Rome Diaries - Week 76

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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April 8, 2009

After two years of using a passport to visit the convent in the Vatican Gardens, I am stopped by security at St. Anne’s Gate and asked, instead, for papers from the diocese of Rome. “That is for Italy,” says the guard, tossing back my passport as I fish through my pockets for the other document. Perhaps the security guard was having a bad day but maybe he was just maintaining an extra layer of protection. Memories of the assassination attempt of John Paul II (1981) are still vivid. In A Traveller in Rome, H. V. Morton describes a 19th century papal escape:


One night in November, 1848, a hackney coachman was ordered to wait at a rarely used door in the long palace well [of the Quirinale]. At length he heard someone on the other side opening the door with difficulty and two figures emerged, a servant carrying some baggage and a middle-aged priest, a muffler round his throat and a shovel hat upon his head. The coachman must have thought it rather strange that when the servant opened the coach door he dropped down on his knees as the priest entered. From inside the cab the servant kept on directing the driver by winding streets until they came to a dark and deserted quarter at the back of the Colosseum, where the traveling-carriage of the Bavarian Minister, drawn by six horses, was waiting. In this way Pius IX fled in disguise from the revolutionary crowds who had assassinated his Prime Minister and his chief secretary, and were even then sniping at the Swiss Guard.


The guard takes down the information from my diocesan papers and then offers me a possibly sarcastic “Buona pasqua,” (Happy Easter)


April 9, 2009

The church of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme is a special place. Mecenate, a wealthy friend of Octavian, administered Rome during the Civil Wars and began developing this area for people of his class. In the 3rd century, Emperor Elagabalus, a wildly amoral teenager from Syria, built a getaway villa here (an outer wall of its amphitheater can still be seen as a bulge in the Aurelian Wall.) A century later, Constantine and his mother Helena lived in this, now expanded, Sessorian palace and dedicated a section of it to be the first officially-sanctioned church. Pilgrims can walk through a room still strewn with earth (just beneath the glass) brought back by Helena from Jerusalem. Another section of the old palace is now devoted to the display of relics associated with the life of Christ. Helena was believed to have discovered the cross, the nails used at the crucifixion, and the title board above the cross which says in Hebrew, Latin and Greek, "Jesus [of] Nazareth king of Yours.” An adjacent room displays a full-length reproduction of the Shroud of Turin, a coveted relic only available for viewing only once every decade. In the main church, just above the vault of relics, is a temporary installation of Russian icons from the collection of Davide Orler, a Venetian artist who amassed over 2000 exquisite examples in his lifetime. Santa Croce is the perfect place for this exhibition, which is really an occasion for prayer. The Easter season in Rome is full of surprise gifts for the wandering pilgrim.

Rome Diaries - Week 76
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