The Rome Diaries - Week 1

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.


Sept. 11, 2006


Tonight I take a stroll after dinner. Romans have a word for this sensible behavior, passeggiata. I come upon the sort of ruin that is layered like an archeological dig. It is Orti Sallustiana. These gardens (orti) were begun by the Roman historian Sallust after he returned from a lucrative governorship in North Africa. He spent his entire fortune on them, it is claimed. Judging from the loot uncovered (largely 5th Century B.C. Greek bronzes and Roman marble

statuary) it must have been magnificent. The area was completely destroyed by Alaric’s

invasion of Rome in 410. But what was not taken was buried and stayed that way until

construction began after Italian unification (1870) when Rome needed space for

bureaucracies and their bureaucrats. At the lowest level (a good fifty feet down) are the

ruins of Saullst’s nymphaneum. The fountain’s myriad statues are now strewn all over

the world in various museum collections. Next comes a conference center built partly

into this ruin and on top of it; and, across a courtyard, a 19 th Century villa still owned by

the noble family who built it. This is the complex web that is Rome and keeps everyone

coming back for more.


Sept. 13, 2006


One of the services our church provides is obtaining a papal blessing. You can choose from about 25 types for modest fees (for example, $50 for a 100th birthday, $10 “suitable for members of a religious order”) you can have a memorable gift. I accompany our secretary to the office for these blessings in the Vatican. A calligrapher works in a back room personalizing the pre-printed blessing. Our purpose today is to request a correction; the blessing for a 90 year-old had his birthday on the 16th instead of the 18th. It was done in seconds, but, at this point, the blessing is already three weeks late. We exit by St. Ann’s Gate, passing Swiss Guard in their low-keyed, blue everyday wear. The blue, red and yellow uniforms (colors of a Medici pope) are saved for the more public spots.

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