of Edinburgh has neighborhoods of streets with the names of the trading cities in the old Hanseatic League. Poles reciprocated these Scottish visits during World War II when thousands of Polish troops were stationed in Scotland. Now, as the European Union matures, migration opportunities also open up. A commemorative tartan, using the flags of both nations is available.

July 31, 2008

I begin the day with hopes of “bagging” the often closed churches near the Coelian Hill. All are still closed. I trudge up the hill to see San Stefano Rotondo, which is open, but disappointing. It is thought to have been built upon the foundations of a circular meat market constructed by Nero, but its novel shape and magnificent dimensions are its sole glory. Poor frescoes, a newish marble floor and a terrible modern art exhibit rob the space of any sublime beauty. As I make tracks to catch a fifth church before noon, a man hails me from his car. He tells me he is lost and, incidentally, says he is looking for gas. “Where are you from?” he asks. We fall into a conversation about New York (me) and Milan (him) and his need for directions seems to have vanished. “ereHere,” he says, “I would like to give you something.” He pushes out a leather jacket which he says is worth 1100 euro. “Now don’t sell it!” he admonishes. “I have been showing these coats for two days on a cruise ship in Civitavecchia.” For a moment, I am speechless…until he returns to the subject of having no gas (the car has been running all this time). I the “gift” back and bid him farewell. This is my first meeting with a scam artist in Rome. I seek solace at the ancient church of Saints John and Paul, but the sacristan seems on the verge of closing the church and is in no mood to unlock a gate, keeping me from a hidden 13th century fresco of Christ. Afternoon brings two unasked for rewards: I visit an acquaintance who lives in a building I’ve passed scores of times. The minute I step into the twenty-foot entrance hall, it is clear I am in a luxe Fascist era building. Geometric slabs of colored marble line the floors and walls. Bronze elevator doors slam shut like a bank vault and green marble stairs twist around the elevator shaft like a climbing vine. Something scary and seductive inhabits these public spaces. When the churches of Rome re-open (usually at 4 PM), I decide to single-mindedly follow the long street by the side of the main train station, pushing onward, even when tram switches threaten to pin me against the station wall. The sidewalk finally peters out completely near the little-known church of St. Bibiana. The façade and the statue of the saint above the main altar are by the young Bernini, but the interior columns, some granite and some sculptured marble, are from Roman ruins and were used to build the original 5th century church; these lie directly over the small catacomb that housed the body of Bibiana, her mother and her sister, martyred in the 4th century. A single column, standing just inside the door of the church, may be the one to which she was tied before her death. Frescos of Pietro da Cortona and Augostino Ciampelli (16th century) line clerestory walls – not bad for an obscure spot by the train tracks.

Rome Diaries - Week 58
Download DOCX • 334KB

6 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page