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The Rome Diaries - Week 8

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. 11, 2006

Today a Swiss guard salutes me because I am in clerical garb and I could not decide if I was to return the salute. In the Vatican, do I rate the rank of sergeant? Probably not, but the encounter got me thinking about why this city makes people so wonderfully crazy. For centuries it was a place that saw itself as a city with the obligation to demonstrate a bit of heaven on earth: Angels float from ceilings, saints stand on top of buildings, fountains put across the idea of gods in Paradise. The urban stage sets that were first constructed here were duplicated around the world. They had to have their version of the Eternal City.

Dec. 15, 2006

On the way to the dentist, I read an historic information sign (there are thousands of them, usually sponsored by banks or hotels) in front of Palazzo Massimo alle Colonne. I discover the building is curved to follow the contours of the ancient street which, in turn, snaked around an oval-shaped theater. This “odeon” was the site of agones, lively contests of poetry reading and public speaking. Later, happily cavity free, I give thanks at Chiesa Nuova. The original name of the area was “Vallicella” because it had a hollow depression characterized by stagnant and sulfurous waters. Pre-Republican Romans worried so much about the supposed pushing up of the Underworld they built a shrine there to appease the deities, Dis and Proserpina. And miracles abound in the neighborhood, it seems. When Chiesa Nuova was built by St. Philip Neri, Rome was deeply concerned with reforming itself and Baroque church decoration supported this fervor. During this time an outdoor fresco of Mary was damaged…and began to bleed, it was taken inside the church and continued working miracles! At the palace where I had stopped and been reminded of the “agones” of dentistry, 14 year-old Paolo Massimo was brought back to life (briefly). And, in honor of this miracle, every March 16th (for over 400 years) the place is open to the public and a cardinal celebrates Mass in the chapel where the miracle took place, attended by noble family relatives and their liveried servants.

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