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Rome Diaries - Week 70

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 6, 2009

The slow but inevitable filling up of old palaces and religious houses with Italian and European civic bureaucracy continues. In Rome, an historic building may be under reconstruction for decades and one day the scaffolding suddenly drops away and it is shown in pristine grandeur. Thanks to restrictive building codes, vast old halls are being renovated put to new use all the time. Yesterday marked the opening of the new headquarters for the Attorney Generals’ Office in the old convent of the Augustinians who still care for the adjacent church of Sant’Agostino. Today, in the convent’s refectory, I visit a celebratory art show of the 17th century painter Gregorio Guglielmi. His massive fresco for this room, “The Loaves and the Fishes,” is surrounded by examples of his work from Prague, Naples, and Capraola. The convent’s courtyard preserves four 15th century funerary monuments of Roman humanists while next door a hospice built for Portugese pilgrims of that same era has been transformed into a cultural center. Another repurposed building lies a few blocks away, the “Duke’s Palace.” It began as the home of papal insider Jacopo Cardelli. Then, after neighborhood renovations for the Holy Year of 1550, the palazzo was appropriated by the Medici pope Pius IV for his nephew, Cosimo, the first Grand Duke of Tuscany. Later it became the Roman embassy for the Grand Duchy. Now the building is home to the Dante Alighieri Society which aims to "preserve and spread the Italian language and culture in the world” – a goal not out of keeping with the building’s previous owners.

February 10, 2009

The Church of Santa Maria in Aracoeli is many things, but they are all connected. Its prestigious location atop the Capitoline Hill makes it the traditional Church of the Senate and of city government. It was built over an important temple to Juno, wife of Jupiter. And, if the early Christian stories are to be believed, the church also marks the spot where Emperor Augustus saw a Virgin standing on an altar and holding the child Jesus in her arms. Pieces of that altar were fashioned into a Christian one in the 13th century – it can still be seen behind a grill, protecting the ashes of Helena, mother of Constantine. (Ancient graffiti on a column in the church also makes an imperial association, telling visitors, “This column was taken from Emperor Augustus’s bedchamber.”) The child Jesus has his own chapel here. In former times, the bambino statue made trips in a coach to the homes of the sick, but now he only leaves the chapel to preside over the Nativity scene and, once a year at Epiphany, to go outside and bless the City of Rome from the church’s perch on the Capitoline Hill. As I spend a quiet half-hour meditating on these duties in Santo Bambino’s chapel, a sacristan comes in and empties the two “in-boxes” of letters the statue has received. He’s still a very busy child.

Rome Diaries - Week 70
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