Saturday, February 28, 2009

Lenten Journey Week 1: San Theodoro

The church of San Theodoro is built on the lower slopes of the Palatine Hill. Tradition has that it was built in the 6th century on the site of an ancient temple erected on the spot where the she-wolf nursed Romulus and Remus. (The famous bronze statue of the she-wolf with Romulus and Remus was kept here until the 16th century.) It was built near the granaries of Agrippa and the church served as a diakonia for the distribution of food to those in need.
The mosaic in the apse of Christ enthroned on an orb with Saints Peter and Paul (and two other saints probably added later, including San Theodoro) dates from 583-590.
The architect Carlo Fontana was commissioned in 1705 to renovate the interior. He created the entry portal and designed the courtyard with the two curving stairs. In 1763 a wooden organ gallery was added above the entrance doorway and the bell tower was constructed.

In 2000 Pope John Paul II presented this church to the Orthodox Christian Diocese of Italy of the Ecumenical Patriarch. Between the years 2001-2004 the church was restored in its entirety and modifications were made to the Church of San Theodoro that were required by the Orthodox liturgy, including installing a templon to shield the sanctuary from the eyes of the congregation and the placement of an icon of the Pantokrator at the highest point of the church dome. The modern icons in the church were executed by I. Karousos.The Church of San Theodoro is a vacant titular church. The last occupant of the seat was Vincenzo Cardinal Fagiolo, bishop of Chieti, Italy, who died in 2000. Because this building is now an Orthodox church it will no longer have a titular cardinal.

Who was San Theodoro?
St. Theodore was Roman general and covert to Christianity during a time of persecution. When he was exposed as a Christian, a military tribunal decided he was a good soldier who had made a mistake, and told him to reconsider. Legend has it that he was set free and promptly burned down a pagan temple. Theodore was arrested again, and martyred in the year 319.

Almighty God, 
your son Jesus Christ fasted forty days in the wilderness;
give us grace to direct out lives in obedience to your Spirit;
and as you know our weakness
so may we know your power to save;
through Jesus Christ our Redeemer.
Collect for the First Sunday in Lent
A New Zealand Prayer Book

As I sat in the Church of San Theodoro, the sun was coming through three tinted windows above the sanctuary and filled the church with a simple light. I sat in one of the very square-shaped chairs, set in straight rows in this round church.
... I wondered, why have they put straight rows in a round sanctuary?
... What are the parts of my life where I have put things in straight rows when my response should be to have things in the round? When have I confronted people, when I should have hugged them? When have I argued for one point of view, when I should have had my mind open to different ideas? When have I kept my emotions inside the box, when I should have shared my feelings?

These are questions I ask of myself during this First Week in Lent. My response needs to embrace the words of Sunday's scripture: The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel. This kingdom is an "upside down" kingdom. (For an artistic example of this I need look no further than the mosaic in the apse of San Theodoro and see that Christ is seated on a ball. The artist did not restrict Christ to a square throne.)

This Lent I need to repent, to turn around, and get out of the corners and be open to where I can embrace life and the kingdom of God more fully.


Visit to Ostia Antica

The ancient Roman city of Ostia was at the mouth of the Tiber River about 30 km west of Rome. Ostia developed as a commercial harbor in the 2nd century BC with the growth of the city of Rome and the arrival of grain from Sicily, Sardinia and Africa. Today there are many things to explore on the site including a well preserved theater, the remains of temples, baths, private houses and even a small shopping mall.

A Trip to the Post Office to Pay Bills

The post office is much more than a place for sending packages and letters. There is often a small store inside selling stationary, books, music and videos. It is also the main center for paying all sorts of bills. Many Italians prefer to pay their bills in cash, and the post office is the place to go. Yesterday I went to pay our electric bill and condominium fees.

I went to my favorite post office which is near the ancient pyramid of Cestius. This building was built in 1934 and designed my Adalberto Libera

Most bills look the same in Italy, be it the electric bill or the cable TV bill. Here are the bills I was paying.

The first thing to do when you enter the post office is to get a "number." Yellow machines distribute tickets specific to the purpose of your visit. I select "pagamenti" and receive number C256.

I look at the board and see that customer C226 is currently being helped. I wait for my number to appear with the number of the window for me.

My number is eventually announced and this man at window 12 took care of my bills.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Caffarella Valley: an oasis of nature in Rome

This afternoon we took a picnic lunch to the Caffarella Valley, located between two ancient Roman roads, Via Appia and Via Latina, and just about 2 km from our home. The Almone River runs through this valley from the Alban Hills to the Tiber River. It provides Roman landscapes, almost as they were viewed by the ancient Romans.

This is a view of the site of Bosco Sacro (the Sacred Wood)
first planted by Herodes Atticus in the 1st century. 

Starting in the 2nd century BC this valley was inhabited mainly by burial grounds and tombs. (This is the area with the catacombs of St. Sebastian and St. Calistus.) Big villas started appearing in the Imperial Age. During the middle ages the area around the Via Appia belonged to Counts of Tuscolo. The abundance of water in the valley made it a good agricultural area, with several water-powered mills. In 1529 most of the valley was brought together into the estate of the Caffarelli family. In the 1950s, the urban expansion of Rome almost covered the valley with a “concrete flood.” The efforts of concerned Roman citizens persuaded politicians to make this valley part of the Appia Antica Regional Park.

 The Nymphaeum of Egeria

We ate our lunch near the Nymphaeum of Egeria. The nymph Egeria was one of the lesser goddesses associated with water and springs. Legend has it that at this place Egeria would meet Numa Pompilius (715-673 BC), the second king of Rome, to talk and make love. Here was where the nymph inspired her lover-king to design the laws and basis of the religious system of ancient Rome.

The 2nd century AD structure was restored in 1999. The fountain’s spring water travels from its source by terra cotta pipes and comes out from the large niche under the reclining stature of the god Almone. The side niches were probably for statues of river divinities. The walls were originally covered in white and green marble.

We also walked to the Casale della Vaccareccia, the farmhouse built in the 16th century when the valley was the Caffarelli estate. It was built around a 13th century tower that you can see rising from the roof on the right side of the farmhouse roof, behind the tree.

As we left the valley we passed the ancient Temple of Ceres and Faustina which was transformed in the 9th century to a church dedicated to St. Urban, a bishop who was martyred at the time of Marcus Aurelius.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Ash Wednesday: Introduction to My Lenten Journey

Via di S. Onofrio (actually a stairway)

When living in metro New York I was part of a Lenten Journey group. Several people would get together once a week for a simple meal, shared reflection and prayer. Last year the group is continued the tradition through e-mail and the internet. I made my contribution through my blog.

This Lent, I will again make a Lenten Journey, visiting a different church here in Rome each week and sharing some reflections and images that result from my visit.

Cross atop the gate of the Church of San Onofrio on the Janiculum Hill

The churches I plan to visit are “vacant” titular churches and I will use as a prompt for my reflections the collects for the seven Sundays in Lent from A New Zealand Prayerbook - He Karakia Mihinare o Aotearoa, first published in 1989 by the Church of the Province of New Zealand.

What are “titular” churches?
The practice of assigning cardinals titular churches dates from the early days of the Catholic Church, when popes were advised by the clergy of Rome. Today, the pope's advisers are cardinals who live around the world, but in a nod to the past, each cardinal is assigned a parish in the diocese of Rome. When a cardinal dies, his titular church becomes vacant. (For example, the church of SS. Nome di Gesù e Maria in Via Lata was the titular church of Avery Cardinal Dulles, S.J., who died last December. It is now “vacant” until the pope appoints a new cardinal to this church.)

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

What was the Occasion?

My recent sighting of fake Swiss Guards was for a photocall.

L - R Actors Stellan Skarsgaard, Thure Lindhart, Pierfrancesco Favino, Ayelet Zurer and Ewan McGregor attend "Angels & Demons" photocall at St Marta Church on February 15, 2009 in Rome, Italy. (Photo by Elisabetta Villa/Getty Images)

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Update: The Swiss Guards were fakes!

Earlier I wrote about seeing Swiss Guards in Piazza Collegio Romano. A journalist with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops immediately knew that they were not the real thing! This evening I found out from a priest who lives in the neighborhood that the "guards" were actors in costumes connected with the movie "Angels and Demons," opening next week in New York.  I understand that today there were also other staged sets around the city of Rome.

Sighting: Swiss Guards

I always experience a little bit of excitement when I see Swiss Guards with their halberds and fantastic uniforms of blue, yellow orange and red. (Legend attributes Michelangelo with the design of the garments.) This afternoon in Piazza Collegio Romano, behind the Church of S. Ignazio, we spotted two Swiss Guards in front of Ex Chiesa di Santa Marta, a de-consecrated church. This small church is used for government meetings and exhibitions. 
What was the occasion?

Chiesa Santa Marta

Saint Ignatius established Casa Santa Marta (1543-44) as a church and residence for penitent prostitutes. Prostitution was a significant service industry in Rome and was more or less accepted in the fifteenth century, but the advent of syphilis and the changing moral tenor led to sixteenth-century reform movements. (In 1520 the Oratorio del Divino Amore had established a convent for former prostitutes, based on the earlier monastic model emphasizing a strict life of penance.)
 Santa Marta aimed at rehabilitation of former prostitutes and their reintegration into ordinary social life. In a sense, it was similar to what we now call "half-way houses." Among the 170 founding members of the confraternity that administered the work were 15 cardinals, seven bishops, and several ambassadors to the papal court. Leaving financial and material matters to the lay people, Ignatius provided spiritual direction. (from
The facade of Chiesa Santa Marta.

The baroque ceiling of the nave.

Casa Santa Marta is now used by Il Ministero per i Beni Culturali e Ambientali, the Ministry for Cultural and Environmental Assets. The church building is de-consecrated and used as a meeting and exhibition space.

The former sacristy of the church.

Hard Rock Cafe ROME

Last week I went to the Hard Rock Cafe with friends from work to celebrate the birthday of a colleague. When I arrived I was greeted by a gaggle of teenagers hanging out on the sidewalk. Inside, like the Hard Rock Cafes around the world, it is a temple to pop music culture!

From an "American styled" menu we selected appetizers that included chicken wings and potato skins. Delicious! (I am the second from the left.) For my meal I had fajitas while most had Bacon Cheeseburgers... well, they were out of bacon, so when the meals arrived at the table the waiter announced each one as a Bacon Cheeseburger "senza" bacon.

Outside the restaurant on the Via Veneto you can "enjoy" stained glass windows depicting musical idols set against Roman scenes.

Campo dei Fiore: Our Favorite Bar is Gone!

Vendor leaving the Campo dei Fiori at the end of the day.

The Campo dei Fiori is a colorful space that hosts a fruit, vegetable & flower market on weekdays and Saturday mornings. In the summer and spring it is a great place to stop for some fruit on the way to a picnic lunch on the nearby banks of the Tiber River. We found ourselves going there often because our favorite Roman coffee bar was located on a corner of the Campo.
Since 2006 we have enjoyed sitting in the "window bar" watching people on the Vicolo del Gallo going to and from the Piazza Farnese. After lunch on a recent Sunday we went to our bar for a coffee and found that it is closed. Even in Rome some things do not last forever.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Speaking the Truth

Bocca della Verita

The other day I was on the bus going past the Church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin and saw that there was no line to get into the front porch of the church. Usually there are scores of tourists waiting for a moment to approach the Bocca della Verita (Mouth of Truth) and take a picture with their hand in the mouth of the large stone face. ( Audrey Hepburn did this in the 1953 film Roman Holiday.) I jumped off the bus and took the opportunity to get a photo of this ancient Roman artifact.

I have no idea how this 12th century porch became a place for the display of the Bocca della Verita. For centruies people have said that the mouth would bite the hand of liers. It was even used as a lie detector during trials of adulterous wives during the middle ages. The men associated with these accused adulterers must have arranged for this stone to determine innocence. Attempts to identify the stone face have called it an ancient fountainhead or a manhole cover from the near by Cloaca Maxima.

The Cloaca Maxima is a sewer system adjacent to where the church stands today. Dating from the 5th Century BC, the sewer was one of Rome's great technological accomplishments. The first branch of it, which is still used today, drained the area of the Forum. It was later extended elsewhere in the city, with tunnels said to be wide enough so that inspections could be done by men on chariots.

Just outside the city walls I have found another "bocca" at the Hotel Abitart. This is called the Bocca della Bugia, the Mouth of Lies. I wonder if we will ever see lines of tourists waiting to have their pictures taken while they put their hands in this "mouth."

Monday, February 2, 2009

Lunedì Letterario

Barack Obama
Our 44th President

by Beatrice Gormley
December 2008

If you have not read Obama's Dreams from My Father and The Audacity of Hope, this children's biography of the 44th President of the United States can give you many of the factors mentioned in Barack Obama's writings that inspired him to ultimatey seek (and win) the White House. This book is written for 8 - 12 year olds and traces Obama's ancestory from Kenya and Kansas, his early life in Hawaii and Indonesia, and the educational and political career that made him the winning presidential candidate in the 2008 elections.

and to the Big Screen...

Another children's book  is opening this month as a movie. It is Cornelia Funke's INKHEART, originally written in German and immediately translated into English. Both editions were published in 2003. In the novel, Mortimer "Mo" Folchart and his 12-year-old daughter, Meggie, share a passion for books. What they also share is an extraordinary gift for bringing characters from books to life when they read aloud. But there is a danger: when a character is brought to life from a book, a real person disappears into its pages. Cornelia Funke has woven an amazing tail of mystery and suspense that can be enjoyed by adults and children.

by Cornelia Funke