Saturday, April 11, 2009

Lenten Journey Week 6: SS. Vito e Modesto

During Holy Week I visited the Church of San Vito on the Esqualine Hill. The titular cardinal, Umberto Betti, OFM, died on April 1st, making this church the most recent vacant titular church.
We have often driven past this church, seeing the ancient ruins that are part of the structure.

The entrance to the church is on the other side from what we see while driving by, and you approach the entrance door by going through the Arch of Gallienus, built by Augustus in the 1st century AD and restored in 262 AD.

The church was founded in the 4th century to honor the two martyrs SS. Vito and Modesto. It was rebuilt in 1477 and restored many times since.

The simplicity of the nave and apse reminded me of St. Augustine's Chapel at the motherhouse of the Anglican Order of the Holy Cross in West Park, New York, with the large painted crucifix behind the altar. This design gives great focus to the eucharistic table.
As I sat in the nave, two women came in to prepare for the afternoon Mass. One took a dust mop and the other a dust rag and they went over the whole church. It seemed very clean when I first entered, and I discovered why!

There was also a priest of the parish who came up to me and gave me a holy card of San Vito. He said that the church of San Vito is hidden and very few people know about it or visit it. I explained that I chose to visit the church because of the recent death of its titular cardinal.  At first he said that there had not been a titular cardinal for many years, but then he remembered that, in fact, one had been appointed about a year ago. He could not remember the name and he was unaware that Cardinal Betti had died until I mentioned it. (Betti had only been the titular cardinal for 16 months.)
.The side altar on the right wall contains 15th century frescoes attributed to Antoniazzo Romano. On the left wall is a memorial dated 1620 that recalls how a Colonna family prince was healed after he was bitten by a rabid dog.This is the Pietro Scellerata. Legend says that if the stone is scratched and swallowed it has the power to heal those bitten by mad dogs. SS. Vito and Modesto (Saints Vitus and Modestus) are considered patron saints of rabid people.

Jesus, when you rode into Jerusalem
the people waved palms
with shouts of acclamation.
Grant that when the shouting dies
we may still walk beside you even to a cross.

Collect from the Sixth Sunday in Lent: Palm Sunday
From a New Zealand Prayer Book

I recalled the readings from Palm Sunday as I walked under the arch of an ancient gate to find the front door to this church. While I did not find people waving branches or spreading clothes, I did find two women on the inside, mopping and dusting to prepare for the celebration of the Eucharist that was soon to take place. The large crucifix in the apse brought my thoughts to thinking ahead and anticipating Good Friday. Here, in a little corner of Rome, a community of Christians is gathering again this year, as they have done for over 1,500 years, to meditate on the passion of Christ and to celebrate the Resurrection!

Vatican II and San Vito: This photo is of a wedding in San Vito before rennovations of 1973-1977. The parish was radical in the way it changed its sanctuary to follow the liturgical guidelines of the Second Vatican Council.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Day of Mourning

The flags of the government office building near our apartment are flying at half-mast on this Good Friday, a day that is a somber time for Christian people around the world. In Italy, today has been declared a National Day of Mourning for those who have died because of the earthquakes in Abruzzo. Throughout this week our thoughts and prayers have been focused on the aftermath of the quakes in the region that is 60 miles NE of Rome. (The Pope has even has even granted a dispensation so that funerals can take place today, something that is normally not done on Good Friday.)

Community Service

This week my class of 5th graders helped make sandwiches that were distributed by members of the Community of Sant'Egidio to the hungry here in Rome.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Palm Sunday without Palms

Romans use olive branches on Palm Sunday, even though there is an abundance of palm trees throughout the city. In the Gospel of Mark (that was read today) there is no mention of palms.
Many people spread their cloaks on the road,
and others spread leafy branches
that they had cut from the fields.
Those preceding him as well as those following kept crying out:
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!
Blessed is the kingdom of our father David that is to come!
Hosanna in the highest!"

Distributing leafy branches in Piazza San Ignazio.
Processing to Caravita from the Piazza San Ignazio.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Lenten Journey Week 5: SS. Annunciata

My journey for the 5th week of Lent took me to the parish of SS. Annunciata, or the Annunciazione della Beata Vergine Maria a Via Ardeatina, about 4km from our home near the Via Appia Antica. I was expecting a 20th century church building because it is in a modern neighborhood of Rome and was surprised to also find a church built in 1220 that has been restored and is still used. This church was along a medieval pilgrimage route between the Basilica of San Sebastiano and the Tre Fontane, the site of St. Paul's martyrdom, and it operated a hospital to care for pilgrims. (Today's parish sponsors a nearby modern hospital called Nuova Clinica Annunziatella that continues the tradtion.)

This was the first church in Rome to be named in honor of the Annunciation and it seems that the custom of distributing food to the poor on the Feast of the Annunciation originated from this church.
There is a 15th century fresco of the Annunciation in the sanctuary as well as in interesting small carved marble plaque with the Angel Gabriel kneeling in front of a standing Virgin Mary.
In 1640 the Annunziatella was entrusted to the Gonfalone Confraternity. The church received it's current baroque appearance during this time. The Gonfalone were disbanded by the Italian government in 1890, and it seems that the church was abandoned.

In the early 1900's Mass was again celebrated in the church and in 1935 it was established as a parish for the Diocese of Rome. In the 1970's a new church building and parish center were built, serving the large Catholic community in the neighborhood.
This is the sanctuary of the new church.

The tabernacle of the new church (above) 
and of the old church (below).

17th century terracotta crucifix in the old church.

An angel from the old church.

The ambo from the new church (above)
and the presider's chair (below).

The area where the church is located was an agricultural and industrial neighborhood of ancient Rome. There are 4th century ruins under the old church, probably a Roman house of an early Chritsian community.
Excavations in front of the new church reveal some of the buildings that were along the Via Ardiatina.

In 2001 SS. Annunciata became a titular church with the appointment of  Mario Francesco Cardinal Pompedda as its first titular. Cardinal Pompedda was born in Sardinia in 1929, became a canon lawyer, was dean of the Roman Rota and became the Prefect of the Apostolic Signatura. The parish became a vacant titular church when Cardinal Pompedda died October 17, 2006.

Most merciful God,
by the passion of your Son Jesus Christ
you delivered us from the power of darkness;
grant that through faith in him who suffered on the cross
we may be found acceptable in your sight,
through our Savious Jesus Christ.
Collect for the Fifth Sunday in Lent
A New Zealand Prayer Book