Thursday, September 10, 2009

Near St Peter's

Thursday, my third day in Rome: I left the monastery guesthouse or foresteria (actually an integral part of the building) about 9am, first - as I did yester-day - visiting what is accessible of the church of St Gregory al Celio. For reasons of safety, the nave and left aisle are closed off, but all can be seen well enough as one walks up and down the right aisle. Here apparently Mass is said, at the altar of St Gregory at the head of the aisle; there, just before the altar step, one can see the very cathedra of that great Pope, and, ducking through a doorway on the right, one can enter his original cell, now rather redecorated in Baroque style, where day and night he laboured in prayer and study. Behind a grate on the wall is a large display of relics. Oramus te Domine per merita sanctorum tuorum, quorum reliquiae hic sunt... - you get the sense of this prayer in Rome.

I enjoy walking past the empty grounds of the old Circus Maximus, down into the historic centre of the City. To-day, I visited first Santa Maria in Cosmedin, a magnificently old church in antique style, all in marble and stone, with great ambos either side of the central nave, a huge Paschal candle stand, and the sanctuary and central nave surrounded by neck-high balustrades - remember, until the close of the Middle Ages and the start of the Counter-Reformation, communion was received on the tongue, but standing at the cancelli, not kneeling (as Augustine attests). The church is now allocated to Melkite Catholics, so for a change the high altar (under a beautiful baldacchino) and the two altars at the head of both aisles were set up for the Liturgy, without any nasty little table stupidly put in front. Upon leaving the church, I glanced at the Bocca della verità that so draws tourists; sad how they miss what's really important, and what is meaningless superstition - as Chesterton said, Those who believe in nothing will believe in everything.

Next, on to San Nicola in Carcere, built atop Roman temple ruins in the eleventh century, which had some magnificent art within, and a side chapel that is a shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe. It looked like a church people pray in, with lots of candle stands and little places to pray.

I wandered on... there are churches wherever you go, and soon enough I came to Santa Maria in Portico, a magnificent church where reposes the body of St John Leonardi, founder of the Clerks Regular of the Mother of God. Next, well, I forget, but I ended up in St Charles Borromeo's church, and read Matins there. It was about eleven by this point, and I broke my fast with a delicious sandwich (artichokes, cream cheese and tuna) that I bought as I meandered through side streets. I came upon SSma Trinità very quickly, and turned down the Via Guilia (which marked its five hundredth birthday last year), past the many little churches there (all closed at least at that hour), such as San Filippo Neri, or (down an alley) San Girolamo della Carità, which is only open on Sunday mornings - hopefully I'll see into it then.

Reaching San Giovanni de' Fiorentini, fast becoming my favourite church, I made the rounds of the altars, then knelt down and read Lauds through to Sext, ending with the midday Angelus. After that, I bought a slice of pizza to nibble for lunch as I walked on, and am now across the Tiber, not far from St Peter's.

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