Sunday, February 28, 2010

SPQR: Arezzo (Tuscany)

I found SPQR with this image of Romulus and Remus nursing from the she-wolf in Arezzo during our recent trip to Tuscany.

It was part of the base for a statue of Guido d'Arezzo.

Guido was a Benedictine monk who was born in Arezzo in 991. While a young monk on the Adriatic coast he noticed that singers had difficulty remembering Gregorian chants. He came up with a method for teaching the singers to learn chants in a short time. However, he attracted the hostility of the other monks at the abbey for doing this, and moved back to his home town of Arezzo. Arezzo had no abbey, but the bishop invited him to train and conduct the large group of cathedral singers. While at Arezzo, he developed new technologies for teaching, such as staff notation and solfeggio, the "do-re-mi" scale. The syllables for "do-re-me" were taken from the initial syllables of each of the first six musical phrases of "Ut queant laxis," the chant hymn for the feast of John the Baptist.
SPQR are the first letters of the words in the Latin phrase Senatus Populusque Romanus, "The Senate and the People of Rome." It originally referred to the government of the ancient Roman Republic, and used as an official signature of the government, appearing on coins, civic inscriptions, and on the standards of the Roman legions. Today, SPQR is the motto of the city of Rome and appears in the city's coat of arms, the city's civic buildings, manhole covers, billboards and, of course, bases for statues.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Lenten Journey Week 2: Campidoglio

The Capitoline Hill is the smallest of Rome's seven hills, but it was the religious and political center of the city since its foundation more than 2500 years ago. The city legend of this hill starts with digging up a human skull (the word for head in Latin is caput) when foundation trenches were being made for a Temple of Jupiter. By the 16th century, the Latin Capitolinus had become Campidoglio in Italian. The English word capitol derives from Capitoline. (The name Capitol Hill for the location of the United States Congress in Washington D.C. was chosen by the founders of the US because of this ancient Roman location.)
At the southwest corner of the hill is the Tarpeian Rock from which, in Roman times, condemned prisoners were hurled to their death. This practice continued until 1850 AD. In 1385 a Roman noble ,who was sentenced to death, gave two gold fiorins so that an image of the Virgin would be placed near this spot to give comfort to the condemned. By the early 1500s a chapel and hospital had been built on the site. (Ignatius of Loyola, Philip Neri and Aloysius Gonzaga are some of the people who cared for the sick here. It was at this site that St. Aloysius contracted the plague.) The hospital was demolished in 1936 but the church remains in use.

I have gone past the church of Santa Maria della Consolazione on the Capitoline Hill many times. The piazza in front is cluttered with an open space parking area and the church looks neglected. What a surprise awaited me when I entered this church.
Above the high altar is Our Lady of Consolation. It is a 15th century fresco copy of the original medieval icon.

One of the side altars has a 13th century icon of Our Lady of Grace.

In the first chapel on the left is a marble relief by Raffaello da Montelupo (c. 1530) showing the Mystical marriage of St. Catherine. The upper part of this relief shows God the Father in a swirl of clouds and angels.

The first chapel on the right, the Capella Mattei, has frescoes with Scenes of the Passion (1556) by Taddeo Zuccari, including his masterpiece of the Crucifixion.
Other chapels, behind iron gates, have frescoes with scenes of the life of Mary and Jesus, the life of St. Andrew and St. Francis.Reflection
Sunday’s gospel form Luke is the account of the Transfiguration when the disciples were amazed when they awake from a sleep and saw Jesus in dazzling white talking with Moses and Elijah. There was a voice from a cloud that said “This is my chosen son; listen to him.” I was amazed when I entered the Church of Santa Maria della Consolazione. I never expected to be overwhelmed with so much beauty. The marble image of God the Father in the clouds that I saw in the first chapel caused me to think about God’s command to listen to the words of Jesus. And the scenes from the passion in the last chapel provided a meditation on what Jesus did for all of us by his death on a cross. The journey of Lent is a special time to listen to the words of Jesus as recorded in scripture and meditate on Christ’s passion and death. It is a journey that leads to Easter and Resurrection!

Collect for the Second Sunday in Lent
O God, whose glory it is always to have mercy: Be gracious
to all who have gone astray from your ways, and bring them
again with penitent hearts and steadfast faith to embrace and
hold fast the unchangeable truth of your Word, Jesus Christ
your Son; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

From The Book of Common Prayer

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Clocks Around Town

Time is an interesting thing in Rome. There is always time for coffee! A conversation with a neighbor is usually more important than being "on time" for an appointment. The most important verb tense is the present. (It seems Italians rarely use the future tense.)

While walking around the Eternal City you can see clocks everywhere. They are on buildings old and new, on lamp posts and often on signs for the pharmacy. Here is a sampling of clocks I saw yesterday.
Location: Jewish Ghetto
Actual Time: 2:01 pm

Location: Largo Argentina
Actual Time: 2:31 pm

Location: Church of Santa Agnese, Piazza Navona
Actual Time: 4:48

Location: Corso del Rinascimento
Actual Time: 3:01 pm

Location: Building next to Palazzo Madama
(The Italian Senate Building)
Actual Time: 3:15 pm
N.B. This is the only clock I saw with the accurate time.
But, does this help the efficiency of the Italian government?

Wednesday, February 24, 2010


Last night we went to Teatro dell' Opera to see Giselle.

All live performances in Rome have Vigili del Fuoco on the alert. At the Opera House the firefighters in the lobby are in dress uniform.

We enjoyed the ballet performance
from orchestra seats in the second row.
During the curtain call the legendary Italian choreographer Carla Fracci came to the stage for a bow.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Balconies: Piazza Bologna

On Wednesday I went "birdwalking" to Piazza Bologna, an early 20th century suburb of Rome, three stops on the metro from Stazione Termini. (It is where I took Italian classes this past summer and fall.)

I am fascinated at how architects interpret balconies on Roman apartment buildings. The first seven pictures I took while standing in Piazza Bologna.
These are the first balconies I saw as I emerged from the metro station.
The curving balconies of this building are above The Meeting Place Bar where we would go for coffee at break time during the Italian classes.
Some residents fill their balconies with plants.

These are balconies on the building of the Italian Language institute.
Rectangular balconies come in many shapes.
Some balconies wrap around the corners of the buildings.

These are more balconies that I saw as I walked two blocks south of the Piazza to the big market.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Biblioteca Casanatense

This past Saturday I went to the Casanatense Library, continuing my custom of inviting students and families to join me in exploring Rome on the 3rd Saturday of the month. The library was created by Cardinal Girolamo Casanate who had a collection of 25,000 volumes when he died. In his will the library was entrusted to the Dominicans at Santa Maria sopra Minerva. The library opened to the public in 1701 in a newly built space probably designed by Carlo Fontana in part of the monastery cloister. In 1884 the control of the library was granted to the Italian government. Today the library has over 400,000 volumes.
The library is entered through a nondescript door on a small street beside the Chiesa Sant’ Ignazio. After climbing two flights of steps you reach the floor of the main reading room, the original library space.

It is fascinating to see the collection of books, with Latin headings indicating the classifications. Poetry is at the back, and you pass through the histories and the sciences before coming to the front of the room with the writings of the Church Fathers and theoligians and, in the center, the collection of Bibles.

A statue of Cardinal Casanate oversees the room.

While we were in the library we were able to browse
though an illustrated Missal from the 1400s.
We were fascinated by the detailed illuminations, the lavish use of gold leaf and the brilliant blue color made from grinding up lapis lazuli.
Inside the library (at the bottom of the above picture) is a decree from Pope Clement XI proclaiming that anyone who steals from the library will be excommunicated. Outside the door is a edict saying that abusers of the library will be tortured!