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The Rome Diaries - Week 10

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.

Jan. 2, 2007

The Church of San Nicola in Carcere is supported by three 2nd century B.C. Roman temples. The guide tells me it has been closed for over two hundred years and has only regularly been opened to the public four years ago. She takes me down into the crypt where the base of the three temples can be seen, as well as the streets of ancient Rome. Here you can dramatically see the “triumph” of Christianity. Not only is the single church supported by three temples from below, but also the pillars in its nave are all taken from destroyed buildings and temples of the surrounding vegetable market.

Jan. 4, 2007

After work, we discuss the upcoming feast of Epiphany. This feast has happy childhood memories for many Italians as it is the night Befana comes. La Befana was a simple peasant, the story goes, who happened to give shelter to the Wise Men. She planned to follow them, but wanted to finish up her housekeeping (she is often depicted with a broom) before leaving. Unfortunately, she left her house too late and could only follow the tail of the star. Now she is fated to follow that tail throughout the world. She gives gifts to all good children because she never knows who will be “the one” who is Jesus. She also has a habit of giving coal to bad children. In practice the coal (in the form of black caramel colored rock candy) is given to all children since all have been just a bit naughty in the course of the year. As we talk about the legend, one woman in our group tells us that her family always dramatized the coming of La Befana. Her father went up on the roof and dropped down the gifts from the chimney and the uncles shouted down into the chimney things like: “And this gift is for Maria, there is some coal in there, but Maria has been very good in school.” The uncles would also stomp on the roof and whinny like a donkey as that was how La Befana got from house to house. One year, the family actually had someone dress up and appear at the house with a real donkey and gifts. Because of all this, the children refused to renounce their beliefs in the face of all of their classmates “proofs.” They loved La Befana!

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