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.
Dec. 6, 2006
Florence and Rome have completely different personalities. Years ago, on my last visit to Florence, I formed the opinion that Florence is like Manhattan. There is the cold, “bank vault” of the Medici tombs, the “billboard” of David in the main square and the fast-paced walking of people on a tight schedule. Rome is far different. Here remnants of the pharaohs are strewn about, recalling the pretensions of ancient Rome. (The gargantuan scale of the buildings -- ancient and Renaissance -- make them still adequate for modern functions.) The Baroque art and architecture of the Counter-Reformation bears witness to a deep-seated belief that here could be created paintings and statues showing such intense devotion that the Protestant critique would be silenced.
Dec. 7, 2006
A backpacker walks past Sant'Andrea della Valle after he passes me, I notice he is fingering his rosary beads. There seem always to be quiet gestures to be going on everywhere, just beneath the surface. For instance, the church of S. Andrea della Valle is a masterpiece of baroque theatricality, but twenty feet overhead, midway down the nave, are the bodies of Popes Pius II (1405-1564) and Pius III (26 days in 1503). Why are they in a 17th Century church? -- because they are the two success stories of the Piccolomini family who donated the property. Pius II, first a playboy and then perhaps Europe’s first humanist, did not have much of a chance at sainthood and his later relative (Pius III) could not do much to distinguish himself in 26 days as pope. Fortunately, before she retired to a convent, the last in the Piccolomini family line stipulated that a big church be built. In the course of time, the family’s popes came to rest in the edifice. The church was dedicated to St. Andrew because he is patron of Amalfi and the Duchess of Amalfi was paying for the construction. It’s true the more obvious choice would have been St. Sebastian whose martyred body was found in a drain on that very spot but in Rome power often reshapes piety.