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Rome Diaries - Week 61

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. -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

September 20, 2008

Borro is a medieval village between Arezzo and Florence, and today it will be the site of an afternoon wedding. As I take the taxi from the train station in Tuscany, I realize that it is close to harvest time – all the surrounding vineyards are heavy with fruit. Everyone knows about Borro, I am told. Nearly abandoned after World War II (the Germans gutted the site as they left), it was saved by Don Pasquale Mencattini, the parish priest who would, for 62 years, be its heart and soul. He initiated projects to bring the farming community together like an enormous Nativity scene complete with lights and landscapes, productions of Pinocchio, and a village school. His niece is still the sacristan at the parish church and one of nine full-time residents. Nine? Yes, the other people walking around in shorts and jogging suits are paying guests at Il Borro, the luxury Tuscan farm-fantasy resort. In the course of the day, I also meet the shopkeeper and the church bell ringer. All are delighted that the village continues to exist, when so many have quietly fallen to ruin. Thanks to fashion’s love of the authentic look, Borro’s houses -- restored on the inside to state-of-the-art –- are in a perfectly quaint state of “arrested decay” on the outside. The village’s first glimmer of nobility came when the Pazzi banking family constructed a castle on the current town site. Their holdings eventually became a possession of the Medici-Tornaquinci family who built the 18th century villa, with its entrance alee of forty-foot cypresses and commanding view of Borro (meaning “ditch” in Italian, although a hotel greeter translates it “little spring”). The family built its private home in front of the historic villa so that it seems as if the tree-shaded, carriage road was meant to go right to their house. Eventually, property, with its village and farms, was bought by the Duke of Aosta, but it took new nobility, a house of fashion, to really resurrect the place. In 1985, Ferruccio Ferragamo, was hunting in the area and came across the village with its assorted ruins and, eight years later, decided to buy it and extend his brand into lodging and winemaking. His father, known in Hollywood as “shoemaker to the stars” in the 1920’s, founded his company on that single item but today Salvatore Ferragamo Italia designs scores of luxury items, including apartments in Dubai. A small chapel faces the villa, screening the Ferragamo house; it’s useful if your wedding has only fifteen guests, but most take place in Borro’s, still functioning, parish. The groom tells me the villa’s great room has a piano “played by Chopin” (it’s been personalized with family pictures of the current lodgers, my wedding party.) A study contains some personal items of Ferruccio Ferragamo’s son strewn about: high school awards, collections of books. You almost feel like a houseguest, but Ferragamo-logoed hangers, lotions and soaps remind you otherwise. Down in the village, I chat with the sacristan who has spent all her life in Borro. She tells me of her other uncle, perhaps not as famous as Don Pasquale, the savior of Borro, but he will be; martyred in China during World War II, he is soon to be declared “Blessed,” the last stop before sainthood. She hurries away to put three long-stemmed white roses, a gift from the wedding’s florist, before a statue of Mother Mary in her home. And so life in the village continues, not quite as before, but still good.

September 25, 2008

Today I drop into the church of Trinità dei Monti to discover the monks and nuns of Fraternités Monastiques de Jérusalem, the community that recently took over the church and school, singing their mid-day prayers in hooded, white choir robes. The group was founded about thirty years ago with the firm goal of bringing monasticism back to the middle of the cities. Some visitors have come to pray, but others sit in the back, a bit amazed that such a show should be going on at lunchtime just above the deluxe shopping of Via Condotti.

Rome Diaries - Week 61
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