Saturday, July 1, 2017

Centrale Montemartini

It is often said of museums in Rome that the setting of the exhibits is every bit as interesting as the exhibits themselves. Several museums, for example are housed in magnificent Renaissance palaces, but there is only one museum in the Eternal City, and probably in the entire world, which displays ancient Roman sculptures in an early 20th century electric power plant!


The name of this unique museum is the Centrale Montemartini, named after Giovanni Montemartini who founded the first electrical power plant in Rome. It was officially inaugurated in a solemn ceremony on June 30, 1912. The plant operated continuously, even throughout World War II, providing electricity to much of the city of Rome until 1963. In 1990 it was decided to use the plant, with its massive machinery intact, as an exhibition space.


Some 400 ancient statues and fragments were transferred here from the Capitoline Museums in 1997 and now share space with machinery in areas such as the engine room and the boiler room. Although it may seem like an impossible pairing of ancient sculpture with 20th century industrial architecture, the combination succeeds beautifully.


The museum is located on the old Via Ostiense about half way between the Pyramid of Gaius Cestius and the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls. The items in the museum are well marked with labels which give a short explanation of them in Italian and English. What follows are a few photos and short explanations of just a handful of its exhibits, maybe enough to whet your appetite for a visit.


Photo 1: Headless statue of Aphrodite


This is a Roman copy of a fourth-century B.C. Greek original. Aphrodite is the Greek goddess of love and beauty whose Roman equivalent is Venus. The statue was discovered in Rome in the forum of Julius Caesar where there was also a temple of Venus. No surprise that Caesar would have a statue of Aphrodite and a temple of Venus in his forum because he considered himself a direct descendant of Venus.


Photo 2: Togaed Barberini


This first-century B.C. sculpture, one of the museum's most famous pieces, depicts a man wearing a toga, the symbol of Roman citizenship. The toga was imposed by Augustus as a kind of uniform to be worn at the theater and on other formal occasions. The figure is shown holding in his hands sculpted heads meant to represent his father and his grandfather. This pose indicates the continuation of his family's high social status. The head of the statue is not original; it was added during a restoration sponsored by the Barberini family in the seventeenth century. The toga and the Barberini connection account for the name of the piece: Barberini togato (in Italian).


Photo 3: Colossal statue


These fragments of a colossal statue were discovered in 1925 in Largo Argentina, the area in the center of Rome where four Roman temples were unearthed, and which today is home to dozens of stray cats. It is estimated that, judging from the dimensions of the head and arm, the statue must have been about eight meters high. These colossal fragments, along with other pieces, were removed from the excavation site and placed in museums for safekeeping. (For more about this interesting archaeologidcal site, see my book: The Sights of Rome, Chapter 13, Largo Argentina).


Photo 4: Bearded Dionysus


Once again, we have a Roman copy of a Greek original of the fourth century B.C. The Romans associated Dionysus with their wine-god, Bacchus. Dionysus is often represented as a somewhat effeminate-looking youth with luxuriant hair, so it is a bit unusual to see him here as bearded. Notice in the background of the photo some of the machinery from the old electric plant.


Photo 5: Apollo and Marsyas


In Greek mythology Marsyas was a satyr (spirit of the woods and hills) who became a proficient flute player. He was so proud of his musical skill that he dared to challenge Apollo, god of music, to a contest. The two agreed that the winner could treat the loser in any way he wished. Marsyas, of course, lost his challenge and Apollo, to discourage other possible challengers, tied him to a tree and flayed him alive. In this carving, Apollo is on the left with his lyre and Marsyas next to him with his flute.


Photo 6: View from the third level


In the museum you have the opportunity to climb to the third level from where you have this interesting view of a part of the electric plant machinery with various ancient statues placed in an around it. It is truly a feature unique to this museum.


Photo 7: The train of Pius IX


Pius IX (1846-1878) fully realized the great potential of the railway system. He had rail lines built connecting Rome with other areas of the Papal State. A train was constructed specifically for him, consisting of three cars, including one with a private chapel, and one with a small apartment and private bath for the pontiff. As this photo shows, another of the three cars was open on both sides so that the Pope could impart his blessing to the crowds. The papal train was used for the first time by Pius in 1859 when he traveled from Rome's Porta Maggiore train station to Albano, a small town near the papal summer residence of Castel Gandolfo.


Photo 8: Coat of Arms of Pius IX


This colorful representation of Pius IX's coat of arms stands out prominently on one of the coaches of the train.


Photo 9: Funeral relief of three brothers


This funeral relief which shows portraits of three brothers indicates the importance of family to the Romans. It is possible to make out the names of the brothers, along with the Latin word fratrib(us) (to the brothers). It has been dated to the early first century A.D.


Photo 10: Hygeia


The statue of Hygiea stands in front of the control panel of the diesel engine. Hygiea, from whose name we get the English word "hygiene", was the daughter of Aesculapius, the Greek god of medicine and healing whose temple in Rome was built on the Tiber Island. (For the fascinating story of Aesculapius and his association with the island, see my book: Tiber Island and the Basilica of St. Bartholomew, pp. 19-20). 


Thursday, June 1, 2017

Santa Pudenziana

Today's photos:


1. The façade of the basilica of Santa Pudenziana.

2. The apse and main altar of the basilica.

3. The fourth century apse mosaic.

4. The bell tower.

5. A double staircase leads down to the level of the church.

6. From street level the upper part of the façade and part of the bell tower are visible.


There are several churches in the Eternal City which can claim to be "one of the oldest churches in Rome". One of these is certainly The basilica of Santa Pudenziana on Via Urbana in the Monti neighborhood.


A curiosity


Via Urbana is a street which follows the path of the ancient road, Vicus Patricius. Its name was changed to Via Urbana in honor of the Pope who widened it in the seventeenth century, Urban VIII Barberini (1623-1644).


The church is thought to have been built in 390 during the pontificate of Siricius (384-399). It underwent several restorations in its long history, the most extensive one carried out for Pope Sixtus V Peretti (1585-1590).


St. Peter


A tradition takes this church back even farther, to the year 145 when Pius I (140-155) had it built where a Roman senator, Pudens, had a house. It was the senator's daughter, Pudenziana, who requested that a church be built on the site of the house because of the tradition that St. Peter himself had been hosted here when he first came to Rome in the first century.


A curiosity


This is not the only connection to St. Peter which this church boasts. The main altar rests on an ancient Roman sarcophagus that is said to contain part of a wooden table on which the Apostle is believed to have celebrated the Eucharist.


The Apse mosaic


In the apse is a magnificent mosaic which has been dated to the year 390. In the center of the scene is depicted Christ enthroned, flanked by St. Peter at his left side and St. Paul at his right. Next to them we see figures which represent the apostles. Above the head of Christ rises a hill at the top of which is a jeweled cross flanked by the winged symbols of the evangelists: Matthew (an angel), Mark (a lion), Luke (a bull) and John (an eagle).


A curiosity


In this scene are two female figures which possibly represent Pudenziana and her sister Praxides. Both of these figures are holding a wreath, one over the head of St. Peter and the other over the head of St. Paul. They are believed to represent the converted Jews and the converted pagans. It was Peter who preached to the Jews and Paul to the pagans.


The buildings depicted in the background of the mosaic are believed to represent the city of Jerusalem.


The Caetani chapel


This chapel was begun by Volterra and finished in 1601 by Carlo Maderno, the architect who designed the façade of St. Peter's Basilica. The chapel is of special interest because it is said to have been built over the exact spot where the liturgy was conducted in the home of Pudens. The statues of the Virtues are by Gian Lorenzo Bernini.


A curiosity


On one of the altar steps of the chapel, to the left, is the imprint of a host. Tradition says that it remained impressed on the step when it fell from the hand of a priest who, as he was celebrating mass, was having doubts about the true presence of Christ in the consecrated host.


(Unfortunately, during all three of my recent visits to the basilica, it was impossible to enter the Caetani chapel because the gate in front of it was securely closed with a chain and padlock and too dark to get a decent photo).


Today the church lies well below the level of the modern street. A beautiful double stairway behind an iron fence (locked when the church is closed) leads to the level of the basilica. A magnificent twelfth century bell tower rises above the rear of the church. It consists of five stories, each with open arches.


Despite its location in the center of Rome very near Santa Maria Maggiore, it is rarely crowded with visitors, a fact which makes it a delight for those few who do take the time and effort to find and visit it.





Monday, May 1, 2017

Francesco on the island

Today's photos:


1. This photo of the Tiber Island shows all the places mentioned in this post: the large Fatebenefratelli hospital (behind the pine trees), part of the bell tower and façade of the Basilica of St. Bartholomew (in the right background) and the Jewish Synagogue (rising above the trees to the left).

2. The façade and bell tower of the basilica.

3. A view of the interior of the basilica.

4. A close-up of the main altar which consists of an ancient Roman sarcophagus covered by a marble slab. The remains of St. Bartholomew are contained inside the sarcophagus.

5. Pope Francis delivers the homily during the ceremony.

6. The Pope prays in front of one of the side altars dedicated to the martyrs.


Following in the footsteps of three of his recent predecessors, Pope Francis, on Saturday, April 22, set foot on the Tiber Island. His primary purpose was to visit the Basilica of St. Bartholomew for a ceremony recalling the modern Christian martyrs. Usually, these papal visits are made to parish churches and involve the pastor and parishioners directly. This Pope, as everybody knows, likes the personal contact with the people.


A curiosity


The first Pope to visit this island-church in modern times was John XXIII who "stopped by" unexpectedly and unofficially on August 24, 1960, the feast day of St. Bartholomew. In 1981, John Paul II came to the island to visit the Fatebenefratelli hospital just across the street from the basilica. The most recent papal visit to the basilica was by Benedict XVI who came calling on April 7, 2008.


Although the Basilica of St. Bartholomew is not a parish church, it holds a special place in the heart of Pope Francis for several reasons. The first is because this basilica was designated by John Paul II in 2000 as a permanent memorial of the modern Christian martyrs. Pope Francis has often called our attention to the fact that there are more martyrs for Christ today than during the persecutions in the early years of the Church.


A second reason for this visit is that in 1994, John Paul II gave the administration of this church to the Community of St. Egidio, a Catholic lay organization which, among other ministries, works to aid the poor, the homeless and, most recently, the immigrants who are fleeing the poverty and wars in their countries. This, too, is a favorite topic of Pope Francis.


Yet another reason for this papal visit is to reinforce the close relationship of this basilica, and the Tiber Island in general, to the Jewish community of Rome. The Jewish Ghetto (neighborhood), with its historic synagogue, is just across the river from the island. Hundreds of Jews were saved from deportation during WWII by being hidden in the crypt of the Basilica of St. Bartholomew and in the Catholic Fatebenefratelli hospital.


The ceremony inside the basilica, carried live on television, was both impressive and sober. There were scripture readings followed by the homily of the Pope. Names of dozens of the martyrs were read aloud and as each name was called out, a representative of that martyr walked into the sanctuary and placed a lighted candle into a candelabrum. Pope Francis then walked to each of the six side chapels which are dedicated to specific martyrs. At each one he lit a candle which was then placed on the altar of the chapel.


The island and its basilica are very special to me because of the research I did while writing my guidebook: Tiber Island and the Basilica of Saint Bartholomew. If you have read the book, I encourage you to re-read at least the parts which deal with the subject matter of this post and which go into much more detail and have many more photos. If you don't have the book, I recommend that you get it. You will not be disappointed! For information on how to obtain it, you can contact me at vincentdrago@hotmail.com, or see the post on this blog dated December 1, 2016.


Saturday, April 1, 2017

Le Fosse Ardeatine

Today's photos:


1. The monument at the entrance to the Fosse Ardeatine.

2. Via Rasella where the partisan attack took place.

3. Regina Coeli prison seen from the Janiculum hill.

4. The entrance to the caves..

5. The mausoleum where the bodies are buried.

6. The grave of the Catholic priest, don Pappagallo.

7. This marker recalls one of the martyrs from Trastevere.

8. President Sergio Mattarella at the site on March 24, 2017.


In the early afternoon hours of March 23, 1944, in a Rome brutally occupied by German military forces, a column of 160 German soldiers, while marching on Via Rasella (photo 2) in the center of Rome, was attacked by sixteen Italian resistance fighters. The attack, in the form of a bomb planted in a cart along the side of the street, resulted in thirty-two dead and thirty-eight wounded among the Germans.


All sixteen of the Italian partisans who had carried out the assault escaped unharmed. The attack was reported to Hitler who immediately ordered a terrifying reprisal: ten Italians were to be executed for every German killed, and the executions (320 total) were to be carried out within twenty-four hours.


The occupying German troops, under the command of SS Colonel Herbert Kappler, immediately began to round up Italians in order to carry out Hitler's orders within the twenty-four hour deadline. They first chose 270 prisoners from the infamous SS jail on Via Tasso near the Basilica of San Giovanni in Laterano, and from the Regina Coeli prison in the Trastevere neighborhood (photo 3). Yet another fifty were taken from the Trastevere prison by the Roman police who were collaborating with the Germans. This brought the number to the "required" 320: ten Italians for each of the thirty-two Germans killed.


A curiosity


When it was learned that one of the wounded German soldiers had died, Kappler updated his list with another ten hostages, and for some unexplained reason added five more. This brought to 335 the total number of Italians to be executed. It is important to note that none of these 335 people had in any way been involved in the partisan attack the previous day. They didn't even know that the attack had taken place.


The 335 prisoners were secretly taken to the Fosse Ardeatine (photo 4) a series of caves on the southern outskirts of Rome near the Via Appia Antica, almost directly across the street from the Catacombs of San Callisto. Here they were systematically shot one at a time in the back of the neck; the bodies were piled up in the caves where they had been shot. Then the caves were dynamited in an attempt to conceal the bodies.


The following day the German command made public the news of the partisan attack and the executions, but they did not make available a list of the executed, or reveal where the killings had taken place or what had become of the bodies.


The horrifying nature of this reprisal came to light within three months after it happened. Several children, while playing in the caves, discovered one of the bodies and immediately informed the priests at the nearby Catacombs of San Callisto. The bodies were recovered and a memorial was built on the spot of the executions, including a vast burial vault containing the remains of all the dead (photo 5).


The victims were all male ranging in age from fourteen to seventy-five, representing many walks of life, including military, farmers, artists, office workers, teachers, students, laborers, professionals, a diplomat and a Catholic priest (photo 6). Seventy-three of the victims were Jews. In many of the neighborhoods in Rome today you can see plaques on the walls of buildings with the name or names of people from those neighborhoods who were among the martyrs. One such marker in the Trastevere neighborhood (photo 7) translates as follows:


On the 24th of March, 1944, Enrico Ferola died at the Fosse Ardeatine for an ideal of justice and freedom. The Action party, mindful, set up this memorial.


A curiosity


A cruel irony of this horrifying carnage which makes the episode even sadder and more tragic, is the fact that the city of Rome was liberated by the allies on June 4, 1944, just over two months after the slaughter. Had the liberation occurred two months earlier, neither the partisan attack nor the brutal reprisal would have ever taken place. Incidents like this are part of the bitter irony of history, the poignant "what ifs" of history.


On the site today you will find the mausoleum which contains the tombs of all the victims. Each of the graves of an identified victim is marked with the person's name, age and profession; some include a photograph of the victim. The tomb of the few who have not been identified are marked simply Ignoto (unknown).


Every year on March 14 there is a memorial ceremony at the site, attended by religious and government authorities. At the exact spot where the executions took place inside the caves is a poignant inscription, the translation of which is:


Here we were slaughtered as victims of a horrible sacrifice. From our sacrifice may a better fatherland arise, and a lasting peace among nations.


Photo 9 shows the President of Italy, Sergio Mattarella, standing next to the inscription.


In Chapter 10 of my book Rome: Sights and Insights, you can read related stories about this tragic episode, including the SS prison on Via Tasso, and two famous Italian movies, one of which tells the story of the Fosse Ardeatine; the other one tells the dramatic story of another heart-breaking incident which occurred in Rome at about the same time.


Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Santo Stefano Rotondo

Today's photos:


1. Through the gate you see the façade of the church of Santo Stefano.

2. The main altar, surrounded by a balustrade, is in the center of the inner circle.

3. One of the paintings on the balustrade surrounding the altar.

4. Looking at the main altar from inside the chapel of Saints Primus and Felicianus

5. The chapel is preceded by 4 Corinthian columns supporting 3 arches.

6. Our Lady of the Seven Sorrows.

7. The crucifixion begins the cycle of the martyrs.

8. A Christian is thrown to the lions.

9. These lions don't seem too interested!

10. Callixtus is thrown from the window into a well. (photo from the guidebook)


The church of Santo Stefano Rotondo (photo 1) is on the Caelian hill, a short walk from the Colosseum. It is one of the oldest churches in Rome, dating back to the pontificate of Pope Simplicius (468-483). Between the years 523 and 529 John I and Felix IV enhanced it with the donation of precious mosaics and marbles. Important restorations were carried out in the twelfth, fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.


There are several features which make this church almost unique in Rome. One is its shape – perfectly round. Because of the presence of other buildings and a surrounding wall you cannot see its round shape from the outside, but once you enter you will see immediately why it is called Stefano "Rotondo".


A curiosity


You will recall that the Pantheon (Santa Maria ad Martyres) is also a round church, much older than Santo Stefano Rotondo. The difference is that the Pantheon was not built as a Christian church, but as a pagan temple, transformed into a church in the seventh century. Santo Stefano Rotondo, on the other hand, was built originally as a church.



THE INTERIOR


The interior consists of two circular walkways separated by magnificent granite columns with Ionic capitals. Twenty-two of these columns surround the main altar, creating a circular walkway around it in the very center of the church. An additional thirty-four columns are inserted into the inner wall of the building. This creates the second circular walkway between the two rows of columns. There was originally a third, circular walkway which was, unfortunately, dismantled during the twelfth century restoration.


A curiosity


Before that twelfth century restoration, carried out by Innocent II (1130-1143), Santo Stefano Rotondo was the third largest church in Rome, after St. Peter's and St. Paul Outside the Walls. Some of you will recognize the name Innocent II as the Pope who re-built the Basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere. (See my guidebook of that basilica).



THE ALTAR AND ITS BALUSTRADE


Adding to the already pronounced sense of roundness in the church is the eight-sided balustrade surrounding the altar itself. This was provided by Gregory XIII Boncompagni (1572-1585). The outer face of the balustrade is decorated with twelve paintings depicting episodes from the life of St. Stephen. Another twelve paintings on the inner face of the wall recall stories of the miracles of the saint. Embedded into the center of two sides of the balustrade are enormous ancient granite columns with magnificent Corinthian columns which support an arch high above the altar (photos 2 & 4).


Each painting on the balustrade displays a short Latin inscription at the top which acts as a title explaining the scene. As an example, in photo 3 the inscription reads as follows:


STEPHANUS PLENUS GRATIA ET

FORTITUDINE FACIEBAT PRODIGIA

ET SIGNA MAGNA IN POPOLO


Stephen, full of grace and fortitude,

was performing miracles

and great signs among the people.



THE CHAPEL OF SAINTS PRIMUS AND FELICIANUS


Immediately to your left as you enter the church is the chapel of Saints Primus and Felicianus (photo 5) who were martyred during the persecutions of the emperor Diocletian (283-305). The walls of the chapel are completely covered with frescoes by Antonio Tempesta (1555-1630), many of which depict graphic scenes of torture and martyrdom.


A curiosity


There are several cruel scenes here of Christians being attacked by lions (photo 8), but the "lion scene" I like best is the one in this chapel which seems out of character compared to the others. It shows two lions sitting calmly and showing no interest at all in the two Christians kneeling and praying next to them (photo 9).



OUR LADY OF THE SEVEN SORROWS


As you stand facing the chapel, on your right you will see an interesting and unusual representation of Our Lady of the Seven Sorrows by Antonio Tempesta (photo 6). Seven swords are shown piercing the heart of Mary. Above the handle of each of the seven swords is a medallion, in the center of which is painted a scene from the life of Jesus which caused his mother great pain and sorrow, including several scenes having to do with his passion and death.



THE CRUCIFIXION OF CHRIST


Another unusual painting, which begins the cycle of the martyrs, is the scene of the crucifixion of Christ (photo 7). Several saints are shown standing next to the cross, including St. Peter on Christ's right and St. Paul on his left. At the foot of the cross are two babies who represent the babies killed in the infamous slaughter of the innocents ordered by Herod. These innocent babies can be considered the first real martyrs. The cycle of the martyrs continues from this point clockwise around the perimeter of the church.



THE CYCLE OF THE MARTYRS


Another unique feature of this church is the cycle of martyrs, a series of thirty-four paintings along the peripheral wall of the church, executed by Pomarancio and Matteo da Siena in 1582. The paintings are separated from one another by the thirty-four columns embedded in the wall. They all depict explicit and extremely brutal scenes of torture inflicted on the martyrs in Rome in the early years of the Church.


These graphic scenes of intense cruelty were painted at the time the church was under the care of the Jesuit order which staffed the Hungarian-German College in Rome, where young men were being prepared for future missionary work in Hungary and Germany. Part of their preparation was to become aware of the dangers they could face and the real possibility of becoming martyrs for the faith.


A curiosity


Many of these frescoes are extremely realistic and include a wealth of cruel and bloody details. Charles Dickens was appalled by the brutality and violence of the scenes. And the Marquis de Sade is said to have fainted when he saw the painting which depicts an executioner as he rips off the breasts of a young virgin martyr.


Almost all of the paintings have a large central scene of martyrdom in the foreground with other smaller, but no less cruel scenes in the background. As you look at the paintings you are struck by the contrast between the violence of the act and the resigned and peaceful countenance of the martyrs.


A Latin inscription with a translation in Italian accompanies each of the 34 paintings, but many of them are not well preserved and difficult to read.


One of these paintings especially interests me because it represents the martyrdom of Pope St. Callixtus I (217-222), the founder of the Basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere. He was killed by being thrown from a window of his house into a well (photo 10). In the 1600s a small church was built in Trastevere on the site of his home. Inside the church you can see the remains of a well said to be the one into which he was thrown. This is the only place I have ever seen the martyrdom of Callixtus represented in art. The caption which accompanies the painting reads:


CALLIXTUS ROM. PONT. PRAECEPS

IN PUTHEUM DATUR


Callixtus, the Roman pontiff, is thrown headlong into a well



-----------------------------------------------


I am limited as to how many photos I can attach to the post, so I will send out a second post next time including more photos from this amazing church of Santo Stefano, especially those depicting the tortures of the martyrs.


Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Curiosities

Today's photos:


1. The normal display window of the Gammarelli Ecclesiastical Tailor Shop.

2. A historic photo from the 1939 conclave which elected Pius XII.

3. My photo from the 2005 conclave which elected Benedict XVI.

4. The pink building directly behind the McDonald's direction sign is the barracks of the Swiss Guards. Rising above it is the apostolic palace.

5. The unassuming entrance to the McDonald's of Borgo Pio.

6. Tiber Island. Does anybody actually live here?

7. The entrance to both the police station and the Israeli hospital on the Tiber Island.


A very special Roman tailor shop


Ordinarily, you would probably not consider an ecclesiastical tailor shop to be worth your attention as you tour the city of Rome. However, anytime I happen to be in the neighborhood of the Pantheon as I'm showing people around, I like to pause in front of the Gammarelli ecclesiastical tailor shop.


This is a truly historic shop founded in 1798 by Giovanni Antonio Gammarelli. Today the shop is still owned and operated by the Gammarelli family, now in its sixth generation. It is believed to be the oldest shop in Rome still managed by direct descendants of the founder.


In addition to this distinction the Gammarelli shop is unique because it is here that the Pope's vestments are made. The first Pope whom the family served was Pius IX (1846-1878) who was followed by Leo XIII, Pius X, Benedict XV, Pius XI, Pius XII, John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul I, John Paul II, Benedict XVI and the current Papa Francesco – 12 popes!


If you are ever fortunate enough to find yourself in Rome as a papal conclave is being prepared, stop by the Gammarelli shop and you will see displayed in its window three white papal cassocks: sizes small, medium and large because the new Pope will have to put the cassock on immediately after his election and of course nobody knows what size he will need. Truly one of the many interesting curiosities of the Eternal City.


The McDonald's controversy


Like most other large European cities, Rome also has its share of the famous American fast food chain. Maybe I should say it has MORE than its share, since there are 22 of them here! However, the latest edition which just opened last month has been assailed by protests and petitions. The reason is because of its location in Borgo Pio, the Roman neighborhood which borders on Vatican City.


In fact, the restaurant is in a Vatican-owned building directly across the street from the barracks of the Swiss Guards. It was home to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger before he became Pope Benedict XVI and moved into the Vatican. The protest against the restaurant was not from Vatican officials, at least not openly, but from the neighbors who claim the restaurant is incompatible with their historic neighborhood. They even wrote a letter to the Pope asking him to intercede on their behalf!


The restaurant authorities, however, had an ace up their sleeve. Knowing the dedication of Papa Francesco to the poor and homeless, they loudly announced that every Monday at noon they would provide a lunch to be distributed free of charge to the homeless. So on the first Monday of their opening 50 lunches were prepared and distributed by volunteers to the homeless in the Borgo Pio neighborhood. The menu consists of a hefty double cheeseburger, an apple and a bottle of water. This has apparently put an end to the protests. I wouldn't be surprised now if I heard that Papa Francesco in person walked across the street to thank them and have one of those double cheeseburgers himself! Or maybe, at age 80, he would just eat the apple!


Does anyone live on the Tiber Island?


Everything you ever wanted to know about the Tiber Island can be found in my book: Tiber Island and the Basilica of St. Bartholomew . . . EXCEPT the following piece of information which only recently came to my attention.


Since I often show visitors around on the island, I am sometimes asked if anybody really resides there. My answer is usually a cautious "I don't think so". Of course the island is almost always teeming with people since it is home to two hospitals (one Catholic and one Israeli), two churches, a police station, a synagogue, a restaurant and two bars. Several years ago, there were a few people who actually lived on the island, but I thought that was past history by now.


Then recently there was a piece in the Rome newspaper, Il Messaggero, the large headline of which read: Paolo, il re dell'isola Tiberina: "Sono rimasto l'unico abitante" (Paolo, king of the Tiber Island: "I am the only inhabitant left.").


In fact, Paolo, an 80 year-old retiree, is the only human being who actually resides on the island. For the past 15 years he has been sharing with his faithful dog, Tiberino, an apartment of 100 square meters overlooking Piazza di San Bartolomeo, for which he pays a hefty rent of 3,000 euros (about 3,200 dollars!) per month.


Paolo loves living in such a unique place with a history of over two thousand years, but it has one big disadvantage. Over the past few years the island has become one of several locations for the movida notturna, the lively nighttime gathering place for hundreds of carousing and noisy young people, as well as an outdoor movie theater and a stage for live music concerts. Since the movida is at its loudest during the summer months, every year Paolo and Tiberino pack their bags and move up to Tuscany where he still owns a small home. They return to the island in the fall when the movida is somewhat less rambunctious.


The man who served four Popes


This past month saw the death at age 92 of Dr. Renato Buzzonetti, for 30 years archiatra pontificio (chief papal physician). He served four popes in his career, beginning with Paul VI (1963-1978) who, impressed by the man's humanity but also by his sense of humor, called him into papal service. He would also serve John Paul I, John Paul II and Benedict XVI. He knew Benedict well because he had been his personal physician even before he became Pope.


The papal physician is not limited to treating the Pope. Dr. Buzzonetti had an office in the Palazzo del Governatorato (governor's palace) in Vatican City. He became known as the Vatican "family doctor" because his office was always open to anyone and everyone who knocked on his door seeking medical treatment, advice or just wanting an opinion. He traveled with the Pope on all his trips but more often than not he ended up treating the accompanying journalists and reporters for their minor ailments and accidents during the trip.


The doors of the papal apartment were always open to Dr. Buzzonetti. And it was he who would certify the deaths of "his" four popes, signing the official death certificates. Paul VI, who originally hired the doctor, remembered him in his will, leaving him a golden rose and a heartrending personal letter in which he thanked him for his faithful service.


Of the four popes he served, Buzzonetti had the most memories of John Paul II because of his long pontificate (1978-2005). He was the first physician to treat Wojtyla immediately after the assassination attempt in 1981 ordering that the pontiff be taken to the Gemelli hospital in Rome. And of course he worked closely with the physicians who operated on the Pope and treated him while he was hospitalized. On one of the rare occasions when John Paul spoke of the assassination attempt he told Doctor Buzzonetti that he believed his would-be assassin, Alì Agca, wanted to know the contents of the famous third secret of Fatima.


By his own choice, Buzzonetti's funeral was celebrated not in Vatican City, but in his parish church in the Prati neighborhood where he lived in retirement with his wife.


Sunday, January 1, 2017

Michelangelo, Moses, Julius II

Today's photos:


1. An overall view of the tomb of Julius II


2-5. Various views of the statue of Moses


6. The reclining statue of Julius II


In Chapter 29 of my book, The Sights of Rome, I wrote about one of Michelangelo's

greatest masterpieces: the statue of Moses in the Basilica of St. Peter in Chains. This is a follow-up to that chapter, providing further information about this great work of art. But as the title of this post indicates, we will also present some interesting details about the Pope who commissioned the tomb from Michelangelo, especially as regards his death and burial.


The sculpture of Moses is the centerpiece of what was intended to be the tomb of Pope Julius II Della Rovere (1503-1513). Michelangelo's first sketches for the tomb included, somewhat unrealistically, forty statues, most of them life-size or larger. It was intended to be free standing, so that it could be admired from all four sides, in the center of the new St. Peter's Basilica. However, not only was the tomb never finished as Michelangelo had designed it, but the body of Julius was never laid to rest in it.


A curiosity


If his body is not in the tomb in St. Peter in Chains, then where is it? Incredibly, according to R.A. Scotti in his book, Basilica, the body of the great warrior Pope was unceremoniously ". . . stuffed into the same space with his uncle, Sixtus IV." A different source, Ross King's Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling, states that Julius was buried ". . . beside the grave of Sixtus IV in a temporary tomb."


The monument/tomb of Sixtus IV can be seen in St. Peter's Basilica in a space called the Treasury, a museum which contains many items remaining from the fourth century basilica built by Constantine. There is, however, no marker indicating that Julius II is buried here.


The statue of Moses is one of the top three masterpieces of Michelangelo. The other two are the Pietà in St. Peter's Basilica and the David in Florence, both of which were sculpted while Michelangelo was still in his 20's. It is difficult to determine the exact date when the Moses was finished, but because the artist worked on the tomb for 40 years beginning in 1505, most sources list the completion date as 1545.


A curiosity


Almost all paintings and statues of Moses show what appear to be two horns jutting out from his head. This strange sight is due to a mistaken translation of a Hebrew word in Exodus: 34.29-35. The Hebrew text uses the verb qaràn (emanates rays of light), which is very similar to another Hebrew word, qeren (horn). The error seems to have been made first in the second century B.C. when the bible was translated into Greek. Centuries later St. Jerome continued the error, using in his Latin translation the word cornuta (horned) and rendering the passage into Latin as: Ignorabat quod cornuta esset facies sua (he did not know that his face was horned). Most modern English versions render this passage as: He did not know that his face was radiant with light.


In the years 2001-2003, the tomb of Julius II underwent an extensive cleaning and restoration carried out by the renowned archaeologist Antonio Forcellino. Some 15 years later Forcellino returned to the tomb which by then had acquired a thin layer of dust and grime, hiding in part the natural white brightness of the marble. This second cleaning lasted four months and the sculpture was just unveiled in early December of 2016, revealing the original marble in all its brilliance.


A curiosity


We can be sure that only the finest marble available was used to create the tomb because Michelangelo himself traveled to Carrara where he remained for eight months, choosing personally the marble he wanted. He even worked with the stone cutters to cut the marble out of the mountain and he supervised its packing and transfer to Rome.


According to Forcellino, the layer of dust and grime which made this second cleaning of the monument necessary was caused by the presence of the many visitors who come to this church to admire the mighty statue of Moses. In fact, an estimated 3,000 people every day crowd in front of the monument, almost all of them snapping photos of it. (You can avoid the big crowds by going to the church at 8:30 a.m. on a cold winter morning as I did recently. You will have Moses all to yourself!).


During the cleaning Forcellino discovered a detail which had not been noticed during the previous restoration. He found that the surface of the marble had been worked by Michelangelo in different ways, making some parts of the sculpture more glossy than others in order to re-create the natural effect of the light hitting the marble from different angles. After 500 years the genius of Michelangelo in his attention to details continues to amaze us!


A curiosity


Everyone who has seen the statue of Moses has been awestruck by its strength and beauty. But it seems that even Michelangelo himself was spellbound by his creation. The story is told that when he finally finished the sculpture he struck the knee of Moses with his mallet and exclaimed: "Ma perché non parli?" (But why don't you speak?).


One final note about the death and mysterious burial of Julius II. The pontiff expressed a last wish, on his deathbed, that he be buried in the Sistine Chapel in the tomb sculpted by Michelangelo and beneath the artist's ceiling fresco commissioned by him. This wish was never honored, and the empty tomb was moved to St. Peter in Chains where it remains to this day.