A Pilgrimage Site in Rome for the “Saint of Auschwitz”

St. Maximilian Mary Kolbe is most keenly associated with where he met his end, as a martyr imprisoned by the Nazis at Auschwitz, who ultimately gave his life in exchange for the life of another man. But, if you happened to be on a pilgrimage to Rome rather than Poland, you could nevertheless bring your intentions to St. Maximilian.

Near the Spanish Steps, is the basilica of Sant’Andrea della Fratte (St. Andrew “of the bushes”). St. Maximilian said his first Mass there in the side chapel known as the “Chapel of the Miracle” or the “Chapel of the Miraculous Madonna” on April 29, 1918. The pews in the basilica are normally oriented in the direction of this Chapel, in honor of the miracle (story in greater detail found here) that occurred there.

A French Jew named Alphonse Ratisbonne was visiting a Roman nobleman (a Catholic), and in the midst of a conversation with this Baron, Ratisbonne became very critical of the “superstitions” of Catholics. The Baron challenged Ratisbonne to wear the Miraculous Medal and recite one Memorare each day, and Ratisbonne agreed, reasoning that even if it did him no good, it would do him no harm either. Meanwhile, the Baron and his aristocratic friends began praying for Ratisbonne’s conversion.

On January 20, 1842, Ratisbonne encountered the Baron on the way to arrange the funeral of a friend who suddenly died at Sant’Andrea della Fratte, and asked Ratisbonne to accompany him into the church while the Baron went to the sacristy to make the arrangements. As Ratisbonne stood before the side altar dedicated to St. Michael the Archangel, the Blessed Virgin appeared to him.

According to this account:

Standing over the altar, Our Lady appeared wearing a crown and a simple long white tunic with a jeweled belt around her waist and blue-green mantle draped over her left shoulder. She gazed at him affably; her hands were open spreading rays of graces. Her bearing was quite regal, not just because of the crown she was wearing. Rather, her height and elegance gave the impression of a great lady, fully conscious of her own dignity. She transmitted both grandeur and mercy in an atmosphere of great peace. She had some of the characteristics of Our Lady of Graces. Alphonse Ratisbonne saw this figure and understood that he was before an apparition of the Mother of God. He knelt down before her and converted.

Returning from the sacristy, the Baron was surprised to see the Jew fervently praying on his knees before the altar of St. Michael the Archangel. He helped his friend to his feet, and Ratisbonne immediately asked to go to a confessor so he could receive Baptism. Eleven days later, on January 31, he received Baptism, Confirmation and his First Communion from the hands of Cardinal Patrizi, the Vicar of the Pope.

Following his conversion, Ratisbonne went on to become a Jesuit priest, and the Catholic world learned of the miracle associated with his conversion and was “impressed by it”.

It’s interesting to ponder that 99 years after Our Lady’s miraculous appearance and Fr. Ratisbonne’s conversion at the same altar where St. Maximilian said his first Mass in 1918, St. Maximilian was martyred.

Fr. Ratisbonne, pray for us!
St. Maximilian Kolbe, pray for us!
Our Lady of the Miracle, pray for us! 

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A Report for Pilgrims to Rome for the Jubilee “Year of Mercy”

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This week I returned home from my annual spiritual retreat and pilgrimage. My itinerary included visiting Istanbul, Assisi and Rome. This post reports some considerations for pilgrims to Rome during this Extraordinary Jubilee for the “Year of Mercy”. By following the suggestions outlined here, you will be better able to plan and anticipate your journey, and draw the most you can from it.

1. Anticipate Lines and Crowds, especially “On-Season”

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Line for entry at St. Peter’s

I have never visited Rome in the summer, because everyone says that it’s unbearably hot, so hot that the Romans escape the city — especially in August — and there are vast crowds of tourists and pilgrims for every attraction. If you can possibly manage it, I would suggest making a pilgrimage in the early spring or late autumn to avoid the most extreme heat and crowds. And, I can attest that right now is a wonderful time to visit, if you don’t mind slightly cooler temperatures and even fewer people everywhere.

Historically, Jubilee years equal greater than average numbers of people descending upon the city. Shopkeepers, restaurants and hotels anticipate additional revenue from a Jubilee. Some early reports are indicating that the numbers of pilgrims at the start of the Jubilee are falling short of original expectations, and there are a couple of potential reasons for this. Nevertheless, you shouldn’t expect a visit to Rome this year to be “normal”.

2. Be Prepared for Security Checks at All Four Major Papal Basilicas

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Military guard at St. Paul Outside the Walls

On my trip, I visited all four major papal basilicas (St. Peter’s, St. John Lateran, St. Maria Maggiore, and St. Paul Outside the Walls), and I witnessed the security measures undertaken to keep tourists and pilgrims safe. Unless you have been hiding under a rock, you know that Islamic terrorists have explicitly referred to Rome multiple times as a potential target for attack.

As a result, the first thing you will see when you visit these sites is a military presence, complete with Humvee-style vehicles parked nearby, soldiers armed with assault rifles (and a significant number of police also), cordons around each basilica complex, single points of entry and exit for tourists and pilgrims, and metal detectors and x-ray machines.

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Security check at Santa Maria Maggiore

It’s a shame that in order to visit a house of peace and prayer you will be reminded of the threat of terrorist violence, but this is the new reality in which we presently live. The purpose of the security measures is to protect the individuals who visit and the sacred places themselves, and so we can accept the minor inconvenience and anxiety without letting it ruin the purpose of the visit.

At a minimum, you should expect to add at least 15-20 minutes (and during busier periods you would probably want to at least double this amount of time) to pass security. It goes without saying that if you visit without bags or backpacks you will save yourself some hassle, but you will still have to empty your pockets and wait your turn to pass through at least one metal detector, and possibly a secondary security screening.

3. The Holy Doors and Gaining a Plenary Indulgence

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Holy Door at Santa Maria Maggiore

Once you’ve passed security at the four major papal basilicas, you will want to enter the basilica by way of the “Porta Santa” or “Holy Door” that is normally kept sealed but opened specifically for the Jubilee. In his “bull of indiction” (Misericordiae Vultus) for this Year of Mercy, Pope Francis indicates his desire for the faithful that “…pilgrimage be an impetus to conversion: by crossing the threshold of the Holy Door, we will find the strength to embrace God’s mercy and dedicate ourselves to being merciful with others as the Father has been with us.”

The Church offers the opportunity to gain one plenary indulgence (i.e., remission of all temporal punishments due to sin) per day for pilgrims who meet certain conditions: (1) the pilgrim must be in a state of grace at the time of the “indulgenced work”, (2) the pilgrim should have a detachment from all sin, including venial sin,

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Brick from the 2000 Jubilee removed from the Holy Door at St. John Lateran

(3) the pilgrim should sacramentally confess their sins, not necessarily on the same day as the pilgrimage, but within about ten days before or after, (4) the pilgrim should receive Communion, preferably by attending Holy Mass, for each indulgence, and (5) the pilgrim should pray for the intentions of the Holy Father.

 

4. Going to Confession

Compared to prior visits to Rome, when it was never terribly difficult to go to confession, the presence of priests in confessionals all over the Eternal City (and especially at the four major papal basilicas) appears to have increased for the Year of Mercy. In other words, the Church is “putting her money where her mouth is” by making priests even more available for sacramental confession — in a variety of languages, including English — so that a pilgrim has every opportunity to fulfill all the requirements for obtaining an indulgence and receiving God’s mercy.

5. Take Note of the Signs and Banners for the Year of Mercy

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Banner and Tent for Pilgrims outside Castel Sant’Angelo

Throughout Rome at various places, there are signs and banners announcing the Year of Mercy and directing pilgrims to sites of interest. The logo for the Year of Mercy is, ahem, a little strange, but it is distinctive and these signs will help orient you to where you want to go.

 

6. Special Considerations for Visiting St. Peter’s Basilica

Holy doors have been opened throughout the world in every diocese, but the pilgrimage undertaken by millions of faithful Catholics in a Jubilee year is to St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City. In terms of Rome’s observance of this Year of Mercy, St. Peter’s is the focal point, and thus, there are some additional things to know before you visit this chief among pilgrimage destinations.

First, the largest crowd that you will find anywhere in Rome will most likely be at St. Peter’s. Long before this Year of Mercy, St. Peter’s was one of the few places in Rome where everyone was required to pass through security and have their bags x-rayed (clerics, nuns and religious in habits included). Since the most recent terrorist threats and attacks, the Vatican’s security routine has expanded and intensified. Expect that no matter when you visit St. Peter’s, you will wait in a long line to get inside, and if you leave the secured area for any reason, you will do it all again before getting back inside.

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A cross is given to each group to be carried on the walk to St. Peter’s Basilica

Second, if you wish to attend a liturgy presided by the Holy Father, you will need a ticket, which can be obtained by writing to the Prefecture of the Pontifical Household. Follow the link for a calendar of the Pope’s events for the upcoming months, and note that the only electronic means of writing for tickets is to send your request by fax at the number indicated. Normally (unless you write well in advance or make special arrangements) tickets will be held for you at a ticket office near Paul VI Audience Hall. Do not forget that you will be instructed to pick up your tickets the day before the event, and, you will need to go through security to get them. In other words, budget additional time for this. To date, there is no e-mail address or on-line form that I know about for requesting tickets directly (however, you can request them on-line through the Pontifical North American College in Rome, but you will need to go there to get them).

 

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Holy Door, St. Peter’s

Third, if you wish to pass through the Holy Door of St. Peter’s, you should register as a pilgrim at the Vatican’s official website for the Year of Mercy. You can register as a group or as an individual. Shortly before your scheduled visit, you will receive an e-mail containing a document that you will need to print and bring with you. A volunteer will scan a bar code printed on the document to check you in as a pilgrim. As a registered pilgrim, you will be directed to first visit Castel Sant’Angelo to check in. From there, you or your group will walk down the Via della Conciliazione (which has been closed to traffic) to Piazza San Pietro. From there, you will go through security before passing through the Holy Door.

 

Please note that if you do not register as a pilgrim, you may not be permitted to pass through the Holy Door. On the day of my visit, tourists were (as typical) being admitted to the basilica, and it was possible to go through the Holy Door even if you did not begin at Castel Sant’Angelo as a registered pilgrim. However, the reports that I have read indicate that if there are sufficient crowds, only those who have registered will be permitted. Failing to register could mean intense disappointment.

7. Visit the Year of Mercy Pilgrim Information Center for your “Official Certificate”

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Pilgrim Information Center, Via della Conciliazione, 7

After completing your pilgrimage, you can proceed to the “Pilgrim Information Center” established at Via della Conciliazione, 7 (group leaders can also visit here ahead of time for pilgrimage materials) to receive a certificate printed with your name attesting when you made your pilgrimage to Rome. This is provided for free to anyone who has registered, and makes a nice personalized souvenir.

 

Conclusion

If you have never visited Rome before, a pilgrimage during a Jubilee is a special opportunity to seek graces. The Church’s Treasury of Mercy is flung open — not unlike the Holy Doors themselves — pouring out abundant riches upon the faithful.

St. Valentine’s Day and Ancient Lie Detection

Facade of Santa Maria in Cosmedin; Source: Wikimedia Commons; Author: Lamre

Facade of Santa Maria in Cosmedin; Source: Wikimedia Commons; Author: Lamre

I’m rather a curmudgeon when it comes to made up holidays, as evidenced by my screed on Halloween, but unfortunately Mrs. Q is the one who suffers whenever “St. Valentine’s Day” rolls around. She is a most patient and tolerant wife who does not try to change me. She deserves flowers and chocolate every day of the year, and not just on the one day that merchants have jacked up the prices on these items to provide themselves a little extra revenue between Christmas and Easter.

However, there is a bit of history surrounding St. Valentine that is interesting.

The Basilica of Santa Maria in Cosmedin in Rome was built in the 8th century during the Byzantine Papacy over the remains of the Templum Herculis Pompeiani and the Statio annonae, which was one of the early food distribution centers in ancient Rome. The word cosmedin comes from the Greek for “ornate” to signify that the basilica was regarded as beautiful.

IMG_4311There is a side altar on the left side of the basilica that purportedly houses the flower-adorned skull of St. Valentine. However, according to this article in the Catholic Encyclopedia (maintained at NewAdvent.org), at least three different St. Valentines are mentioned in early martyrologies for February 14. “One is described as a priest at Rome, another as bishop of Interamna (modern Terni), and these two seem both to have suffered in the second half of the third century and to have been buried on the Flaminian Way, but at different distances from the city.”

I suppose the skull could have belonged to either the priest or the bishop, since it’s somewhat less likely that the skull of the third Valentine (who lived and died in Africa) would have made its way to Rome. But so little is known about the St. Valentine of modern creation that the Church actually removed the feast day from the General Roman Calendar in 1969, although he may still be included on local liturgical calendars and his relics may still be permissibly venerated by the faithful.

IMG_4314The portico of Santa Maria in Cosmedin houses another fascinating item, the Bocca della Verita — the “Mouth of Truth” — an image of a man’s (or pagan god’s) face with an open mouth dating from the first century and fashioned from marble. It might have been part of an ancient fountain, or, possibly a manhole cover.

A tradition began in the Middle Ages that people (especially young lovers) would visit the Bocca della Verita and place their hands in its open mouth. It was believed that if one told a lie with one’s hand in the mouth of the sculpture (or alternatively, if one was a liar but not necessarily telling a lie at the moment of placing one’s hand in the mouth) it would be bitten off. Thus, the Bocca developed into a medieval lie detector that became a rather popular attraction.

This St. Valentine’s Day, I symbolically place my hand in the Bocca’s mouth and declare my undying love and fidelity to Mrs. Q!

Roman Dining and Lodging for the Pilgrim

I’m still sorting through pictures, and trying to decide subjects that might make good blog posts. For example, I’ve now visited Italy twice during the holidays, and so I’ve amassed a huge assortment of nativity scenes, and I’d love to throw the whole lot up into one giant post for you to enjoy. But I wonder, do you want to see nativities in January or February, or would it be better to wait until the start of Advent 2015? At that point, they’ll be so last year, but it might be fun to see them during the proper liturgical season. Thoughts?

Roman Food

First, a view or two from the street. Scenes like this are pretty ubiquitous throughout Rome, and a shop window like this (to me) is really charming:

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See those guys standing in a row behind the counter? They are professionals. Italians take things like meat and cheese, as well as waiting tables, very seriously. These are not jobs taken likely. They are professions.

Now, here’s something that may well hold the record for most girthy, and longest, encased meat product:

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I love the fact that it sits in a trophy case just inside the front entrance, and people can actually come in and order slices off it.

Two Worthy Dining Recommendations

Readers of this blog know that I don’t make many specific recommendations. But I have visited these places multiple times, and I think they deserve it. One place is great for lunch after visiting St. Peter’s and the Vatican, and the other is great for a special evening meal in the heart of the city.

Perfect for Lunch, Near St. Peters: Graziella & Alberto da Spinosi a S. Pietro, Via del Mascherino, 60-62-64

If you are familiar with Borgo Pio, just a few blocks north of Vatican City (exit Bernini’s colonnades, head north), look for the green awning over this tiny trattoria. Despite its prime location, this place is not tremendously touristy, and I can attest that it is mostly frequented by locals. A lot of priests and sisters eat here. I’ve even seen a few bishops here before.

My priest friend Fr. A suggested this place to me, and told of how during his time studying in Rome, he and his friends would visit on Sundays after mass for Bruschetta alla Romana, which is indeed a sizable lunch on its own. I’ve tried to replicate their bruschetta for him here at home.

The restaurant is run by husband (Alberto) and wife (Graziella), who are friendly, but also somewhat vocal. They, like many Italians, communicate with their hands. Graziella (who runs the kitchen) will likely tell you that you are having Amatriciana, and half the time it will come to the table even if you haven’t ordered it. But if it comes, don’t send it back. Eat it; her version is great.

This time, the weather on Sunday afternoon was warm and sunny, and so I ate outside. The inside is adorned with old photos and memorabilia, and the tables are more crowded, a la family style. I had Spaghetti Vongole-Cozze (clams) and some house white wine:

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I’m not normally a big seafood and red sauce kind of guy, but this was really good. I’ve been pleased with nearly everything I’ve ordered here.

For a Special Dinner of Fresh Seafood: Da CesareVia Crescenzio, 13 – 00193 Rome

Da Cesare serves a mix of tourists and locals, and generally people are enthusiastic about this place. This past time, I was approached by a retired Italian couple sitting nearby, who simply wanted to know whether I was enjoying my meal, and to tell me that they think Da Cesare is a good restaurant. If you are looking for seafood, this is what you want to see in Rome, and this is what greets you at the entrance of Da Cesare:

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You will spend some money on fish here. A lot of the best choices are priced by each 100 grams, so the cost (if you order a whole fish) will be somewhat unknown until the bill arrives. Their prime cuts of beef (the famed Florentine steaks, for example) are priced in a similar way. Proteins are cooked very simply, either pan-fried or grilled.

I love a good seafood risotto, and the one at Da Cesare does not disappoint:

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I’ve had this dish here before, and my only quibble this time was that the rice was slightly undercooked. Risotto should certainly be al dente, meaning that each grain should retain its own structure and not form a gloppy mass with the other grains. This risotto needed one more ladleful of stock in order to be perfect, but slightly undercooked is better in my book than overcooked, and it was properly seasoned.

I tried something new at Da Cesare, one of the “second-tier” steaks:

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I think the United States produces good beef. We have sort of lost of way with other types of meat, especially poultry, where volume has eclipsed quality and flavor. But trying a steak like this in Italy, you can certainly compare and realize that beef is raised differently there. This steak had a real deep beefy flavor that was augmented by the simple method of cooking over a fire grill. I would be guessing that the more “prime” cut offered at Da Cesare is even more tender, with a little less gristle. But for me, and for the price, this steak was extremely satisfying.

Not a “Wine Snob”? Try the House Wine

think I know a thing or two about wine, but when traveling in Italy (especially when I am on my own) I am extremely content to order house wines at restaurants. House wines are one of the great bargains in Italian dining. In some places, you can easily spend more on special bottled water, or soda, than the house wine. And unlike American eateries, where house wine is likely to mean something nondescript from a box or plastic bladder, in a decent trattoria great pride is taken in their house wines, and they are served without fuss, usually in a generous little pitcher.

Most importantly, I don’t think I’ve ever ordered a house wine that was not drinkable. Most of the time, the wine is much more than drinkable; the house wine properly compliments the food being served, and is quite enjoyable to drink. And you save a little money.

Where to Stay in Rome: Domus Carmelitana, Casa di Procura S. Alberto – Via Alberico II, 44 – 00193 Roma

domuscarmelitanaI realize that everyone has their favorite place to stay. There are certain other bloggers who even have their favorite religious houses in Rome which have been recommended.

When it comes to lodging, the one thing I haven’t done in Rome is stay in a hotel. For the longterm stay, there are some good websites for renting a flat during your stay in Rome. We’ve done this, and it’s a lot of fun to “live like a Roman” for a while, preferably in a neighborhood with some character. The benefit of a flat rental is the kitchen that you can use to prepare some of your own meals.

Rooftop Terrace

Rooftop Terrace

For a shorter stay, there are a number of monasteries and religious communities that are set up to welcome pilgrims. The Domus Carmelitana is in a perfect location, very near to Castel San Angelo, and within a short walk of Vatican City. In addition to the location, there are a few reasons I prefer this house above others.

First, the rooms are always clean and well appointed (I noticed that this time my room had a security safe, as well as an iron, tv, phone, etc.).

Second, the entrance to the Domus is secured by an iron gate. You ring the bell to be “buzzed” inside. It’s a safe place to stay, in a quiet neighborhood. But unlike a lot of religious houses, where there is a curfew (sometimes as early as 10pm), Domus Carmelitana is staffed around the clock, just like a nice hotel, and there is no curfew to worry about. The staff is extremely courteous, professional, and accommodating. They have helped me with transportation to the airport, directions, dining recommendations.

Dining room

Dining room

Third, a lovely breakfast, far more extensive than the typical “continental” fare, is served every morning for all guests. Pastries, cold cuts, cereals, coffee and tea, a variety of juices, yogurt, and so on, are served. Many of the other guests are also pilgrims and it’s fun to go down to the dining room to see who else is visiting Rome.

DomuschapelFourth, there is a chapel at the Domus, and the simple decor has a religious theme. I prefer a room with a crucifix in it. That’s just me.

Finally, the Domus is a very reasonable place to stay, considering the amenities, location, and services offered. Single rooms start just over 100 euros per night. You could easily spend twice or three times that at a conventional hotel. I think it’s a very good value.

In Rome: St. Andrew’s Basilica

Note the depiction of the crucifixion of St. Andrew, on a diagonal cross, behind the altar

Note the depiction of the crucifixion of St. Andrew, on a diagonal cross, as angels bless him with a crown of martyrdom, in the painting located behind the altar

IMG_5275“Why Rome?” is always a good question, and there are many answers. For myself, one great answer is that one doesn’t have to look very far at all to placed very close to the foot of the Lord.

Even for the fortunate Catholic, there is perhaps only one opportunity to attend mass in a day. Imagine a place where God needn’t perform a miracle to literally provide a dozen or more opportunities for mass!

In Rome, churches abound, and by natural extension, so do masses, even during the week. There are MANY neighborhoods where churches are less than 50 or 100 yards apart. In the span of 15 minutes, you could visit 3 or 4 churches if you wanted to do so.

FullSizeRender-1Such was the case, when I kept walking into church after church, and it seemed that I was stricken with a bit of the unlucky; I’d enter to find that mass was being celebrated, but already under way. I asked God if maybe I could find a church where I wasn’t going to be “crashing” a mass in progress.

Shortly after that, I found myself in a church I’d never been before — Basilica di S. Andrea della Valle — for a solemn mass presided by His Eminence, Joao Braz de Aviz, in commemoration of the feast day of San Giuseppe Maria Tomasi, buried there. I didn’t even know why the cardinal was there, since I hadn’t paid any attention to the sign announcing the mass (I just wanted to go to mass!), and I found it curious that following the entrance procession, the thurible with incense was carried to a side altar (where I later learned that the saint is buried) that I could not see from my position.

FullSizeRender-2This visit to St. Andrew’s basilica also caused me to ponder the depiction of his crucifixion, martyrdom and burial behind its main altar, a series by Renaissance master Preti. Tradition depicts St. Andrew being crucified on a diagonal cross. Perhaps you’ve noticed (if you’ve visited St. Peter’s basilica) that one of the niches surrounding the main altar (and Bernini’s famous bronze baldacchino) provides a similar view of the Saint. He seems strong and manly in both representations; he’s not dwarfed by the telephone-pole-sized crossbeams. Rather, he is a substantial figure, and his posture points toward Heaven as he meets his reward.

Rome: A Pantheon of Flavor

IMG_1097IMG_1096Adjacent to the ancient Roman Pantheon (now a church consecrated to Our Lady), in the piazza sits a norceria which claims to have been in operation since the middle ages. I’ve made friends with the English-speaking shopkeepers, who are younger than the grizzled fellows who actually operate the slicers. But the young ones tell the old ones what you want, and they always take care of you.

Prosciutto di cinghiale (wild boar), in the dim of the evening light

Prosciutto di cinghiale (wild boar), in the dim of the evening light

Romans dine later than we Americans, and so around 7 pm rolls around and one feels a little peckish. What one needs in such an instance is some prosciutto di cinghale (wild boar), salami from Norcia, and a beer.

Rare and precious are the moments where one may sit in an ancient place and enjoy life in a way that it has been enjoyed for centuries. The prosciutto was incredibly silky with very little of the chewiness so common with conventional ham, bursting with the flavors of what a ruminant might find on a forest floor (nuts, acorns, chewy bits of fungus).

And, coupled with that rare and precious moment came my first opportunity to sample the product of the brewing efforts of the monks of Nursia, which is a relatively new venture in terms of monastic brewing tradition, and at present is not available on this continent. At 10% ABV, it’s in the nature of a tripel, but (judging from a bottle, not ideal) blond. Sweet, but not sticky, smooth without some of the funk you find in abbey ales. Not my favorite style, but an excellent example of the style.

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Rome: This Ride is Closed for Refurbishment

In Rome, a few places have great appeal to anyone who visits, and but are not particularly “churchy”. At the top of the list is the Spanish Steps and Trevi Fountain. So the Spanish Steps have a church at the top, but no one goes there to see it. They go there to sit on the steps and watch the shoppers around the tres chic boutiques of the upscale neighborhood.

To me, both locations are kind of lackluster, because no matter what the time of day, they are both flooded with tourists, which kind of spoils their character. Sometimes you’re unlucky enough to realize you’ve gotten too close to one or the other, and now must navigate away from the crowd, lest you continue to stand shoulder-to-shoulder in the herd.

For the superstitious first-time visitor to Rome, the following revelation could lead to some true dismay: Trevi Fountain is Closed.

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Not forever, just for a while, I guess. Who knows how long fixing up a centuries-old fountain may take for the Romans? Perhaps if I’d paid closer attention to the signs surrounding the project I could tell you.

But that would have required that I dive even deeper into the crowd, which was still there despite the fountain being covered in scaffolding and looking totally drained and shabby. In the meantime, they’ve erected a walkway over the project for visitors to get a closer view of the work while it’s under way.

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I noticed, however, that someone had recovered all the coins from the bottom of the fountain pool which is now empty. Perhaps those coins (deposited over one’s shoulder as a down payment on the dream of return visit) have helped to fund the work.

Rome: An Afternoon in Trastevere

IMG_0868The two-hour train ride from Assisi to Rome deposited me at Termini station, where I navigated the underground maze to find the correct Metro line and direction (thankfully, there are only two criss-crossing Metro lines in Rome — “A” and “B”, and thankfully, I learned public transit in our ten years in Chicago) to where I am keen to lodge in the Eternal City.

After checking in and dropping off my bag, there was still plenty of day and daylight remaining for a long walk and the hope of some new discoveries and places to pray. But first, a snack: panini with porchetta. 

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Porchetta

Porchetta

Essentially, a good part of a pig is deboned, seasoned with herbs and salt, and rolled up so that it makes sort of a loaf, and then it is roasted. It’s kept like ham, so that when a customer wishes to buy a sandwich, a slice or two is cut off the end and heated for a couple moments on the panini press.

The meat is somewhat fatty, and it is the fat that melts as the meat is heated, where it is transferred into a bread and toasted under the press for a few moments more. The fat butters the bread and provides the sauce for the sandwich. If you think that sounds icky, we don’t know each other. I like the meat so much (and while the bread is the best bread ever, it’s still just bread) that I fold over the meat inside the sandwich so that I only eat half the bread.

Santa Cecilia

Santa Cecilia

Properly sated, I continued my walk through Trastevere, a neighborhood which some might say is dingy, even by Roman standards, but I find thoroughly charming, especially the piazza in front of Santa Maria en Trastevere. And, while Santa Maria is a true favorite of mine, the objective of my mission was to reach Santa Cecelia in Trastevere, which sits over the site of one of the early “house churches” of Rome.

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Walking in, there was a mass under way with some Italian pilgrims, and some rather upbeat guitar music, so I found the entrance to the museum underneath the church, where you can visit the ruins of the saint’s Roman house.

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Mass ended while I visited the museum, and the crypt of Santa Cecilia was opened for them. Everyone clambered down the stairs holding candles to venerate the tomb of the saint. There are side altars for Sts. Agatha and Agnes in the crypt, and the relics of Saint Valerian (husband of Cecelia) are also housed there.

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Back above ground, a famous statue sits underneath the main altar of the basilica, entitled The Martyrdom of Santa Cecilia (1600), by Stefano Maderno, which “depicts the three axe strokes described in the 5th-century account of her martyrdom. It also is meant to underscore the incorruptibility of her cadaver (an attribute of some saints), which miraculously still had congealed blood after centuries.” (source, Wikipedia). It happens that at New Clairvaux, the monastery nearest us, there is a Santa Cecilia chapel with a reproduction of this statue.

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Really? A “Guilty Pleasure”???

IMG_3078What’s wrong with saying that St. John Paul II loved ice cream? Why does it have to sound scandalous? The pope does not entirely forget that he has tastebuds, and he lives in one of the food capitals of the entire world. There’s nothing wrong with a little ice cream, and Italians know how to make ice cream.  Still, I enjoyed learning about his favorite gelateria and flavor, which I hope to try the next time in Rome.