This afternoon we went as tourists to see the Trappist Monastery of the Three Fountains, located about 5 km from our home, near EUR. At the end of a tree lined drive, right off the eight-lane Via Cristoforo Colombo, an open gate in an old rustic wall welcomed us into an oasis of three churches: the monastary church of Ss. Vincenzo e Anastasio, dating to the 7th century: S. Paolo alle Tre Fontane, originally 5th century but rebuilt in the 16th century by Giacomo della Porta; and S. Maria Scala Coeli, also rebuilt by della Porta. It was here in 1868 that the Trappist monks introduced eucalyptus trees to Rome as a protection against the mysterious germs of malaria. (We bought a bottle of eucalyptus liqueur made at the monastery.) While walking from the monastery church to the Church of S. Paolo alle Tre Fontane I encountered a sign that converted me from a tourist to a pilgrim. It said: In this place, according to tradition, Paul of Tarsus gave his life for Jesus Christ in the year 67 a.C.. Silence please.
So in silence I walked up the path that led to the church and site where St. Paul was beheaded. Legend has it that when he was executed, his head bounced three times as it rolled down the hill, and a spring of water sprang up from each place where his head landed. Legends are legends, some more fantastic or unbelievable than others. But, I was walking in the place where the great Apostle to the Gentiles, the writer of some of the most significant books of the New Testament, walked nearly 2,000 years ago to his death. Inside the busy baroque church I prayed for my friend Paul in New York City and I remembered my friend Rob, a saint who worked with the homeless in New York, who died from HIV ten years ago. I lit candles for both of them before I left.
Within this oasis of the three fountains and three churches there was a book store, a coffee bar/shop selling Trappist products, and a religious art store. There was also a small art studio. We peeked into the studio and in one of the rooms we saw three women, of three different generations, each painting a still life.