Tag Archives: Roman churches

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.


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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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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The least boring final week of classes ever

This was the last week of classes here in Rome. As such, I’ve been a little busy with pressing things like assignments, Settlers of Catan and, of course, visiting churches. The omnipresent feeling of things winding down here has compelled the last of these activities. Indeed, this is the only context in which you will ever hear me condone anything even remotely related to “making a list and checking it twice.” Perhaps it is the timelessness of a warm, halcyon end-times in Rome, or perhaps it is merely a typical sleep-deprived brainlessness, but in any case, it seems more manageable and fitting to present a mirage of impressions than this hectic story line. So, here are some general thoughts that this time has presented to me.

First, I’ve been reminded of how much I love dark churches. After about 5 PM or so, you can take the most boring baroque bombasticism (go with it) and turn off the lights and it suddenly becomes a mysterious place of contemplation. This week, I’ve rediscovered this truth more in relation to Rome’s other distinctive type of church (central nave, often with mismatching columns; side aisles with lower ceilings; lots of squared off corners; Renaissance ceiling; few rounded arches; mosaic in the apse; etc. etc.). One cannot tell that they’re all the same when one cannot really see them! For instance, I give you San Martino ai Monti:


It looks just like Santa Maria Maggiore and San Paolo fuori le Mure got together and…wait. Let’s not symbolically analyze that one. It’s getting a little too Dan Brown-y in here.

OK, beyond masking certain…imperfections…I also find the dark a meditative and contemplative environment for prayer. So I’m not a total jerk. The church above is one of the 25 or 28 tituli, which were basically the parish churches of the early Church. They’ve all been swagged out to greater or lesser effectiveness since, but it’s very cool regardless to be in places where God has been worshipped for thousands of years. Now, if you know me, you know that “very cool” usually translates to “let’s take this way further than it needs to go.” Since I had visited several of these tituli by chance in the past few days, I decided to see how many more I have to visit to get all of them. In a fittingly symbolic way, excluding the ones that have been destroyed, lost to history or are run by nuns who don’t like sharing, the number is 7, most of which I’d already made plans to visit anyway! I have a new quest.

Now, in doing all the requisite research for quests like these, one often comes upon rather strange things on the Internet. For instance, the website for a church that will remain anonymous hosts a link to “Adorazione On-Line.” Morbid curiosity got the better of me, and as I had feared, this is a link to a streaming web-cam of a monstrance. You could tell it was real, too, because there was a guy in the background who kept scratching his head with his rosary. That this exists is wrong on SO many levels.

Permit me to cleanse your palate with this cool statue, found in San Pietro in Montorio.

He looks like he’s about to go hack the server for that website to pieces with all the authority that comes with having written most of the New Testament.


I liked this statue because it shows Paul’s rich complexity (no, this is not an apostolic dating site, although even that would be less appalling than Adorazione On-line). He is leaning on his sword, embracing his martyrdom completely (he would fall over if it was taken away), and yet the position still makes him hunch his shoulders, showing how it is, well, unnatural and undesirable. The book is open and he looks out to the world. This could obviously mean a lot of things, and this is a necessary characteristic of good art (though, I should add, not a sufficient one).

Another notable church I visited this week was San Marcello al Corso. This painting, found inside, interestingly summarizes why I found the church itself meaningful:


I’m now realizing that maybe I should have checked to see if it was Baybel cheese wax on that tabernacle; if so, I’ve found the perfect niche market for all my talents.

As some Saint or another is praying (or possibly dying, but either way, he’s looking devoutly towards the skies) Jesus is about to come and greet him from a direction he hadn’t ever imagined. The rich spiritual notion that Christ is always coming to us in ways we never could have expected was refreshing (such as when you are searching for Chopin variations and come across the Rachmaninoff Variations on a Theme of Chopin). This theme struck me several times in this church. For instance, I’m usually able to walk rather quickly past these Saints adoring types of paintings, since they’re all quite similar. So, I certainly didn’t expect to find such a meaningful one! The same can often be said for baroque churches, yet this one had a disproportionately beautiful collection of artwork (in addition to the piece in question), another surprise. One meaningful example of this church’s treasures: there was a crucifix in one of the side chapels. It was rather plain, but above it, there was a fresco of Adam and Eve being banished from the garden of Eden, with a dry, leafless, dead tree in the background. Oh the symbolism! A final unexpected gift: when I turned to leave, the back wall had a gorgeous depiction of the crucifixion. Normally that space is reserved for tombs and boringness. This church was a real treat.

Completely unrelated, I accidentally went to a “youth Mass” held in English on Tuesday. This adds to my suspicion that any good thing can be immediately rendered undesirable by inserting the word “youth” (or some fitting variation) in front of it. Try it. But it wasn’t a waste of time! Obviously, it was a Mass, so it wasn’t a waste of time. But it was also a great experience because, as far as I could tell, no one participating in said Mass (except for me) was actually a native English speaker. The most amusing result of this was that Isaiah 11:7’s beautiful imagery got changed to “the cow and the beer shall be neighbors.” I won’t say that one can improve on the Word of God, but if one could, this would be the best way to go about doing so. Since why not, here’s a picture of the place:

And it’s not even a titulus (although I thought it might be for a moment, because two OTHER San Lorenzi in this city are).          

Somewhat egotistically, I am proud to announce that I have now visited over 100 different churches in Rome, not counting repeats. I will be calculating my per-diem average at some point soon, in the hopes of converting my pride to slight disgust. 

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Problem? Blame Piazza di Spagna.

One of the many loveable features of Rome is that, no matter what your schedule is, there is a Mass you can make it to during just about every hour of the day (unless you only happen to be free between 1-3 PM, when even Jesus appears to be on break for pranzo). This past Monday, however, put this theory of mine to the test.

Since Monday was the feast day of Saint Catherine of Alexandria, I decided to go to a church dedicated to another Virgin and Martyr, Sant’Agnese fuori le Mura. As is the case with many of these “outside the wall” ventures, the only way to visit this church is to take a sojourn on the dreaded B line. One can usually avoid this sad, sad experience, because it is the non-touristy line and as such goes to places that no one in their right mind would want to see anyway. Also as such, however, it receives much less care than the precious A line. What I’m really saying is that Piazza di Spagna is to blame for all my problems, including the fact that this venture didn’t work out. Yes, there was no train on the B line for twenty minutes due to “technical issues” at one of the stations. So, I was very late for the Mass I’d been planning on attending, and my conscience wouldn’t allow me to receive Communion without being present for at least some of the Liturgy of the Word… Of course, the experience wasn’t a total waste of time, since I got to pray in this lovely space, and at the crypt where St. Agnes is buried.


I am having a really hard time captioning this one, so for lack of something better to say, IT’S NOT EVEN ADVENT. STOP PLAYING CHRISTMAS MUSIC. That is all.

My other motive for coming to this church was the nearby Mausoleum of Santa Costanza. This is technically a church, in the same way that the Pantheon is: there’s an altar, but its main function is to show that the Christians are better than the Romans. Ha. So there. Also like the Pantheon, it’s big and round and its most dome-inant feature is, well, its cupola.


I was also going to make a mosaic pun, but I heard those went out of s-tile in the fourth century.

So, I returned to my dorm and made plans to attend a Mass in the evening. This church is on the indefatigable A line, so I arrived with plenty of time. But, the website had failed to mention that it was closed until at least the end of the year for repair work. I was informed that I could pay 6 euros to see the crypt, but there was no Mass. I vented some steam by visiting the nearby San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane, which also has a cool dome (but no more puns, I promise).


Is everyone sitting down? Yes? Good, here goes: this is an example of Baroque done well.

Wondering when and how my life had turned into a really bad Sit Com without my noticing, I planned Mass at yet another church. This one was only accessible by bus, so I planned buckets of extra time into my journey. Rome laughed. None of the several buses that would have taken me there came for fifteen minutes. I was starting to worry, but not severely: there was still enough time. Rome cackled. All of a sudden, there was an accident or something that had traffic backed up substantially and turned out to be severe enough that they were redirecting the bus route. Mamma mia. When it became futile, I ditched the bus and sprinted to another church nearby that I recalled had a Mass at the same time, and made it just a minute or so late—which is actually early in Italian time, so I was content.


The bald guy’s scalp is more interesting than this apse. Seriously.

While the apse is undeniably hideously Baroque, there were many redeeming and beautiful pieces of art in the side chapels. Additionally, there was Eucharistic Adoration held after the Mass, which I desperately needed after the day’s events. I stayed until the twitch in my eye died down a little, and then headed off to “Theology on Tap” at the local Irish pub. Though beer and theology have the potential to create one of the best combinations man has yet discovered, I felt like the conversation got rather sidetracked, and several factors of the atmosphere were non-conducive to great discussion. Of course, this was probably all Piazza di Spagna’s fault. But, beer is still beer, and it was a nice evening regardless!

My only adventure was an inadvisably early Mass at a church called Sant’Onofrio. This was a bit of a leap of faith, as the only scrap of information I could find online about Mass times was on a website not affiliated with the church. Hoping to avoid getting up before the sun without due cause, I sent an email several days in advance to the address listed on the diocese’s site (which, perhaps after this blog, is the worst website on the Internet). And, here’s the kicker: I sent it in ITALIAN! I was so proud of myself, and they didn’t even respond. This left me wondering if my Italian was just indecipherable or if the people running the church were just incompetent. After attending the Mass (which did, in fact, exist), I decided resolutely that it was the latter. There were some questionable (and also some definitely not OK) things going on in the liturgy. BUT, the church is up on a hill (a real hill, not one of the 7), and so I did get a great view of the sunrise over Rome. And, it features some gorgeous frescoes, a rare treat in Rome. 


The monk rushed me out after Mass (probably because he had more liturgies to devastate), so I apologize that it’s blurry.

This whole adventure was undertaken with a dear friend of mine. Shared suffering builds bonds, I guess. Pastries, hot chocolate and good conversation also build bonds, so the morning was on whole a great experience.

For the rest of Tuesday and continuing through press time, I’ve been very busy and very sick, so I haven’t had many adventures worth relating. Although, this morning the RAs of our building cooked us a delicious American brunch in celebration of Thanksgiving. And, after this, sick (literally) and tired of Piazza di Spagna ruining everything, I hopped on a train headed to Padova! So, many more adventures to come.

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My week’s staple? Everything papal.

I’d like to dedicate this post to all of the hours of sleep that selflessly and nobly gave their lives to make the events described below possible.

It all started with the papal audience on Wednesday morning. This event commenced at 10:30, and the gates didn’t open until 7:30, but people in the know informed my group of friends and me that, in order to get good seats, one had to arrive by 6:30 AM. So that’s what I did. Nothing, however, says “worth it” like having the pope pass within ten feet of you three times in one morning (we were right on one of the corners very close to the front).


Ciao-issimo, Papa Francesco.

I also got to catch up on some lost sleep while they were translating everything he said into just about every language known to man. And, I avoided the surprisingly common syndrome known as “death-by-four-foot-tall-octogenarian-Italian-lady,” which is a known menace at such events. So, it was without reservation a great morning. Significant portions of the rest of the day were spent visiting other churches, but none were particularly extraordinary.

Thursday morning, running on about two hours of sleep, I went to Mass at a little church called Sant’Anna dei Palafrenieri, dedicated to the mother of Mary. Even though this city is filled to the brim with Marian churches, this one seemed fitting on the Feast of the Presentation of Mary. And, it offered a Mass at a good time (7:00) and was relatively close (right inside the Vatican walls). A picture wouldn’t add much, since there wasn’t much special about the church except for the fact that about 25 religious sisters of at least ten different orders were attending Mass. As far as experiences that let you know you’re immersed in holiness, there’s really nun better than that.

After a very productive composition lesson and Italian class (no adjective necessary.), I attended a lecture given by a visiting CUA economics professor about problems associated with human capital and barriers to entry in the labor market in developing nations. There was free food and drink, which was much appreciated. The talk itself was pretty engaging, but would have been moreso had I gotten more than two hours of sleep the night before (and perhaps without the food and drink, too…). Thursday was rounded off by drinks at a favorite local pub in celebration of a friend’s birthday. It was a nonstop day, but a good one. I slept well that night.

In this instance, “well” means deeply, because I woke up early to attend one of the best Masses I’ve been to in Rome thus far. This is fitting, because it was the Feast of Saint Cecilia, patroness of musicians.

She also got stuck with Omaha, and yet even SHE won’t consent to being patron saint of the viola!

This is the (amazingly beautiful) crypt of the church Santa Cecilia in Trastevere. I got to participate as one of two chanters in the Missa Cantata–extraordinary form Mass with all the propers and ordinary sung in plainchant. But there was nothing plain about it: Father Gray was amazing, of course; the other singer–who is the director of liturgical music at the NAC–was a very fine musician; the space was obviously excellent. This was one of the best Masses I’ve attended during my entire time here.

Right after this, I left for Norcia with my roommates for a well-needed guys weekend. What is Norcia, you ask? Nothing shy of the most beautiful place outside of Utah.

I tried for a few minutes to come up with a caption, but nothing I can say can add any value to this. And I’m perfectly fine with that.

Norcia is not just beautiful because it resembles everything Middle Earth wishes it could be. Though that is a nice feature too. Norcia, birthplace of St. Benedict, is also the home of an amazing Benedictine monastery. There is nothing not to love about them. The community is incredibly young, vibrant, dedicated and reverent. They chant the liturgy of the hours in Latin extremely well, and intimately understand the value of doing so–standing in the dark, simple church immersed in this ancient, mysterious music that echoes with resonant profundity is a humbling and world-changing experience. We stayed in their guesthouse, which means we were invited to dine with them, and their food is simple but delicious (and all eaten in silence, which is quite a fertile opportunity for contemplation). And, though I don’t want to say “most importantly,” they also brew fantastic beer. The slogan for this ambrosia–taken from Psalms–is “ut laetificet cor,” meaning “that the heart might be made happy.” And it is.


Again, I’m not saying that this view could possibly be made better, but if it could, Norcia beer would be the agent of that improvement.

So, Friday and Saturday were spent soaking in all these good things (and still not sleeping…). In its placidity and serenity, Norcia was the perfect antithesis to and respite from everything crazy and hectic (though wonderful) that Rome has to offer.

Such as seeing the pope again for Mass today! This required the same mind-numbingly early antics as the Wednesday audience, but was again completely worth it, as we got seats very close to the front, and he again passed right by us. This Mass, Christ the King, closed the year of Faith. And the relics of St. Peter were brought out in public for the first time, which was very exciting. And I got a plenary indulgence and fulfilled my Sunday Mass obligation without even having to enter a church! Seems odd, but I suppose it’s Rome.

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November 24, 2013 · 8:36 pm


Before I relate the adventures described in the title, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention an amazing experience on Monday night. I attended a magnificent concert at the Santa Cecilia (this is one of the oldest running orchestras in the world, and has a much longer name that I don’t care to look up). They played Beethoven’s Violin Concerto and his Sixth Symphony, both of which (but especially the former) are among my favorite pieces of music. There was nearly nothing for me to gripe about. 

As you try to cope with that unfathomable reality, calm yourself by looking at St. Peter’s. This was taken from above Piazza del Popolo, where I wandered for a while after the concert…at NIGHT.

The orchestra was well balanced and very musically sensitive. The soloist (Isabelle Faust) was energetic and convincing. And, best of all, the violinist wrote her own cadenzas! I wouldn’t say “best of all” under most scenarios, and even in this rendition there were a few moments that caused me and much of the audience to raise our right eyebrows. However, I can use this descriptor because the lengthy cadenza at the end of the first movement proved what all connoisseurs of the piece have known all along: the timpani is by far the most important instrument in the entire concerto. Wait, what? Seriously, it’s the first instrument to enter; look how long it takes the soloist to finally enter! But seriously. The aforementioned cadenza was basically a duet between the violinist doing scales and other…interesting…things and the timpani repeating the core five-note-motif repetitively. It seemed like a blaring mistake at first, but when it continued going, I realized it was actually more of a slow-burn, lasting kind of mistake. So perhaps OTHER than that odd decision, I loved every moment of the concert.

Right, now on to the church-junkie part of the post. Rather than trying to sort them hierarchically, I will simply present the churches I visited today (well, technically “yesterday” at this point) chronologically. I went to Mass at Santa Maria in Via, which was noticeable for two things. First, there is a little side chapel commemorating the spot where an image of the Virgin saved the church from an overflowing well. Why there was a well in the church I do not know. Why said temperamental well is still there I understand even less. Correct they didn’t remove it: there’s a faucet right inside the chapel where you can go take a plastic cup and have a shot of well water. It was odd. Infinitely more off-putting than this was the Mass I attended.

I devote this blog post to the patron saint of cliff-hanger endings and plastic cups. Whomever that might be.

The first paradoxical component of this liturgy was the priest. On the one hand, he seemed to be accustomed to the extraordinary form (one can tell from how they treat their fingers; trust me). In my mind, this would normally correlate with a priest who displays extreme reverence and an understanding that the greatest things take their due time. However, the Mass was out in 17 minutes (I can assure this degree of precision because it caught me unawares by starting unannouncedly at the unusual time of 5:47, and so I checked my watch in amazement at the end). Perhaps the priest himself didn’t realize he was about to say a Mass, because he noticed at the time for the distribution of the Eucharist that he had no idea where the key to the tabernacle was. Sigh. And, on top of being painfully rushed, the few people in attendance were spread out all the way along the church, which was just weird.

With the goal of cleansing my palate, I stopped in the next church along my itinerary: San Giacomo in Augusta. It boasted one of the least odious Baroque ceilings I have yet to see, and also this novel and fascinating


Do tell: has this literary device gotten annoying yet?

means of displaying an icon. Symbolically, this presentation struck a resonant chord about the necessity of bringing our Faith and our faith into the world and letting it be a real, three dimensional force. I was also intrigued—on a more aesthetic level—that the icon is able to command the focal point of the viewer’s attention without being rigidly front and center. So, one could say that my palate was refreshed. For a while.

You expected a picture here, didn’t you? Sorry, I don’t want to spoil it just quite yet. Whenever one is feeling good about the churches in Rome, one must remember not to underestimate the power of the electric light show. We have met Our Lady of the Thermonuclear Halo, but now I introduce you to this spectacle that truly exceeds my ability to come up with a fittingly snarky name:

Most Precious Glowstick of Our Lord and Savior?

This church also cast an overpowering red light on an image of St. (…Bl…) John Paul II, but luckily the image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus was basked in a radioactive green glow. Equally disturbing, even less comprehensible. I’m not really sure what the sort of a charism is motivating this spirituality, but it eerily reminds me of Dr. Nestor’s warnings against sounding like “New Age Crystal” music (his description is complete with little dance moves that I sadly cannot replicate here). Something tells me this is to be avoided at all costs, so I fled in terror.

Finally, at the end of my church binge, I visited Santa Maria di Montesanto. This is the second of the twin churches of Piazza del Popolo, which I had been unable to visit because of repair work being done earlier. The phrase “evil twin” has never made so much sense. Or, put differently, it felt about ready to be renovated from its renovation. OK, this is harsh. The church was just rather bland, and trying too hard to be “accessible” or “in sync with the modern age.” The most grievous offender was this:

This Eucharist brought to you Adidas ®!

I am aware that this is more of a pseudo-depiction of the feeding of the multitudes than a psuedo-depiction of the Last Supper. So, take my harsh words with a grain of salt. But a small one, because we cannot overlook the clear symbolic ties between those two events. That said, I would propose that one of the greatest plagues that faces the modern era, and a fault that is particularly damaging to the Church in said era, is that we have lost sight of the place of reverence in our lives. In the frantic paces of our work and homes, in the ways we interact with each other, in how we idolize cultural stars (and, I might add, whom we are idolizing…), even in how we digest our media, there is no place for profundity, contemplation, stillness or silence. And in our worship, if the liturgy is just a place we go to mumble responses as someone dressed a lot nicer than us talks for a long time, spare yourself the uncomfortableness and commitment and go to a college course instead (you can also bring Nutella to your college courses. Not that that’s been done…). 

Two important questions may arise: what does this have to do with this painting, and what am I even ranting about? To me, it’s evident that this image fancies itself as conveying a similar message to that of the icon in San Giacomo: bring your faith into the world and into your life. I suppose it’s vaguely New Evangelization-ey. And yes, the laity has a very important vocation to sanctity. But in innumerable ways–posture, setting, dress, and even the disreputable treatment of that poor violin (unless it’s a viola, in which case I have no issue)–this picture conveys to me nothing but a sad loss of the idea that there is anything special, transcendent, awe-inspiring or in any way surpassing the quotidian about something once referred to (again, permit a I symbolic connection) as O magnum mysterium. And no, I’m not condoning it as an OK time to start playing Christmas music. No.

So to answer your second question, I suppose what I’m getting at is this: Vatican II asked artists of all ilks to bring the very best of the culture into the churches, and I think we can do better than this. We cannot welcome Christ into our lives by making the sacred mundane, but by the opposite: sanctifying even the mundane. This ragazzo doesn’t convey that message to me at all. Also, I can’t even tell what the purpose of representing at least three different time periods of dress might be. Communion of Saints, maybe? Then why aren’t they being communal?!

Let me know what your thoughts are on this! Regardless of its deeper symbolic value, I also think it’s just rather boring and ugly, so that might be unjustly feeding my ire…

Tomorrow, God-willing, I will have updates about today’s very exciting event: a papal audience! But my fingers are getting sore, so a domani!


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[punchline inside…maybe]

Regrettably, there was a communications error that sent me to the wrong meeting point, so I missed the Mass in St. Ignatius’ quarters. Luckily, I made it to the 8 PM Mass held by the St. John’s campus ministry, and celebrated by the one and only Fr. Chris Gray, which is always a treat. And, the chapel in which it was held was simple and beautiful (though I didn’t think to bring my camera), which counts for something. This does, however, leave me in a bit of a predicament. Since I didn’t actually go to a Jesuit Mass yesterday, am I allowed to divulge the punch line to yesterday’s joke or not?!? I’ll think about it.

While I’m deciding, I would first like to put up a picture of the Clementine Chapel in which I had Mass on Saturday. Keep in mind, the skull that scholars are pretty sure belonged to St. Peter is right behind the altar.


And you can tell I didn’t take the photo, because it isn’t blurry at all.

This photo is also a nice segue into where I had Mass today. Since it is The Feast of the Dedication of the Basilicas of Saints Peter and Paul, Apostles (don’t expect me to type that out again; I won’t), I went to St. Peter’s Basilica again (Mom, you know how this ‘again’ would be pronounced)! Except I did everything. Confession, Adoration, Mass and a Scavi tour. I have nothing to say about the first two (except, perhaps “OH YEAH, PLENARY INDULGENCE BABY!!“), but Mass was quite unique. I meandered over to the sanctuary to nab a priest heading out, but I got a little more than I anticipated: (roughly) seven priests and (exactly) one bishop, all headed to the crypt with a group of pilgrims! I overheard them speaking in French, so I struck up a conversation with the lady standing next to me as we waited to be admitted. Her name was Caroline; the group came from Le Mans; when she heard I was from Utah, she immediately inquired about “les Mormons” (say it with a French accent; it’s hilarious). 


The best part of this picture is the “no photos” sign in the background… Oh, and the punchline is “the bread and wine.”

The command to not take photos on the Scavi tour was actually enforceable, so I don’t have anything to show y’all from that. But, it was a very fascinating visit, especially from an archaeological perspective. I was a little surprised that they didn’t leave room for more of a pilgrimage approach–there was no opportunity for silent prayer or reflection in this very holy place. Though I understand that there isn’t any way to completely certify or verify that the bones they’ve found are definitely, necessarily St. Peter’s, isn’t that rather missing the point? Relics are important because of that of which they remind us: the tangible and real holiness of the Saints, towards which we can and should aspire; our own mortality; the depth of people and history who are bound together by common belief and prayer at certain places or in association with certain objects; etc. But, it was still a worthwhile visit, especially on this Feast day.

By the way, I’m contemplating a visit to St. Paul’s Basilica later today, lest he feel left out. But, it’s seeming decreasingly likely, and he’s a Saint, so he’ll understand.

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