Peter, Paul, and Paola

Hands down, the best time to visit St. Peter’s Basilica is when it opens at 7am.  Especially these days, when the tourist crowds are overwhelming (I’ve never seen the likes of the crowds I saw this trip, except maybe during Holy Week and Easter), the earlier you go to the Basilica the better chance you have to actually pray.

Armed with a good night’s sleep, we headed out to St. Peter’s bright and early Thursday morning, hoping Father was able to secure an altar for us.  As we approached the sacristy, we saw him waiting for us, fully vested in Sts. Cosmas and Damian red, with a server waiting by his side.

The server led us to the first free altar, the altar of St. Wenceslaus (whose feast we’d celebrate a few days later).

IMG_5453Once again, it was moving to experience this through the eyes of the pilgrims.  Morning Mass at St. Peter’s is not exactly a new experience for me.  But experiencing it with the pilgrims reminded me how incredible it is — to be at a small, intimate Mass in such a grand, beautiful, immense place — to hear the dozens of other Masses taking place simultaneously — to hear the different languages, witnessing the universality of the Church … Yes, 7am Mass at St. Peter’s is a morning Mass like no other.

I knew that since there was so much to point out in the Basilica, just giving the highlights while outside wouldn’t suffice.  Yet I wanted them to have the chance to really take in the Basilica before getting a nitty-gritty tour.  So after Mass I gave them all an hour and a half of free time to pray and wander around, taking advantage of the calm before the tourist storm.  After that, we left the Basilica and headed to get coffee, then got back in the now very long line to return to the Basilica.

The line was long (and it was only 10am!) but while we waited I gave a overview of the history of the basilica, pointed out things in the piazza, etc, and it timed perfectly — when I was finished with the “exterior of St Peter’s” tour note cards, we were heading into security and ready to go inside.

Tour groups are required to use whisper mics now, which is actually really nice– tour guides just whisper into their own little microphone and their groups can wander around more freely.  It was fun to use them — it made me feel important, and it was nice to be able to talk without worrying if everyone could hear me.

 It definitely means less noise, and even traffic jams are somewhat lessened, since tour groups don’t need to stick together as closely.  There are simply so many tourists these days, though, the basilica is still very, very crowded and hard to maneuver.

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photo courtesy of Cathy

We worked our way around clockwise, starting at the baptismal font and ending at the Pieta.  There is so much to point out in the basilica — from the tombs of Popes Pius X, John XXXIII, Leo the Great, Gregory the Great, John Paul II, not to mention Sts. Simon and Jude, to the works of Bernini, to the history (“that’s where Charlemagne was crowned Holy Roman Emperor…”) to the the fun statistics (“you could comfortably fit the space shuttle, with all its external rockets and fuel tank, in the space under the dome…).  There are also plenty of fun stories, like the one about the tomb of Pope Gregory XIV.   Supposedly the Pope ingested gold dust and ground gems to cure his stomach maladies.  As a result, there was nothing left in the papal coffers to build him a proper tomb…

In order to compare, you can see the tomb of Gregory XIII opposite it, in all its glory (namesake of the Gregorian calendar, the commencement of which is depicted on his tomb).

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tomb of Gregory XIII
photo courtesy of Cathy

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Tomb of Gregory XIV
photo courtesy of Cathy

I don’t know if it’s true, but it sure makes a good story.

The tomb of John Paul II is still roped off so only people who want to pray can linger.

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After battling the crowds, we deserved every bit of our lunch.

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Gnocchi!

After a morning at St. Peters, it only seemed fitting to spend the afternoon with St. Paul.  I gave them the highlights while we stood in the beautiful courtyard out front, then we headed in to look around, pray Vespers, etc.  They were having a large multi-lingual Mass imminently, so we spent about forty five minutes in the basilica and then left to hit up the gift shop as Mass was starting.

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We took the bus back (I avoid the B Metro line) and, as usual, they were great sports while we sought out the best bust stop and waited for the bus to come.  Twice in the trip we took the wrong bus (or at least the bus didn’t go where I thought it was going to go…) but everyone was pretty easygoing about it.

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photo courtesy of Cindy

For dinner, a group of us went to a place called Trattoria der Pallaro.  It’s near Campo di Fiori, so we had nice night walks to bookend our meal.  The secret of der Pallaro is to go for the experience.  It is a tiny kingdom run by a queen named Paola.  What she says, goes.  Don’t come looking for menus — your five course meal is going to be whatever Paola made that night.

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Paola loves nuns and priests, so we had it made.  She was constantly hugging and blowing kisses at the Sisters, and she gave Father an enormous bowl of pasta.  We laughed all night — whether it was Paola’s cat that sat at the table next to us (that’s pretty Roman, so that didn’t faze me much) or Paola ordering a Dutch priest to come speak with us (it actually turned out really neat, because he knew a priest the Sisters knew — but it was so random… Paola just told him he had to go talk to us), we definitely just rolled with the punches.

Five courses, all pretty typical Roman.  A mix of antipasti including lentils and yummy fried rice balls, two types of pasta, a secondo course that included two types of pork and fresh mozzarella, and a nice cake and fruit juice to finish it all off.

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I love pasta so much.

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oh, fresh mozzarella, I love you too.

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Our dining companion didn’t really surprise me, but I suppose through American eyes, it is rather alarming to have a cat eating its dinner at the table next to you.

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Paola likes priests:IMG_5481

Paola misses Pope Benedict, just like I do.  In fact, she started crying as she talked and talked and talked about him (all in Italian, so I don’t really know what she said).  It was really nice to talk to an Italian who loved him, because you only hear about people who didn’t.  Although maybe this slightly-crazy woman shouldn’t be my consolation. Hm.

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Photo courtesy of Rick & Julie

It was good we had a nice walk back home, because we were pretty stuffed.  If I’m staying remotely close to St. Peter’s, I try to visit it every night.  My favorite approach is across the Bridge of the Angels and up Via Conciliazione. So that’s exactly what we did. Rick captured this shot — just incredible.

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Photo courtesy of Rick & Julie

All in all, a good day.

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the Rooms of Ignatius (and all four major basilicas)

Today is the feast of Ignatius of Loyola.  I’m a big fan of Ignatius — his spirituality fits my personality (according to Myers-Briggs) to a T, which I didn’t realize until my spirituality classes at the Angelicum.  Until that time, I didn’t know much about him — and I suppose I wrote him off because his recent followers have been such a disappointment.  But after learning more about him and reading his writings, I’ve really fallen in love.  Perhaps some day I’ll have the leisure of taking an Ignatian 30 day retreat.

When I realized it was his feast, I was taken back a few months to the time I visited his rooms in Rome — his office, his chapel, and the room where he died.  Then I realized I never blogged about it…

Because I still haven’t finished blogging about Rome!  Jeesh.

When I had left you in suspense, Megan and I were off to Santa Maria Maggiore, or “St. Mary Major,” one of the four major basilicas.  We hadn’t seen any of the four besides St. Peter’s yet on our trip, even though the four are pretty standard pilgrimage stops for anyone in Rome.  With a free afternoon and no plans, we decided to hop on the metro and head out to see the crib of Our Lord, which is under the high altar of the oldest church named for the Mother who laid Him there.  (There are disputes about St. Mary Major or Santa Maria in Trastevere being the oldest. You pick.)

Santa Maria Maggiore was dedicated not long after the Council of Ephesus, which declared Mary could rightly be called the Mother of God, Theotokos, God-bearer.   While Mary is a creature and is not higher than God, nor did she pre-exist God, she did give birth to the human nature of Christ, which the Second Person of the Trinity had assumed.  Since you don’t give birth to a nature (“Aww, isn’t that a cute human nature?”), but a person, Mary can rightly be called the Mother of God.  So it is quite fitting that the wood of the crib be preserved there.

We hadn’t made it over to that part of the city since jumping on a bus at Termini the day we got in to Rome — partly because there had been violence and riots in that part of the city the week before, and partly because when you live in Trastevere and hang out at St. Peter’s, that part of the city is on the other side of town.  Upon arriving in the beautiful church, we headed straight down to the crib to pray.

They were restoring the Blessed Sacrament chapel, but I was still able to play tour guide for Megan, reminding her of the high points (Pius XII said his first Mass there as a priest, as did St. Ignatius of Loyola.  Bernini is buried there, under a simple marble step, as is St. Jerome- although his body is lost and they can’t find where he is.  Oops!)

We decided since we were just down the street, we should probably head over to St. John Lateran, another one of the four major basilicas.  We passed the church of Marcellinus and Peter, which was one of the churches that had been vandalized during the riots.  The only sign of the violence the week before was a prevalence of anarchy symbols, freshly spray painted on the streets, buildings, and signs.

The church of St. Alphonsus, which is right on the way from Mary Major to John Lateran, was surprisingly not closed for riposo, so we were able to duck in there and kneel in the back while a Polish tour group finished Mass.  The church of St. Alphonsus is home of the original Our Lady of Perpetual Help icon.

This poster, from the pr0-life conservative political party in Italy, was a haunting reminder of the events the week before.  I was kind of scared to be seen taking a picture of it– even though we were in no danger, I was on edge being in that neighborhood.  So I snapped this picture across the street:

“An future without God… a Italy without a future”

Just outside St. John Lateran, we witnessed a motorcycle crash.  The young man on his little motorbike must have hit a curb or something — we just saw him fly off and skid across the pavement.  It was pretty scary — a group immediately gathered around him to try to help (and Megan knew one of the guys — random!)  When we came out of the basilica twenty minutes later, the boy was standing up and seemed perfectly okay.

We knew that most of the other churches in the area would be closed for riposo, so after St. John Lateran we headed towards the Colosseum.   I thought there might be a bus that we could take somewhere, but when there wasn’t, we kept walking, stopping for lunch in a little sandwich shop.  We ate in an odd courtyard in the back that was full of fake plants, but it was nice to be apart from the busy city outside.

As we approached the Colosseum, we decided to take the metro out to St. Paul Outside the Walls, the last of the major basilicas.  I hate the Colosseum metro stop, and I hate the B line of the metro (it’s so dirty and crowded), but I love St. Paul’s.  So I’m really glad we decided to suck it up and go out there.

After visiting St. Paul’s, I had a vague memory that there was a bus stop out front that might take us back into town.  Sure enough, not only was there a bus — it was our 271, that went right along the Tiber by our house!  We had to wait for awhile for it to come, but it was worth the wait — it had a nice scenic route past the Colosseum and Piazza Venezia before dropping us off along the river.

We were now officially exhausted.  There was some thought to going back out to listen to one of my friends defend her dissertation at the Angelicum, but once we laid down on our beds… we were out.

One of Megan’s friends had told her about rooms next to the Gesu that were “‘indescribable,” with something about an optical illusion.  We had stopped by earlier in the week and seen a sign for the rooms of St. Ignatius with hours listed.  So once we rested, Megan decided that we should head out for one last adventure.  And I was up for it.

We took a different route to get there — across Ponte Palatino, past the Theatre of Marcello, and through the Jewish Ghetto.  On the way we discovered the tomb of San Giovanni Leonardi, founder of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and then stumbled upon one of the best fountains in Rome — the turtle fountain.  It’s amazing what you just stumble upon when you’re wandering through the streets of Rome.  I knew we were close, but I didn’t expect to just walk into the piazza.  So it was a nice little treat.

The Gesu is one of the major Jesuit churches in Rome and is probably one of the most beautiful in the city.  The rooms of St. Ignatius are in the building connected to the church.  For two euro, you were able to pick up a book in your native tongue and then set off on a self-guided tour.  The first floor was a series of pictures detailing St. Ignatius’ conversion, and then some maps and information about him settling in Rome and being given the property.  As we climbed the stairs, the book spoke of the present building– essentially a palace– its construction after his death, and the desire to preserve his rooms, even though it required some architectural gymnastics and clever work arounds because the rooms were so small compared to the rest of the building.

There were a series of rooms, and they looked mini compared to the rest of the palace.  You had to walk up another set of stairs to get into them, because their floors were higher than the palace floors (and their ceilings lower than the palace ceiling).  They had simple wooden floors and low wooden ceilings.  There was St. Ignatius’ study and conference room, the room where he died, his chapel, and another room.  There were a few early copies of the constitution of the Jesuit order, the vestments he was buried in, his shoes, his desk — it was really beautiful.

A letter of St. Ignatius with his signature and the seal of the Jesuits

His desk, with his icon of the Blessed Mother over it

The most powerful moment… to kneel in front of Jesus in the tabernacle in the room where he died.

 Outside the rooms was a corridor that was full of paintings depicting the life of St. Ignatius and, in true Roman style, an optical illusion that made it seem like the corridor was much longer, with an arched ceiling.

Curved walls and ceiling?  Nope.

you can see better pictures here.

It was such a great find!  I’m so glad Megan had heard about it and wanted to go — I knew there was a treasure in Rome I hadn’t seen yet!

Afterwards we walked to Tartufo to get our last gelato of the trip.  Sadness!  I got their signature flavor, tartufo, and nocciola (hazelnut).

Then we headed to Piazza Navona to people watch, one of the best activities of a laid-back Rome trip.  Two young men were starting a break-dancing/gymnastics show, so we watched that for a bit.  Then we just hung out in the piazza — fighting off scarf-sellers and watching a large group of American businessmen and making up stories about who they might be.  Then we decided to eat some dinner.

We stopped in at a little supermarket and found a few of the things we hadn’t found at the larger supermercato the day before (like a little glass jar of Nutella, specifically requested by my sister), and then headed up to Piazza Maddalena, to a pizzeria a priest from back home took my family to way back in 2001.  It’s now a chain, but it’s still delicious.

We got red wine and water, vegetables tempura (I love the batter they fry everything in, and I love trying to guess what the vegetables are before you bite into them), a Buffalina D.O.C pizza for me, and gnocchi for Meg.  Then we finished it off with limoncello. Magnificent!

Then we headed back to Piazza Navona, got nutella crepes, and made one last trip across the Bridge of the Angels to go to St. Peters.  After buying matching Vespa keychains, we sadly walked up Via Conciliazione and spent a long time in the Square.

(He never wrote me back about having breakfast with him.)

From my journal:

I know I’ll be back, but it’s still hard to say goodbye each time.  And there’s something about St. Peter’s at night… I think just knowing that the Pope is up there, you’re down below, and Jesus is inside… all is right with the world, even when it’s not.

 

My encounter

This Rome trip seems to have lasted eight months, hasn’t it?   I only wish it would have seemed to last that long when I was living it.  Although the time didn’t seem to fly by, which was nice.  Our last day came quickly, but I felt like we were able to savor each day.

We woke up on Tuesday morning ready to pack as much as we could into our last day.  There was no question how it was going to begin — at St. Peter’s.  (Despite the fact that we had seen it the day before, haha.  And the day before that, and the day before that…)

You have to go to St. Peter’s early if you’re going to beat the crowds.  I think now that they require tour groups to use whisper mics (and I’m glad they do), they let tours come even earlier.  By 8:15, groups were already filling the basilica.

We went to Sant’Anna for 7am Mass, then went over to St. Peter’s to say goodbye.  Someday I’d like to know someone high up in the Vatican who could let me into the Basilica late at night — or at least at 7 or 8pm — so I could say a proper goodbye on my last night.

Sunrise at St. Peter’s.  You can’t beat it.

I love taking pictures of random things like this.  The Vatican workers were taking down the three big banners of the saints who were canonized on Sunday.  They took them off their backing and put them in big tubes.  Everyone takes pictures of the colonnade or the obelisk.  But the daily life of Vatican?  I love it.

 

They were still having Masses at John Paul’s tomb, so we couldn’t go over there to pray, which was disappointing.  Since that area was curtained off, I couldn’t even really see the tomb except from a strange angle far away.  I did get to go to confession after spending some time in the Adoration chapel.   It’s always hard to leave the basilica on the last day, but not being able to see and pray at his tomb one last time made it even harder.  But we were able to go to Mass there on his feast, so I had to focus on being grateful for that.

We walked down the Borgo Pio and got cappuccini and cornetti at a little place at the end of the road.  The day before, a man I rode on the bus with had stopped in there and they greeted him like he was a regular — so I figured it wasn’t a tourist trap.  And it wasn’t– 1.80 euro for a cappuccino and a cornetto!  Yay!  I wish there were local coffeeshops on every street corner in America, so I could have my own place that knows me by name.   Local coffeeshops… not Starbucks… with better coffee than Starbucks… for a euro.  *sigh*

We did some more shopping around the Vatican area– the mosaic store off the piazza and the Vatican Press gift shop near the Arch of the Bells.   Then we went to the post office to mail postcards, and I remembered why you don’t write 19 postcards.  It’s not the fact that writing 19 postcards is time-consuming (it is, but I did it while waiting for the concert and the canonization Mass).  It’s not the fact that the cost of the postcards themselves add up, because you can get them pretty cheaply.  It’s the 1.60 stamp they require.  And two stamps apiece are a lot to rip and lick.  Ugh.  But the 1.00 euro stamp was St. Frances of Rome, so that was pretty awesome.

A little after ten, we headed into the Vatican at the Sant’Anna gate.

I always get a little nervous heading into the Vatican, even though I know exactly where to go and what to say to the guards.  And the guards are always so nice!  But there’s still something so intimidating about it.  The Swiss guard saluted us (swoon) and waved us through once we told him where we were headed.

We turned right and headed down the street toward the Vatican photo office.  As we were walking down the sidewalk, Abuna Michel passed us on the sidewalk.  Abuna Michel is one of the Lebanese Maronite priests (hence “Abuna” instead of “Father”) that lives in the Maronite monastery outside of Rome, my home for the spring of 2008.   When we lived at the monastery, we ate all our meals with the priests and got to know them pretty well.  But Abuna Michel was shy and wasn’t as comfortable speaking English, so I didn’t know him as well as some of the others.   When we passed on the street, it all happened so fast, I almost didn’t realize who he was until he was gone.  Even if I had realized who he was in time, I don’t know if I would have said anything, because I wasn’t sure if he would remember me.

We made eye contact and there seemed to be a flash of recognition.   It was good to see him, even if he didn’t remember me.

We went to the Vatican photo office first.  The Vatican photographers take thousands of pictures during papal events — almost to the point of being able to make a flip book.   You can go to the office and look through the photos to find yourself with the Pope (see pictures in this post) and purchase copies,  or you can purchase copies of beautiful pictures of the Holy Father, Vatican gardens, etc.  Back in the day, you had to look through hard copies of the photos — printed itty bitty on reams of paper so that finding yourself required a magnifying glass.  Now there are hard copies but also three computers so that you can look through the pictures quickly on the computer screen.

The computers were tied up, so we looked through hard copies of pictures from the canonization and found ourselves in a few.  Then when a computer was free, we managed to find ourselves in pictures from the concert, too.  Obviously, if the Holy Father had come to our side of the aisle at the concert we would have pretty amazing pictures — but just to be in a picture with the Holy Father is pretty awesome.  So once again, I had to be grateful for what we had.  I love how goofy I always look when I’m in the background of the pictures — always beaming with a goofy grin.  But who can help that when you’re in his presence?

Once you find which pictures you want to purchase, there are pads of forms lying around and you fill one out with all the details of the photos you want to order.  Then you take the form to the cashier who asks you lots of questions in Italian and stamps things and marks up your form with red pen.  Then you pay and go on your way, wondering what will actually happen — will you ever see an envelope from the Vatican delivered to your door in America?  And if you do, will they be the actual photos you ordered? Or just a picture of some other person with the Pope?  It’s always a gamble.

While we were standing at the counter waiting for the Italian lady to make the requisite number of stamps and red pen markings, a priest came bustling into the office, stopped behind Megan and I, and said something to stamp lady.  She cheerfully greeted him over our shoulders and he went to sit at the desk where I had sat to look at the canonization pictures at the beginning of our visit.

Megan looked over and smiled at me, and I thought it was because she recognized him and knew who he was.  Then she whispered, “He smelled like incense.”

I thought I knew who it was and wanted the cashier to hurry so I could double check.  She was finally finished (it seemed to take an eternity) and Megan headed out to the street (like a normal person) but I walked around the room (casually) to make sure I saw his face.

Megan wondered where the heck I had gone and probably wondered why I emerged out on the street with a goofy grin on my face.  (Come to Rome with me and you’ll see the goofy grin pretty often.)

It was my emcee!!!  (See this post.  And try not to laugh at me.)

I was so excited.  Seriously, if there was anyone to randomly run into in the Vatican besides the Pope, Msgr. Ganswein, or Msgr. Marini, how perfect to run into him!?  God has such a sense of humor.  And of course he would smell like incense.  What else would he smell like?

So my day was pretty complete, and it was only 11am.

We walked down to the Papal Blessing office, which has been renovated on the inside since I was last in there.  The same little Sister works there, but she was so nice (in the past, she’s been a little… um… cranky.)  Megan noted that natural light had worked wonders for her.  The new office was bright and airy, and since it was a Tuesday morning, was completely empty except for Megan and I.

Oh, and the nice Italian young man holding a Vespa helmet who had been in the photo office and was now in the papal blessing office talking to someone.  Unfortunately, not talking to me.  How cute would it be to mee your future husband in the papal blessing building?  Definitely something that should happen to JoaninRome.

Anywho, we picked out our papal blessings and filled out more forms, which the Sister marked in red pen and stamped (see a pattern?).  Then we took the marked form over to the cashier who joked and smiled with us (seriously, there was such an attitude change in there compared to past visits).  Once again, you hand over euro and wonder if you’ll ever see the blessings delivered to your doorstep. But they’ve never failed me!

The cashier gave Megan her change and made a big deal to place the two shiny 50 cent pieces on the counter and point to them.  “Il Papa,” he noted with a smile.  They were Vatican euro!  Woo hoo!   It’s rare to find Vatican euro pieces because they don’t stay in circulation long — everyone wants to keep them.  Ahem, illustrated by the fact that one of those 50 cent pieces is sitting in this room on my bookshelf.  Ha!

When we were walking back out into the street,  I was still flying high after seeing my emcee, and I commented that if I saw him, I would ask to get my picture with him.  Sure enough, he was talking to someone in the street.  As we walked, their conversation ended and he hurried toward us, practically running in his cassock.  I wish I knew Italian well enough to at least thank him for his work, but instead I let him hurry by.  Once I stopped to think about it, I realized I knew enough to at least butcher the language a little and express what I wanted to express, but I was shy and didn’t want to waste his time.

We bought some scarves from the vendors outside the Vatican, getting them for 5 euro apiece rather than 6 (of course), and then went to get a nutella crepe for a midmorning snack.  But they were closed, so we went to Old Bridge instead. : )  I got stracciatella and Nutella)

Once again, we were in the delightful position of having nothing we had to do.  Sure, there were a lot of things we hadn’t seen yet… like the three other major basilicas.  But we didn’t feel rushed or pressured to do anything specifically.  What did we want to do?

We got on the metro and headed to Santa Maria Maggiore.

Monday’s second half or “not your normal Rome afternoon”

Last time I wrote about Rome, I mentioned that a lot of my favorite places seemed to be closed for good, including a little Adoration chapel in the middle of the city.  I found out about a week ago that the chapel is not closed, and one of my Nashville Dominican friends not only reported the happy news, she prayed for me there!  So that was happy news all around.

Back to Rome, to Monday post-riposo.  It was unusual afternoon in Rome for tourists- it was a pretty typical afternoon for a native.

We went grocery shopping.

Both Megan and I had some souvenirs to purchase — not your normal ones, like miniature Colosseums or Italian soccer jerseys– but groceries, like Nutella and candy and gum.   I was looking for some lotion that was only sold in Europe, and we both had lists from friends and family of things that were best purchased with the locals.

So we asked Massimo at the front desk where the nearest supermercato was, and he told us there was no supermercato nearby.  (Of course– we were in the city, silly, and there aren’t supermarkets on every street corner.)  There was, however, a market.  We decided that would probably work, and he told us it was something like a hundred meters down the street.  I don’t remember the number he told us now, but it was something like that.   (I don’t think in meters, or even yards, for that matter.  I think in minutes.  Just one more difference between living in Trastevere and living in suburbia.)

Massimo’s name was not Massimo, of course.  I never asked the hotel clerks their names, which was silly of me.  I named Massimo Massimo because he sort of reminded me of the guy in The Wedding Planner, although he wasn’t so dashingly ridiculous, nor was he in love with me.  But he was a young swarthy Italian.  (In fact, I wrote in my journal, “He reminds me of the guy from The Wedding Planner.  Although I’m not sure why, because he’s not that charming.  Not like our other desk guy that has a funny accent like he learned English from some Canadian.”  We never quite placed his accent, actually, but I wish I would have secretly recorded him, because he was awesome.)

Anyway, Massimo pointed us in the right direction (we thought) and we set off.  But before we went in search of the grocery, we headed over to the church of St. Cecilia, which was a stone’s throw away from where we had been staying and we hadn’t been there yet.

I’m not sure why we didn’t go every day.  And we found out they had a daily Mass at 7:30 am!  While I’m glad I went to the Vatican every day for Mass, it would have been awfully convenient to just go down the street.  Oh well.  Next time!

We take a break from this post to tell you the story of St. Cecilia in under a minute…

St. Cecilia was a beautiful Roman noblewoman who was betrothed to young Valerian.  Cecilia was a Christian and had made a vow of virginity.  On their wedding night, she told Valerian about the angel who watched over her and would kill anyone who touched her.  When Valerian wanted to see the angel, Cecilia asked him to be baptized.  He was baptized by Pope Urban, as was his brother Tibertius soon afterward.  The brothers risked their lives to bury the Christian dead, and when their work was discovered, they were martyred.

Cecilia had converted hundreds by her preaching, so she too was discovered and sentenced to death.  They first tried to kill her by suffocating her in her own household baths.  When this didn’t kill her, the emperor sent in the executioner.  But the executioner struck her three times, unable to kill her.  She eventually bled to death, but not before extending her fingers — three and one — to profess her faith in the Trinity to the end.

Her body was buried in the catacombs, but was later transferred to the church which was built over her house.  In 1559, the body was still incorrupt, and she was as beautiful as the day she died.  Before sealing her tomb, Pope Clement VIII commissioned Stefano Maderno to sculpt her as she lay.

You can pay a few euro to go down to the crypt under the church, where they have excavated Cecilia’s house, including the her baths and a Roman road.  At the very end of the crypt, immediately under the high altar, there is a gorgeous chapel covered entirely in mosaic.  Through the grill over the little altar, you can see the tomb that holds Cecilia, Valerian, Tibertius, and Cecilia’s executioner.

For some odd reason, they lock this chapel and don’t let you inside.  The sister that holds the keys has even been known to turn away a group of 20+ Nashville Dominicans … you know, the Dominicans of St.Cecilia?  Yeah, she’s tough.

I actually got locked in the chapel once, but that’s another story.

When Megan and I were there, an Italian priest somehow got the keys from the sister and took a friend in there.  Megan and I peered through the bars on the door, trying to look pathetic and pious at the same time.  When he and his friend were finished looking around, he mumbled something to us in Italian and let us in briefly!  Score!

After St. Cecilia’s, we headed down the street to find the market… and never found it.  We second-guessed the distance Massimo had told us, but when we got to Viale Trastevere, the main street that runs south straight through Trastevere, we figured we had missed it.  So we decided to keep exploring Trastevere.  We stopped into San Crisogono, a church that holds the incorrupt body of Bl. Anna Maria Taigi, then went to the beautiful church of Santa Maria in Trastevere.

We hadn’t given up our search for a market, so we wandered down Via San Francesco a Ripa, back to Viale Trastevere, and headed deeper into the residential recesses of the neighborhood of Trastevere.  We bopped into Oviesse, an Italian department store where I think I bought a third of my wardrobe in 2008 (that’s what happens when you take one suitcase for 4 months and a season change).

We found a little market, so we went in to see what we could mark off our list.  I bought some licorice mint gum for my friend Liza, not realizing that I was buying black licorice, not licorice-mint gum.  I ended up buying one package of the correct gum and five or six packages of just licorice.  Whoops. I still feel bad about it… you can get black licorice anywhere!  Looks like I need to  go back to Rome to get the right stuff.

Megan was convinced we would find a store if we continued down Viale Trastevere.  I was familiar with the area because it had been on my bus route when I lived south of the city in 2008.   Soon we were walking in a very residential area and knew there were no tourists within several blocks.  It was strangely comforting.  I knew if we got all the way to the train station, there was an awesome hole-in-the-wall piazza place where we could get a snack.  But just before getting there, Megan saw something at the end of a side street.  Could it be a market?

We had nothing to lose, so we crossed Viale Trastevere and headed down the side street.  Victory!  Not just a market — but a SUPERmarket!

It was fun to shop with the locals — it took me back to 2005 and 2008.  The people were super nice, too — nicer than I would probably be if someone was wandering around my local grocery store only speaking Italian or something.

I never found Cric-Croc sticks, which was on my list, but we both loaded up with lots of candy for our places of employment.  My sister had requested Nutella in a little glass jar, but the Nutella at the supermarket was in bigger jars, similar to how it’s sold here.

We headed back up Viale Trastevere on the tram and decided to go to dinner at a little place we passed every night on our way home.  We were able to sit outside next to little heat lamps and the beautiful cobblestone alleys we had called home for the past week.  We ate a little early, so we had to put up with annoying American women gossiping loudly in English, and I made a note to myself to avoid being them some day. : )

The waiters were terribly charming, and it wasn’t hard for them to convince us to get zucchini flowers for an appetizer.  I love zucchini flowers and I love the light tempura batter you find on appetizers in Italy.

For dinner, I got the chef’s special.  You usually can’t go wrong with the chef’s special, and as soon as I heard the word “swordfish,” I was sold.  I had swordfish for the first time in Italy in 2001 and I’ve never forgotten it.

This dish was swordfish, tomatoes, and zucchini in a bit of a broth with deliciously large, al dente noodles.  It was unlike anything I had eaten that week, and I was quite satisfied.

 After dinner, we declined the charming waiters’ pleas for dessert and headed back to the hotel to drop off our groceries.  Then we headed to get gelato.  We were quickly realizing that we had a lot of food to check of our lists, and Frigidarium was a gelateria we had to visit.

I got hazelnut and chocolate.  (surprise, surprise)

While I was ordering my gelato, Megan made friends with an American gentleman who was in an argument with his wife about which way they should walk back to their hotel.  When I emerged from the gelateria, he seemed to already know me and asked me which way they should go.  They were with two other married couples and the group had been following him for awhile and were beginning to doubt he knew where he was going.

We ended up walking to the Bridge of the Angels with them.  When they found out we were walking the opposite direction from our hotel, we explained we were walking to see St. Peter’s.  “Oh,” they said.  “We saw that this morning.”

*sigh*  We didn’t tell them we had seen it every day.  We didn’t try to explain that there are few things so incredible as St. Peter’s at night.  We didn’t try to tell them that our first Pope was buried underneath that breathtaking dome of Michelangelo, or that our trip was a pilgrimage to the tomb of our 264th Pope, also buried under that dome.  We simply smiled and lingered on the bridge as they continued on, almost oblivious to the sight before them.

After we tore ourselves away, we headed home on the bus.   Under the beautiful Italian sky,  I was able to Skype with Jill and her boys from the courtyard of our house.  A fun ending to another great day.

From that night’s journal:

Meeting people from America makes me thankful for the gift of faith.  Sherry (the woman on the plane we went to Assisi with) commented that she didn’t know if they would spend a lot of time in Rome because her daughter hadn’t liked it.  And I thought – yeah, I’m not sure I would like this city if I wasn’t Catholic.  Thank God for what He’s given me!  Because I love this city — not the dirt or the graffiti or the exhaust or the crazy people — but the history, the art, the Faith, the graces, the Pope, my Church!

Shopping, Prayers, and things that were closed

I was talking to Megan tonight and we began to talk about how much we missed Rome… so it inspired me to continue with the Rome trip reminiscing. I can’t believe it’s April and I haven’t finished talking about something that happened in October. I guess it’s like a fine wine — sip it slowly to enjoy it to its fullest.

On Monday it began sinking in that the trip was almost over. We had originally planned on going to the Gesú for Mass at 8, but before going to sleep I asked Meg if she cared if I snuck out early and went to the Vatican for early morning Mass. So we decided to meet at the Gesú at 9 instead.

It’s always a risk to split up and meet somewhere when you’re in Rome. With the exception of my 2008 semester, I’ve never had a cell phone in Rome, and you don’t realize how dependent you are on instant communication until you don’t have it.

But early the next morning I hopped on a bus around 6:40am and headed up the Tiber to Transpontina, the stop just down Via Conciliazione from the Vatican. I ended up walking down the Borgo Pio and going to Sant’Anna for Mass. One of the Sisters had requested prayers there, so I thought it was a good time to go visit. And I love early morning Mass there. Sant’Anna is a little church just inside one of the gates of the Vatican. They have Mass every morning at 7am (and at 8am and 9am and possibly 10am…) and it’s usually packed with Sisters from various congregations who work at the Vatican, along with some other lay Vatican employees. So it’s a fun Mass to go to. I love Sant’Anna — I love the picture of St. Anne and Mary over the high altar, I love the smallness, and I love the pews and kneelers. They’re hard to describe, but everyone has their own little personal kneeler that drops down and is only held down by your own weight. So when you stand up, it automatically swings back up.

This doesn’t do the painting justice.

After Mass I went over to St. Peter’s just to be and pray (there weren’t many days left to do that), but they were setting up for something and you couldn’t go anywhere on the entire right side of the basilica, nor could you go past the sacristy on the left side. So there wasn’t really a place to just be and pray. So I went back and knelt at St. Pius X’s altar, because there were kneelers there. There was Mass going on, and it ended up being Mass in English, so I stayed for that.

Then I headed out — taking my sweet time, just taking it all in. I stopped to take some pictures of the colonnade cleaning effort. It’s incredible to see the statues that they’ve cleaned.

For breakfast, I ended up going to the Gianicolo Terminal for cappuccino and a cornetto. The Gianicolo Terminal is a large underground parking garage that (I think) was built for the Jubilee Year. It doesn’t exactly sound like the place to get breakfast in Rome, does it? When you’re surrounded by incredible coffeeshops?

And if you’re only in Rome a week, normally I would say – no, don’t go to the Gianicolo Terminal. But I was introduced to the Terminal by my friend Trena and the Christendom Rome program when I was back over there in 2008. Christendom would have daily Mass in the middle of the day and then everyone would go to the Terminal for lunch. Besides being a parking garage, the top floor has a large cafeteria for tourists. (it’s packed on Wednesdays after the Papal Audiences) Since Christendom’s classroom building is right next to the Vatican, they have a meal plan with the Gianicolo to eat at the cafeteria. So when I would go to daily Mass with them, there was usually an extra meal ticket and they would treat me to lunch. The food wasn’t terrible- and it was free.

Besides the cafeteria, they also had two coffeeshops (what they would, ironically, call a caffeteria) where you could get cappuccino and a cornetto for a euro. A euro! For a pastry and decent coffee! (well, decent in Italy. Fantastic compared to American coffee) In the Vatican neighborhood, that price is pretty unheard of. So while I would suggest most people should treat themselves to a normal Italian street cafe for breakfast, I knew I could save a little money and get a good cappuccino in the Terminal. And besides, it was good for nostalgia.

They’ve raised their price to 1.20. But it’s still a good deal.

One of the exits of the Terminal drops you out up on top of the Janiculum Hill, where the North American College is, so I followed a couple American seminarians down the hill as they headed into town for class. I was hoping to run into an old Christendom classmate, but no such luck.

Megan accidentally overslept, but I waited in the Gesu and just prayed she hadn’t gotten lost or mugged or something. That’s all I really could do. Luckily, she was fine and we were on our way a little after nine.

Leaving the Gesú, we had a few things to cross off our list. Our list for the week hadn’t been very long, but there were still some things that needed crossing off. Like hot chocolate at Tazza d’Oro. The best hot chocolate in the world.

After Tazza d’Oro (which is right by the Pantheon), we walked across the street and I bought leather boots. Leather boots had been on my tentative to do list, but after seeing all the lovely Italian ladies in their boots, it had moved to the must do list. America doesn’t make boots for people without calves, so I haven’t been very successful in finding knee-high leather boots that don’t look like wellies on me. In Rome, I knew 1) they had nice leather 2) they like their boots 3) their women don’t have calves either! Win-win-win. So I bought black leather boots. And they actually fit me!

Then we walked over to San Luigi dei Francesi, the national church of France in Rome. It’s perhaps most famous for being home to Caravaggio’s Calling of St. Matthew, which is one of my top five favorite paintings of all time. Sr. Matthew Marie had specifically asked for prayers in front of the painting, so I gladly complied. Then it was off to Sant’Agostino, another beautiful basilica – just around the corner- that is full of hidden treasures: the body of Augustine’s Mom, St. Monica; another Caravaggio; a Raphael; and a statue where Roman women pray for pregnancies.

You’ll find statues and altars throughout Rome that have silver “ex-voto” plaques around them, left as a sign of answered prayers. The ex-votos left at this statue are a little different — blue and pink ribbons, baby bottles, pillows, and various other pink and blue signs of answered prayers and babies born. I believe the Italian women go to pray both to get pregnant and for safe and healthy pregnancies.

I went there to pray for my dear friend Liza. … and I’m happy to report that she and her husband are expecting. : )

The morning was mostly spent wandering — it’s just good to walk around Rome like a local. My morning walk from St. Peter’s to the Gesu, and now the walk around the Piazza Navona/Pantheon neighborhood — it was so relaxing. We went to the paper store near the Pantheon that my sister likes, then over to the silver store near Santa Maria sopra Minerva– it was still closed, as it had been every time I walked over there– so I think it must be closed for good. How very sad.

Everything seems to be getting a cleaning– even Elefante!

After a stop at McDonalds near the Trevi for the restroom (the McDonalds by the Pantheon is gone! YIPPEEE!!!!! That discovery was one of the greatest joys of the day. Even though McDonalds is a great option for public restrooms in Rome, it’s good to see at least a small bit of Americanata disappearing from the city), we then headed down the Corso, which is always a frustrating experience. The sidewalk is too small, people walk too slow, and I always end up wanting to scream and push.

But the Corso was a must, because the next thing on my list was to buy a purse at Carpisa. Carpisa is afantastic purse store that Trena showed me in 2008. I love, love, love it. They have the greatest purses at very reasonable prices. I had wanted a black leather purse and knew Carpisa would have one for my Target-budget. Sure enough, they had the perfect one. Megan bought a wallet and I bought a wallet for Jill, because all their things are marked with their cute turtle logo, and I knew Jill liked it.

We continued down the Corso towards Piazza del Popolo, and ended up bopping in the church of Santi Ambrogio e Carlo al Corso — the church of St. Ambrose and Charles Borromeo, the two great saints of Milan. It was perfect timing because Mass was starting, so Meg was able to go to Mass. Then we ended up finding St. Charles Borromeo’s heart, which I had thought was in there somewhere but had never seen it. (There was a sign as we were leaving that said, “Have you seen St. Charles’ heart yet?” and said where it was. We saw it right after I said, “I thought St. Charles’ heart was here.”) So I was able to pray for my friend Sr Mary Charles! It’s good to have a lot of friend with holy names…

After attempting to see our third church with Caravaggios – Santa Maria del Popolo- and failing (it was already closed for riposo), we took one of the mini buses down the Corso to head home. The mini buses are hilarious — they’re so small and jammed with people and they always go down streets you’d never imagine a car going down, much less a bus.

My favorite adoration chapel was closed (in Piazza Venezia), so I’m wondering if it went the way of the silver store and is closed for good. I hope not. Then we walked over to the kitchen store right across from the Gesu (we made one large circle that morning!) where Megan bought espresso cups. Then it was over to Pizzeria Florida for lunch (mmm…) and back to the hotel for riposo.

Only a day and a half left of our trip… it was going way too fast. (It was going much faster than blogging about it. Whew! I don’t know what was more exhausting… all the walking we did, or you guys making it through that long post. Thanks for sticking with it!)

Back to Rome: Sunday sera*

When I last posted about our Rome trip, it was Sunday afternoon, after riposo, and we were on the Aventine Hill.

We walked down the Aventine towards Circus Maximus because Megan claimed she had never seen it.  We had no definite plans — we eventually were going to end up at San Giovanni dei Fiorentini for 6pm Mass, but until then, we were free to do whatever the heck we wanted.

We wandered down into Circus Maximus to cross it and walk down Via San Gregorio.

You can see the ugly Vittorio Emanuele monument peeking back there, in the middle of the picture– so if you can picture it in your head, Megan and I will eventually be walking basically in that direction, just on the other side of that hill dotted with trees and ruins  — the Palatine Hill, where the palace of the Roman emperors was (and where we get our word “palace”).

At the end of Via San Gregorio is something that might look familiar:

Only you don’t normally see this side — the lower side — because it’s not as photogenic as the other higher side, which has more marble intact.  We were approaching the Colosseum from the Caelian Hill side.  The Caelian Hill, one of the “seven hills” of Rome, is where the Romans kept the wild animals that were used in the games in the Colloseum.  It’s said that you could hear the roars of the lions on the Caelian Hill at night.

The hill was also once home to the family of St. Gregory the Great, land which he donated to the Benedictines and where a Benedictine monastery still stands at his church San Gregorio Magno al Celio.  (The Benedictines, if you remember your church history, led by St. Augustine, were sent to England by St. Gregory the Great to evangelize the Anglo-Saxons.  Hence, St. Augustine of Canterbury.)

That’s the beautiful Arch of Constantine.  I think we should start making magnificent architectural monuments like that again.  I guess we have our monuments to the presidents in D.C., but this is different.  Can you imagine if General Petraeus made himself a giant victory arch?  Of course, back then, generals who won great victories tended to then take over and rule things.  And become dictators.  So never mind.

Megan had also never been to St. Frances of Rome’s church, or if she had, she had never seen St. Frances’ tomb.  We had been praying a novena to St. Frances of Rome for our trip, so it was fitting to go and pray it together in front of her body.

I love St. Frances of Rome so much, and she had really come through for us on this trip.  I loved staying at her house in Trastevere, too.  She is a woman worthy of emulating, so it was fitting for the two of us to put ourselves under her patronage- for our pilgrimage, but also for our lives and vocations.

She achieved sanctity by living out her vocation — whether it was her time as wife and mother, or after the death of her husband, as a member of the religious order she founded.   There’s a beautiful story of her answering the needs of her husband and children during her prayer — setting aside her prayer book each time they called her.  When she would return to her prayers, she found herself reading the same sentence over and over again, as she continued to get interrupted.  When she returned yet again, the sentence had turned to gold — a divine sign that she was doing the right thing in setting aside her prayers to fulfill the duties of her vocation.

If you visit her church, which is perched on a hill in the Roman Forum, you’ll want to walk into the sanctuary and down the stairs you’ll find there off to the side.  Following a narrow hallway, you’ll come to her tomb, which is directly under the sanctuary.  There she lies, a full skeleton, wrapped in gauze, with little shoes on her feet.  In her hands, she clutches her prayerbook.

As we came out of the church, walking quickly past the drunk homeless man lying outside, we heard the strains of the Last of the Mohicans soundtrack.  Not exactly what you’d expect while walking in the Roman Forum.

There was a street festival down Via Fori Imperali, the street that Mussolini created next to the Forum.  While there were lots of people at the street festival, we soon realized that the festival consisted only of:

1. a street performer that looked like a statue

2. a “kids zone” that consisted of sticks (like Lincoln logs) lying on the cobblestoned ground

3. a woodcarver

4. three — yes, three– different groups of Native Americans, including one in full feathered headdress, playing synthesizers and various “authentic” instruments, like rain sticks.

They were spaced out along the road, so that as soon as one synthesizer/rain stick song died out, you approached another one.  It was quite odd.

My brother and sister-in-law and I had seen a Native American street performer in Florence, and it was equally strange then.

Maybe we missed most of the festival attractions by the time we walked through.

We stopped to marvel at the Forum, although it appeared that something was on fire.

Megan and I commented how Rome burning generally doesn’t bode well for Christians.  And while this was said in jest, it did spark some interesting thoughts and conversations.   I don’t think I believe in portents, but I will say… that smoke is coming from the exact direction of the old Porta Capena.  Which is where the Great Fire of of 64 started.

Interesting, hm?

We stopped to get water from my favorite fountain, which is the pine cone fountain between Vittorio Emanuele and San Marco, at the end of the 916 bus line.

I made Megan pose for a picture.

The water out of that fountain is as cold as the water out of your refrigerator.

Then we stopped at the Gesu, where I should have used the ladies’ room.  I’m not sure why I didn’t.  But I did take a picture of one of my favorite paintings in Rome, which is above the main altar of the Gesu — the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple.

Then we took a bus to San Giovanni for the 6pm Mass with Father Thomas Williams.  Have I mentioned how much I love and miss the 6pm Mass at San Giovanni?  I even emailed Father Williams about a month before our trip to make sure he still said Mass in English on Sunday nights there.  It used to be a more popular Mass for the English university students, but when I was studying there in 2008 it would often be just a handful of us.  I lectored every other week or so, when my friend Joseph didn’t or when we didn’t have people like George Weigel visiting. : )  (We let him lector.)  Mass would only last a half an hour or so, but he never rushed and he certainly never skimped on the homily.   I would actually look forward to his homily each week, and they never, ever disappointed.

So even though we had already been to Mass that morning, Megan gladly humored me by going again.  Elizabeth Lev, an incredible art historian in Rome, was there, like she usually was, and Father asked her daughter to read the first reading and Meg or I to read the second.  So I got to relive a bit of 2008 by lectoring again in that big beautiful basilica.  It was just so wonderful to be back.  Father’s homily was wonderful — nothing earth-shattering, just simple, eloquent truth.

After Mass, I really had to use the ladies’ room.  I should have gone in the Gesu, obviously.  I should have asked the sacristan if there was one in San Giovanni somewhere, but I didn’t, so Megan and I headed into the darkness of the Roman night.  I quickly got into a pretty bad mood, because I didn’t want to make a decision.  I knew I needed to use the restroom, but we also needed to eat dinner, and I wasn’t ready to go all the way back home for the night.  We didn’t have very many nights left, and I didn’t want to waste one just because I had been dumb.

(You see, public restrooms are hard to find in Rome.)

Looking back, it’s pretty embarrassing to admit that I was in a bad mood in Rome.  When I type that we were tired or hungry or grouchy … it’s hard to believe we weren’t just basking in the Roman wonderfulness and frolicking down the cobblestones.  What I would do right now to go back to that night, despite the discomfort or the weariness or the inconveniences of the city.

Dear, dear Megan.  She found cranky me a bathroom.  Granted, it was in a little cafe and I felt guilty sneaking in and using it and not buying anything.  And it was horribly filthy (I didn’t feel bad not buying anything after I saw how dirty it was), but it meant we could continue on our way to find dinner.

Don’t you like how I include every last detail of this trip? (Well, really, I don’t.  But almost every last detail.)

We went to l’Archetto for dinner, one of my favorite pasta places. My cousin Adam introduced us to the place, and I think you could probably go there every day for a year and get a different pasta.  The menu is rather overwhelming.

But I tend to get the same thing every time.  Don’t judge.

Pasta tropici.  *sigh*  Where else do you find pineapple and melons and pasta in a light cream sauce?  Believe me, I’ve tried to replicate it here in the States, and I haven’t come close.

And I love how you can get little pitchers of house wine over there.  I may or may not have ordered that little pitcher and had the whole thing myself.  Okay, I may.  It was little.

After dinner we walked to the Pantheon to get rose gelato, Megan’s favorite.  (We didn’t get the gelato at the Pantheon.   It’s sold at a place next to the Pantheon.  We think it’s the only place in Rome that has it… and it’s not della Palma!)  It’s a little flowery for me, but it’s worth getting to experience it, and she loves it, so I’m glad we found the place again and I’m glad they had it.  I think we both paired it with dark chocolate.

My night pictures never turn out, but how can you resist a picture of rose flavored gelato with the Pantheon in the background?

*sigh*  I really want to go back.

Thanks for sticking through that long post about Native Americans and having to go to the bathroom.

*One thing you’ll notice in Rome is that people start to tell you buona sera pretty early.  They don’t wait until dinner time to tell you good evening, like we would around here.  I’ve generally found that people start using “buona sera” after noon.  Or after riposo, when you head back into town after your nap. : )

Santa Sabina

(Back in time again! Rome 2011)

After riposo, we decided to head to a different part of the city- the Aventine Hill.  I love the Aventine.  Climbing up it, you leave the hustle and noise and pollution and almost feel like you’re in a different city — it’s a a quiet neighborhood with little vehicular traffic.  We made all the important stops: first the park with one of my favorite views of the city, which happened to be full of PDA-ing couples.  (Pardon me, if you don’t want to enjoy the view of the city but instead want to eat each other’s faces, please step aside so I can enjoy the view.  Thank you.)

When you walk in the park, St. Peter’s seems kind of close:

But it gets farther away the closer you walk.

Crazy optical illusion, huh?  (that top picture is actually courtesy of my sister-in-law from her trip to visit me in 2008. Meg and I had more clouds and more PDAing couples sitting on the wall making out.)

Megan took a picture of me which we later joked would be perfect for my CatholicMatch profile.  (Joked being the key word.)

Then we headed to Santa Sabina, which is right on the other side of the park.  Santa Sabina is a must-visit for my family every time we go to Rome, because it’s the home of the Dominicans.   The Holy Father gave St. Dominic the church in 1222 and they’ve lived there since — including Pope St. Pius V and St. Thomas Aquinas.  More on Santa Sabina in a minute.

After a jaunt down to San Anselmo (where something was going on, so we couldn’t go in the church) and to the keyhole (where we actually had to stand in line to look through it!  If you’re wondering what the keyhole is, check it out here), past San Alessio (where there was a wedding, so we couldn’t go in the church), we headed back down the hill, through the rose garden, and over to Circus Maximus.

It’s fitting that I’m blogging about Santa Sabina on this Ash Wednesday, because Santa Sabina is the station church for Ash Wednesday.  Forty of the oldest churches in Rome are the Lenten stational churches, each one having a different day in Lent.  It’s traditional to make a pilgrimage to the station church of the day– “traditional” as in “this has been happening since the beginning of legalized Christianity.”  In fact, the list of station churches and their days have remained pretty much constant since Pope Leo III (795-816).  To find out more about the station churches, I encourage you to visit my JoaninRome blog and click the “station church” tag on the right sidebar; or visit the very fine North American College site which includes information about each of the churches.  The NAC seminarians and priests walk to the station church each morning and celebrate Mass there at 7am.  Some of my fondest Rome memories include these Masses and the little community that made the pilgrimages with the NAC.

(I can’t find a picture of Santa Sabina from my four recent trips to Rome.  I’m embarrassed. Here’s one from Wikipedia.)

Santa Sabina dates back to the 5th century and is the most intact ancient church in Rome.  It is the best place to go if you want to see what many of the stational churches looked like when they were first built.

The Holy Father has Mass at Santa Sabina every Ash Wednesday, preceded by a procession from San Anselmo, which is right up the street.  (This year he did the procession on an awesome golf cart-turned-Popemobile.)

He preached a  fantastic homily — read it here — it’s not long and it’s not hard to understand, so part of me wishes every priest across the country would have just preached this homily (not read it, because then everyone’s brain shuts off– but really preached it.  There’s a difference).

Here’s to a good and fruitful Lent!