Yesterday, I would guess that Richard and I walked 8 miles. I wanted to visit the church St. Peter in Chains first . It was an easy walk from where we are staying which is about a half mile from the Coliseum and this church is just up the hill from there. This is where there is the Moses sculpted by Michelangelo, that makes up the bulk of the tomb of Julius II. It is magnificent. It has a different feel to the look of it from each direction. It is a huge piece making up a huger tomb. I then wanted to go to the Pantheon but on the way we walked, which was past all of the Roman Forum ruins, Richard decided that he wanted to see this Franciscan church he had visited when he was here 12 years ago, St. Bonaventure. It is a jewel of a church that had been originally built simply with Baroque overlays added later. It was very simple on the outside but then on the inside was where the baroque stuff was later and obviously added. I lit a candle for Steve on a rack in front of St Francis and got teary-eyed. Outside along the walls were these lovely but old stations of the Cross. On the way up we had the treat of a guy playing beautiful Spanish music. Richard knew the piece he was playing as we walked up and surprised the guy when he named it so they chatted for awhile. He was an Italian trying to make a living like so many others in this country struggling with no job market. I could have fallen in love with him because I am a sucker for Spanish guitar and he knew how to play it. He wasn’t bad to look at either. We then made our way to the Pantheon but discovered other things to attract our attention on the way. Yesterday wasn’t so much touring as grazing. I knew that the Jesuit Church of the Gesu was on the way to the Pantheon. I have seen Francis doing liturgy on YouTube there and recently a vespers for the anniversary of the reinstitution of the Jesuits about two weeks ago. It is beautiful baroque and well-kept. Richard kept saying “I don’t understand how they are keeping this church so well-maintained.” Well, it doesn’t hurt that one of their “companions”, as the Jesuits refer to their fellow order members, happens to be the top of the heap! We actually visited it after the Pantheon as it was closed on our way to it. On our way to the Pantheon once again, we came across this interesting obelisk with an elephant for its base in a piazza in front of a building that did not stand out as anything recognizable. It didn’t look like a church so we walked over to the building to see what the heck it was. Is was the Chiesa Santa Maria sopra Minerva….Church of St Mary over Minerva. I then remembered reading about this from a guidebook I had purchased to study for this trip. This church, quite large in fact, was built over the temple complex to the goddess Minerva. It is also the burial place of Catherine of Sienna. Her tomb is the frontispiece of the main altar. If you know the story of how she challenged popes, you would have laughed as I did over the fact that they tried to get the last word in with their bronze busts making up the back piece for the altar above her. They just needed to get that last word in. It is a huge church and has so many interesting details, all feminine and counterpoint to the original use of the land. It was established as a church early, prior to the 500’s I think….so much stuff crammed in the head today. It’s original mission as a church was to rehabilitate “fallen women”. We must have spent an hour in there wandering from side chapel to side chapel. We also came upon another Michelangelo, the resurrected Christ and he is no milquetoast but muscular. I am guessing Michelangelo left Christ completely nude and this would not do since there has been what looks like an add-on loin cloth that seemed to be of bronze. On our merry way, we finally go to the Pantheon. Holy cow…it is huge and is now a the Chiesa Santa Maria ad Martyres, Church of St Mary for the Martyrs. There are all these chapels around the perimeter and also the tomb of Victor Emmauel and Queen Savoy, straight across from one another. There was also another set of interesting station of the Cross medallions. I also came across this statue that, based on the design and items included, looked familiar. I finally remembered that those items, a palm branch in the arms and a lamb at her feet, belonged to St Agnes. The reason for the memory was because I was taught by the Sisters of St Agnes and to this day I have the little statue of her they gave me for I know not what reason, but I have always treasured it. If you know anything about the Pantheon then you know the oculus at the top of the dome is left completely open to the sky. The sun shining through makes for a solar clock around the floor. When it rains, it pours in but the floor is sloped so the water goes to the center and down 22 small drain holes. Must make for an interesting time when at Mass during a thunderstorm. As I said, the structure is huge. My main reason for wanting to see it is that Bruneleschi, who designed the duomo in Florence, came to the Pantheon as one of the places to try to figure out how to do his dome. He also visited Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. I read an interesting book, Bruneleschi’s Dome describing how he went about designing the Duomo. I hope to visit it when I go to Florence. After this I wanted to see the Churck of St Louis of France. The only thing special about this church is the Caravaggio painting of the Calling of St Matthew. This church is in the neighborhood of the priest hostel Francis routinely stayed in when he had to come to Rome, on the Via Sforza near this church. I am guessing he stayed here because it is close to the Piazza Argentina. This is the hostel where he went the next day after his election to pay his own bill, asked for a light bulb as he knew the one by the bed was blown out, then changed it himself before packing his bag to go back to the Vatican. This painting has a vivid influence on Francis. vocation. If you remember from the big Jesuit interview last September, he mentions that he feels like Matthew who, when Jesus points at him and calls him, does not want to give up his old life, pulling to himself and clinging to the pile of coins in front of him. He was in this church shortly before he was elected…..how prophetic. I was tempted to try to find the hostel where he had stayed but the day was getting late and we wanted to get back to the Gesu. At some point in our stroll back, Richard spied another church and was curious as to what it was. I kid you not, we came upon the Church of St Ignatius of Loyola. There seemed to be a theme to this day, somewhat planned but somewhat serendipitous. The Jesuits were not leaving us alone. As we made our way back past the huge Victor Emmanuel building, there were these water color artists we had been seeing around. Richard has already bought some works from them. They work in amazing detail. I picked out one of St. Peter’s done with the bridge over the Tiber in the foreground, done in sunset colors, and one of typical Roman streets like the one where this convent is but with spring time settings. The artist is Tunisian and he said his father taught he and his brother, who was just a bit further down the street, the techniques. I think that Rome and the church have formed this interesting mélange of history, culture and ethos all tangled together and they continue to play it out against each other. Rome is dirty and pristine at the same time. I speculate that this may be why there is this recurrent theme of whore/virgin that developed early in the church’s history that women are now fighting to change. Place does form those kinds of attitudes.
Today was the General Audience day or, as I have come to call it Francis Free For All or how a pope who is kind of a prisoner gets some time out to play and enjoy himself among people. I wanted to get there as early as possible, but things did not work out that way. The piazza was getting quite full already at 8:30 when we arrived. Richard and I took the lay of the land, wanting to get along the barricades as that is the best chance of getting a good view of him. We managed to get into a corner up against the barricade in a section with no seating. We were the first ones in this section but it also filled up fast behind us. No Italian nuns however to compete with for viewing sites, Kitty. The pope came out in the popemobile a bit early and it was evident from the crowd reaction that he was present. All of a sudden, Richard, who had been watching on the jumbotron, said “Here he comes!” It was quite obvious that he was close because the security people stationed in our area were listening on their earpieces and then we saw the actual body guards around the popemobile. They had to slow down right in front of us to negotiate a turn. About 5 or 6 minutes later, I again saw the security guards in our area on their earpieces so I told Richard I thought he was coming our way again. And indeed he was and again turned right by us and as he went by, he looked right at Richard and I.
If you want to watch the video of it click here. At 7:42 to 7:49 you will see Richard and I. You will see the popemobile negotiate a right-hand turn. Look beyond the pope mobile to who is standing on the corner. The tall one with the red shirt is Richard who is taking a picture. I am standing right in the corner to his right. Watch the whole video. If you are having a bad day, watching the General Audiences will make you smile, especially watching Francis and people interacting.
I must say, I now have fulfilled goal number two in coming to Rome…..seeing Francis. What a happy man he is. I watched the video of the Synod for Monday. This will be the only video released. From Tuesday on, there are news briefings in the afternoon only. This in itself is amazing. Previous Synods have been conducted in almost total secrecy. The other amazing thing about this Synod is that Francis announced on Monday that the language used in the Synod would be Italian, not Latin. In watching the video, I see someone who is calm, at peace, and comfortable in himself. The first day,he greeted everyone coming in the door. Most of the bishops sat like stiff statues or like little boys afraid they were going to get into trouble. Francis told them on Monday that they are to speak their minds boldly (with parrehsia..go check the definition on that one) and no one has the right to say “This should not be said.” By afternoon, he had begun to put them at ease just by his own demeanor with one exception, Cardinal Burke. Their seating is assigned. Burke is sitting up two rows from the front, directly in front of Francis, almost at eye level. Francis does not even look his way but Burke is glaring at Francis and he looks like he is sucking on something sour. He has been a very outspoken critic of Francis from the beginning, and getting more so as time goes on, especially on issues that are to come up in this Synod. Was it deliberate that he was seated where he is in relation to Francis? I have a suspicion that Francis did it deliberately.
Tomorrow Richard and I are heading back to the Vatican to visit St Peter’s and the Vatican Museum. We wanted to go into St Peter’s after lunch today, but the lines on both sides of the piazza to get in were all the way back past the ends of the colonnades. It is an early start for us tomorrow!