Saturday, September 19, 2009

Thursday Afternoon in Rome

I was very tired, and my time in the Eternal City was fast passing away...

In the mid-afternoon, I slowly walked down across one of the Tiber bridges into Trastevere, stopt for a Belgian beer, then found the ancient basilica of Santa Cecilia.

It brought me to my knees, seeing the beautiful sculpture of that Virgin Martyr - a statue copied from her incorrupt body, which was discovered, and displayed to all Rome, for almost the whole of 1599 (at least thirteen hundred years after her death in witness to Christ). To think that her body still sleeps in the reliquary of the crypt below (which I viewed through a grille), together with several other early martyrs!

The mosaic of the apse is of the ninth century, and in its ancientry and naive style breathes the pristine spirit of holiness. Pope Paschal (who then rebuilt the church, even then falling into ruin by reason of the centuries having elapsed since its foundation) is pictured with St Cecilia, SS Peter and Paul, Our Lord, St Valerian (the chaste husband of Cecilia, and fellow martyr), and St Agnes (another primitive Virgin-Martyr). Below, there is a procession of sheep (Christians) approaching the Lamb of God.


I then walked further down the Tiber, crossed over on the Ponte Sublico (?) and made my way toward Santa Sabina - but first, and very fittingly, found the property of the Knights of St John (whose estate is the smallest sovereign state in the world, they having previously lost Jerusalem and then Rhodes to the Turks, and Malta to Napoleon), where, looking through the keyhole of their gate, one espies a perfect prospect of the dome of St Peter's at the end of a beautiful path hedged about by vegetation.

Santa Sabina, HQ of the Dominicans...
Well, let's just say it was very Dominican - let the reader understand!
The church is very bare and sober, in antique Roman style: excellent. I finally got around to reading Lauds. But then, the advertised bookshop being closed because the person manning it "just popped out for a minute", I sat down and read several more Hours, till finally they got the message and found some Pole to open it up.
I bought a number of interesting items, such as small reproductions of works of Fra Angelico, and best of all (E15.50) a mint-condition 1956 Dominican Diurnal, in perfect pocket-book size. It was so well-preserved the pages needed carefully to be separated, so as to read it.
But... the Polish fellow had put on what turned out to be an excruciatingly corny and heterodox CD of mad US Dominicans, singing wicked propaganda - for instance, one song said, If your image of God is an old man on a cloud, discard it because it doesn't exist and it is a symptom of your fears and repressions... Need I say more? Oh, and there was the expected feminist revisionist angle represented as well. Puke, puke, puke!
I went back into the basilica to finish off the Hours through to Vespers - and found an even more bizarre thing. I was moving round from the altar of St Hyacinth, when I noticed a friar I'd seen earlier doing something odd at the Bl Sacrament altar: to my consternation, he had the tabernacle open, revealing a mini-monstrance (before which he had lit several tiny candles, commendably enough), but had pulled a chair right up onto the altar step, and was lounging on this, with his bare feet stretched out in front against the altar, and his hands on his head!
I honestly didn't know whether to cry or laugh, it was so hysterically eccentric and peculiar. Talk about giving scandal. And then, his mobile phone rang, so he just walked away from Our Lord and took a long, loud telephone call right in the middle of the church. Eventually he returned, only for his phone to ring again and him to abandon his wierd adoration for a second conversation...
For the benefit of posterity, I have acquired a photograph of this madness, which I will upload once I'm back in Australia. I think even Coo-ees couldn't come up with a strange thing like this.
Well, I missed seeing St Paul's outside the Walls, and many other churches (including several, like San Stefano Rotondo and San Clemente, that are quite close to where I've been staying), but I have done much... till next time.

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