We are now in our second week in Rome have more or less entered into a routine of keeping house, catching the bus to the city center, and walking – lots and lots of walking. We walk to the grocery store, to museums, through museums, to churches and to pizzerias.
I shared in last week’s church newsletter article that the purpose of my sabbatical was to study sacred art with Rome serving as a primary source. Since last week I have visited twelve churches, two museums, one Coliseum, three arches, one Trajan column, one sprawling Roman Forum and I cannot even guess how many fountains. I have viewed great works of art from antiquity, Byzantine, Renaissance, Baroque, and modern. All of this, mind you, within just the first week. There is still plenty more left on the agenda although one of my sons openly protested that surely there was nothing left to see!
Today, however, there was still more to see, but not without doing some walking. Our trek began unofficially with Clark and me walking around our neighborhood. We are about a ten minute walk from the historic Appian Way but I decided I could not wait until our class field trip to see it, so Clark and I made our way to this ancient passageway to the center of Rome. Instead of making it all the way to the road, we took a detour through the Catacombs of San Callisto. We took a leisurely stroll along the lanes lined by both cypress and olive trees. It is the first time since coming to Rome that we have seen acres of grass – quite nice.
Soon the three of us – this is not a typo because we wisely allowed Aaron to stay at the apartment due to his declared and obvious lack of interest. Please do not worry; we will not allow this everyday! – caught our bus and eventually met up with the class for another tour of churches and their treasures of art and architecture.
San Luigi dei Francesi was our first stop. Three tremendous Caravaggios hang in the fifth chapel on the left, all dedicated to Matthew the Apostle. Most of us are familiar with the first one: “The Calling of St. Matthew.” Yet to only see that one painting without the other two is to completely miss the story the painter was telling. The other two panels depict “St. Matthew and the Angel” and “The Martyrdom of St. Matthew.” The three combined – a calling, a commissioning, and a completion – present a stirring story told in the beautiful mediums of oil and passion.
We then took a rather long but direct hike up to the spacious and lovely Piazza del Popolo. From the piazza that comes from the northern entrance to Rome one can view three streets that radiate from its center. It is something like a Baroque version of “welcome to Rome” for all the European pilgrims over the last few centuries. Unfortunately once we entered the Santa Maria del Popolo there was a service in progress and we were not able to see some of her great works. We were able to view some of the marble making up its chapel, with one fo the chapels containing some of the richest marble in all of Rome.
One of the great things about Rome is that there is always a “plan B,” so we trekked over to the Trevi Fountain. Along the way we took a detour to a Galleria – a late 19th century version of a strip mall. We did not do any shopping but Michael Schwartz did want to point it out as an example of neo-classic architecture. We then crossed a street or two (or maybe it was an alley or two) and reached the Trevi Fountain. The crowd was intense and still growing. There Schwartz gave a rather impromptu introduction to this most popular and photographed fountain in all of Rome. He said, and here I am going to quote: “It is the forerunner of the water park and the weakening of allegory.” I suspect he is right, but it is all the same a beautiful place to visit. Besides, even America’s best water parks do not go back to 1762!
It was at this point that we broke away from the class and no, it was not because of the opinions of the Trevi. Schwartz decided to hike back up to Santa Maria, which is the very opposite direction of our trek back to the bus stop. We said “arrivederci” and meandered back to our bus stop. Along the way we saw an art supply shop where I picked up some paper and charcoal for rubbings (something I wish I had the other day when we saw some fragments from pre-Constantine Christian catacomb markers.
When we got to our apartment we found that Aaron had not burned the place down. Indeed, he actually looked like he was glad to see us.
Thank you again dear church for allowing this gift of time away to study and reflect. It has been a gift to my mind, spirit, and body (I am hoping that all of this extra walking will work off all the pasta I am consuming).
There is a painting I saw for the first time a few afternoons ago by Caravaggio in the San Augustino Church. It is a piece depicting Mary presenting the Christ Child to two humble common folk. I have thought about that painting off and on since I was first introduced to it: the blessing Baby; the dirty feet of the villagers, and Mother Mary, barefoot too. Wherever we are – from Rome to Augusta – we are not much different or any better than those who humble themselves before God’s radiant gift of Presence. And when we do, we begin to see…
Peace be with you,