Tag Archives: Bari

The last post with pictures…

First, to my great shame, I forgot one of the best features of Bari when I posted yesterday! They have a very unique interpretation of Advent wreaths. By “very unique,” I mean “barely recognizable.” None had evergreen, for starters. One sported candles of blue, red, yellow and white. Another was perched on a weirdly shaped tree trunk. My favorite, though, was this:

Neo-paganism meets German engineering.

Yes. Four white candles floating in pillars of water, surrounded by the elements. I do love the progression of the materials: lifeless rock is refined to dirt, which is life-supporting; from this comes the simple greenery, and finally this is brought to rich, colorful, vibrant life. OK, I can buy it. And besides, this was in the Cathedral, which has seen worse than dirt in it (refer to my post yesterday)…

Right, back to Rome. I said arrivederci today by the same means with which this city and I have shared our love all semester: meanderingly. Two of the churches I’d planned on visiting (of course, the two that were far out of the way and hard to get to) were closed. The internet is good for many things, but discovering the truth may not be one of them. However, I got to take a beautiful walk regardless, and soak in the warm weather and, well, Romanness of it all:

And the picture doesn’t lie: it recedes on like this for infinity.

Of the churches that were open, most of them were rather boring. This is good, as I would have been rather upset with myself if I’d discovered a gem on the very last day. In San Giorgio in Velabro, I was greeted with a bowl claiming to contain the “cranium” of St. George, which could translate to anything from “brain” to “skull.” It didn’t look like bones; that’s all I know.

This picture ACTUALLY doesn’t lie: the church is rather trapezoidal.

In the nearby Sant’Anastasia, I must steal some theological analysis from Fr. Gray. Saint Anastasia’s feast day is Christmas, and her name refers to the Resurrection. This beautiful connection of the Incarnation and the Resurrection is somewhat well captured in the church (I have high standards, in case you cannot tell). In the apse, there is a painting of the Nativity. OK, fair enough. In the chapel where perpetual adoration is held, instead of a monstrous monstrance, the Eucharist is displayed within the tabernacle, but with the door open, as if emerging from the tomb. The connection is weak, but they get my positive regards for the effort. 

The last church of the day about which I have anything meaningful to say was called Santi Luca e Martina. It had a nice ceiling. 

Sometimes, a nice ceiling and a winning personality is all it takes.

These adventures were followed by a slightly-less-furious-than-I-had-anticipated packing spree, a vigil Mass (in English!) and a truly wonderful meal with the entire Rome program: students, teachers, administrators and the fantastic seminarians who have been with us this whole semester. In short, a great group of friends with whom I have shared these blissful times. We dined well, the conversation was incomparable, and it nothing was lacking on this last evening. Indeed, everything about this day was ideal and, though slightly tinted with sadness, a meaningful and fulfilling conclusion to my time here. So, it is no passing comment to say that I have saved the best for last. This morning I woke up at an unspeakably early hour for a completely candlelit Extraordinary Form Missa cantata. It was one of the most beautiful, symbolically resonant Masses I’ve ever experienced.

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If you think I’m artistic enough (especially before the sun has even risen) to do it in black and white, think again. Photo cred to…someone else. From the position I’m guessing a seminarian named Joshua.

This was exquisitely beautiful, and the type of thing that is really special and unique to being here in Rome with these wonderful people. I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect beginning to my last day. 

I have one concluding post to publish, a summary of sorts, but this is the last one about actual events, per se. A presto!

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Sassi and sassy

In search of warmth and the true meaning of relaxation, I could think of no other place to go than Southern Italy. I spent my time here in three places: Bari, Alberobello and Matera. The same characteristic attracted me to each of them: a beautiful place to wander about without much to do. Perfetto.

The particular variety of “not much to do” in Bari mostly involved the picturesque old town, where the streets are tiny and easy to get lost in. As in, you enter old town, think you have a good idea of where you’re going, and wind up exactly where you started five minutes later. It’s particularly loveable around meal-times, where all the families cook delectab;e meals with the doors and windows thrown wide open. Another sizeable chunk of my time was spent relaxing by the ocean. Especially when one can ignore the thin layer of petrochemicals and fish oils that is perpetually adorning the surface, it’s really quite beautiful.

See, the pollution makes it even more reflective and shiny, so it’s actually a good thing.

I attended one Mass at the cathedral, after which I resolved to go to the rest at San Nicola, the basilica where St. Nicholas is interred (apparently I missed quite the party on his feast a week ago). I’d prefer Dominicans who don’t give homilies (the P stands for……nope, I’ve got nothin’) at the latter to extremely disinterested, yawning, speeding-through-everything priests at the former. Although, some of the oddities of Masses in Southern Italy come from the other side of the altar… For instance, everyone in the congregation is very chatty, all the time. Such as during the consecration. Although, this is preferable to, say, smoking in church. Which wasn’t during a Mass, and was one of those electronic cigarettes, but still happened. Ah, Southern Italy, you are a very unique place.

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If you look carefully enough, you can see the smoke—I mean water vapor—steaming out of every nook and cranny. Just as it should be.

On Wednesday, I took a day trip to a town called Alberobello. This particular part of Apulia is known most for its unique architecture, buildings called the “trulli” (“trullo” singular). 

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Stone traffic cones meet Star Wars.

I explored the town a little, but my real reason for going was the vicinity to the wide open countryside. Nothing but olive trees, trulli and good honest dirt as far as the eye can see.

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Rocks. I forgot to mention they have rocks. REAL rocks!

While happily meandering amongst this beauty, I noticed that there happened to be a lot of wide open space devoid of nearby sources of manmade light. Coincidentally, these happen to be the ideal conditions for stargazing, and I had nothing to do that evening. It helps that the sun sets rather early here. Briefly, since words cannot do it justice, it was cold but worth it.

Thursday was spent in Matera, another nearby city famous for the amount of scat to be found in public places. Or at least, that’s what it should be famous for. I counted 7 different species. It is actually known for its ancient dwellings, known as the Sassi:

This is the Lord of the Rings to Alberobello’s Star Wars. I’m not saying it’s a lot cooler or anything, but yeah, kinda that.

From another angle, it looks like:

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…I’ve got nothing. Let’s see you try to caption something this awesome.

Yes, the city sits on the brink of rugged, barren wilderness. It’s very poetic, very photogenic and makes for good hiking:

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And reminds me of Utah. I expected Mormons to be hopping out from behind the rocks any second.

Really, this blog post would be infinitely better as an uninterrupted series of pictures of Matera. But, a picture is not really worth a thousand words, so some description is in order. In addition to the city’s ancient, primal aesthetic (that I’m sure is contributed to by being hewn from the side of a mountain), across the valley there are some cave dwellings that archaeologists believe make the city the oldest continuously inhabited place in Europe, if Wikipedia is to be believed (and it is). The lady I asked for directions kept insisting that I needed a car to get to them, but I proved her wrong.

My interaction with the local culture (across all three cities) revealed that Southern Italians are unused to and rather hostile towards tourists, which I loved (this is the “sassy” part of the title; it’s a stretch, but it’s also late and I’m tired). It was either admire it or be offended, so I chose the more enjoyable outlook.

The first glorious exception to this principle was the gracious and hospitable matriarch of the hole-in-the-wall family run restaurant where I ate on Wednesday night. Coincidentally, her food was also the best. First she brought me a free bruschetta, complements of the house. It was probably the best bruschetta I’ve had in Italy, which is saying something. Then I had some tubetti (“little tubes”) pasta with mussels, perfectly grilled shrimp, and some grilled peppers (served cold but surprisingly delicious, given that). All of this with a delicious house wine (red, of course). I had some trouble picking out a dessert (since I didn’t know any of the terms in Italian) so she brought me a little sampler plate, and some gelato that had chunks of sugar on top of it. I won’t explicitly tarnish my image by saying that it wasn’t even a disappointment when it turned out that there was some coffee flavored ice-cream inside, but I will say that everything I ate that night was exquisite. Take that for what it’s worth…All of this cost just over half of what it would have in Rome. The other nights were also very fine—pizza and buffalo mozzarella on Thursday, mountains of Greek food (there’s a pretty big influence in Bari) on Tuesday—and of course sempre vino.

The second exception to the “Southern Italians don’t like tourists” rule was the amazing hostel at which I stayed, called the “Olive Tree.” The owners were incredibly kind and helpful, above and beyond the call of duty, and made my stay amazing. It was probably the best hostel I’ve stayed in during all my adventures. I just felt like they deserved a shout-out.

Alas, there are so many little details that I wish I could relate, but that would be unfeasible. I had a great time! There have only been two downsides to this trip. First, relaxing is hard for me. But somehow I managed. Secondly, I haven’t had enough things to complain about. All things considered, I’m not too upset with either. 

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My finals week is over…

I’ve had a running list of churches to visit on my computer since the moment I decided I was coming to Rome. It got compiled by hearsay and recommendations, late night Churches of Rome Wiki binges (this website deserves a Pulitzer), and just about any other odd means you can possibly imagine. When the semester started winding down, I had to put a moratorium on adding new ones (which I broke at least five times). I also started organizing the disparate churches by location and creating itineraries for efficient trips. Yes, I’m a nerd. But, on rare occasion, we nerds are given indisputable direct affirmation and encouragement from God Himself. This was the case when I lined up five churches on my list in an area of the city that’s slightly more of a hassle to get to (think: Metro B line…) in the most efficient walking path. My moment of providential divine confirmation came when I saw that the opening times which—mind you, in the optimal order—were 8, 8:30, 9, 9:30 and 10. 

Wait, God wants me to be…here?

OK, so maybe the first one was a little plain. But that’s fine, I was still waking up anyway. Part of His plan. This church, San Saba, is not to be confused with Santa Sabina, which has several more letters, several more Dominicans, and several more interesting things going on. I’m giving San Saba a hard time because the blue fresco you see in the apse looked like it was done by a child in the 1930s. Largely due to renovations like these, it’s evident that the church’s 4th century glory days have clearly passed.

I only stayed briefly at the next church on the itinerary—San Giovanni e Paolo—because they were setting up for a wedding! So I prayed for the new couple and booked it out of there. But not before keenly observing that the church had relics of two of my favorite saints: San Pammacchio and San Saturnino. Why they didn’t name the church after those great men (who with names like that you would expect to be the kind of Saints that didn’t actually exist, but they DID!) I’ll never understand.

This is actually the next church, San Clemente, but no one wants to read three unbroken consecutive paragraphs of just text while I explain that.

San Clemente made up for any mediocrity in San Saba and any grotesque baroqueness in San Giovanni e Paolo (did I fail to mention that? It was bad.). The upper church, pictured, was built in the 11th century; beneath it was a 4th century church, and below that was an excavation site of several ancient Roman buildings. There were also Dominicans praying the Liturgy of the Hours in English, which was unexpected to say the least. Particularly because it sounded like none of them were actually native speakers (or speakers at all…).

Right next door, I was put back at ease by the very Italian Augustinian nuns at Santi Quattro Coronati, a church dedicated to four martyrs (‘crowned ones’). The church was rather nice; I took some illicit pictures. But fare more impressive was the chapel next door dedicated to San Sylvestro. I had to request entrance in Italian! This chapel is decorated with some vivid narrative frescoes. My favorite part is this:

You guessed it! The little cherub in the bottom right!

To Christ’s right, the angel is unfurling what appears to be a large roll of cloth. This was a little confusing until I noticed that its pattern was nearly identical to that on the ceiling of the chapel: a white background with a very particular design of silver star. OK then, it’s the heavens that are being unrolled. Upon this realization, how beautiful the symbol becomes: heaven is something that is gradually revealed to us, bit by bit. We cannot enter its immensity except by an arduous, long process. Even taken literally this is true: anyone who has stargazed (or understands the mechanisms of light and the eye) knows how more and more of the sky’s fullness appears the longer you stare.

Speaking of stair-ing, I next visited the Scala Sancta, the supposed stairs of Pilate’s praetorium on which Christ ascended and descended during the Passion. They were brought to Rome by good ol’ Saint Helena, my favorite mommy-Saint after Monica. One can only climb them on one’s knees, so perhaps “speaking of arduous, long processes” would have been the more fitting transition to this paragraph. But, it was a very holy, meditative, penitential experience. The space is also masterfully decorated. The wall at the top of the stairs very fittingly has a gorgeous depiction of the crucifixion. And above this, there is a dome with God the Father depicted inside. But, one cannot tell this from the bottom. So, as one climbs (surrounded by images of the Passion), one slowly realizes the Father’s presence, beholding and united to Christ’s suffering. Thus it is that the gravity and mystery of our salvation is slowly revealed to us only by uniting our suffering to God’s. The only downside was that the person in front of me was wearing ridiculous shoes with golf tees attached to the heels. Umm, what?

They also say that shared suffering is all the greater, so for the sake of salvation I’m going to ask for some golf tee shoes for Christmas. Or maybe some crocs.

After this, I had planned to go to confession and Mass at San Giovanni Laterano, which is right next door. God, who we’ve established is the mastermind of this plan, decided to let there be some sort of clerical conference—unannounced online—that cancelled the 11 and 12 Masses. So I booked it over to Santa Maria Maggiore and did so there instead. Silly cathedral.

I was similarly deceived on Sunday, when I had planned to go to Mass at Sant’Ivo alla Sapienza. This church is only open for a couple of hours for Sunday Mass every week, and I’ve heard great things about it, so I went. The website said there was a 9:30 Mass. A plaque outside the courtyard said it was actually at 10. A sign inside the church said “Nope, it’s at 11 sucker!” (rough translation from the Italian). So I took my holiness elsewhere, thank you very much.

But it does have a really cool ceiling. There are more unexpected shapes than a Picasso painting, and without the disturbing conceptions of nudity!

There was also a very elaborate nativity set. This is to be expected: they are very popular in Italy. Just about every church has one, and they’re all horribly elaborate; I’m pretty sure their function extends no farther than “let’s one-up the church next door.” For instance, this one had running water. Yep, Italy.

I went to Mass instead at San Giovanni ai Fiorentini, because I remembered three things about this church. First, it has the foot of Saint Mary Magdalene, patron of my diocese. Good stuff. Second, it has a lot of beautiful art that I enjoyed. This goes along with being “of the Florentines.” Finally, it had a ghastly, atrocious painting that I wanted to go reexamine. I’ve discussed this “art” here. Unfortunately—no, wait, definitely fortunately—it was nowhere to be found! I can only hope that it was, in the timeless words of Gru, “accidentally maliciously destroyed.” Coincidentally, I noticed after the fact that I had been stuck in Florence on the night before my Liturgy class’ midterm, the final for which was on Monday. So perhaps that fiasco has come full-circle in a symbolically satisfying way.

Monday morning, I went to Mass at a church called San Vitale. Many churches from this one’s time have mismatched columns that were appropriated from other buildings. This one did not. Perhaps to make it feel less left out, or perhaps just in homage to the noble tradition of spoliation, the artist of this one painted on some mismatched columns. 

For three easy payments of 19.99, you too can vaguely disorient people without actually being unharmonious!

I did quite like this church. The fresco in the apse was particularly beautiful. And it wasn’t obstructed by a giant baldachino, which is always a plus.

I also took my liturgy final and finished my economics take-home final today, but the real highlight was a procession from Santa Maria della Pace to San Salvatore in Lauro. I’ve been to a couple of these processions, and they’re great. Everyone gathers around an image or statue, lights up some red candles and incense, and takes said item from one church to another while singing, praying, chatting and having a generally good time. It’s very Italian, and it’s very wonderful. At the end, we were greeted with this “macchina barocca” (“Baroque machine”).

I counted the candles: one grillion and seven. That’s a lot.

This experience did a lot to redeem (or at least explain) the Baroque for me. The common devotional decoration of Our Lady of the Illustrious Golden Shrapnel Explosion is actually not meant to be basked in 2 million watts of artificial light. I can’t use the word “subtlety” to describe anything going on here, but when viewed in flickering candlelight, even very bright flickering candlelight, this art is much less repulsive. It has some, well…subtlety. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still an egregious misappropriation of gold and shrapnel, but now there’s at least one sense in which it can be enjoyed.

I then went to an exquisite dinner with Father Gray. Eggplant lasagna loaded with cheese and a meat dish with mushrooms covered in an unidentifiable fragrant sauce are good in any way they are taken, but are all the better with great conversation (and wine). It was a perfect evening.

After all of these adventures, I am proud to say that there are only two tituli that I have yet to visit (excluding those that have been destroyed, closed for renovation or lost to history). And, they happen to be very close to each other and open in the same two hour window on Saturday. So, one could say that I’m tituliatingly close to completing this goal.

To not leave you in uncomfortable agony, I’ll close of by saying that I wrote this on a train to Bari, Southern Italy (and you better believe it was delayed! 1 hour and 20 minutes this time). Now I can leave you angry/jealous instead. I have completed all my finals and papers, and have absolutely no obligations at all until, well, January or so. La dolce vita baby! 

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