In one of the countless churches that one encounters in the center of Rome lies one of the greatest women of all time. The uneducated daughter of a businessman, St. Catherine of Siena (1347-1380) singlehandedly convinced the Pope to return to Rome from Avignon, France, where Popes had been living for decades. An intense mystic, Catherine didn’t eat a thing or sleep a wink for years, received direct communications from both Christ and God the Father, and miraculously learned to read and write overnight–because Our Lord declared that He would teach her how. Catherine was named Patroness of Italy in 1939, Doctor of the Church in 1970, and Patroness of all Europe in 1999. Not too shabby, for a girl who never went to school! Continue reading
Yesterday was the feast of the Roman deacon St. Lawrence, who was martyred in the mid-200’s A.D. There’s no question that Lawrence really existed–his death is chronicled in the earliest extant Christian documents, and his burial place is still known. But in the Middle Ages, hagiographers began romantically embellishing his life story, and so it can sometimes be unclear which elements are fantasy and which are historical fact.
This 17th-century painting by Bernardo Strozzi, “The Charity of St. Lawrence,” hangs in one of Rome’s most important art galleries. Its coloring and brilliant light effects make it an artistic treasure; but how many visitors actually understand what it depicts? Continue reading
“We’re planning to spend the afternoon walking along the Appian Way.”
Italians are always bewildered by tourists’ fascination with Via Appia. After all, it’s just another ancient Roman military road, much like Via Salaria and Via Nomentana, and you don’t hear of any tourists who are anxious to walk along those streets, do you? Further compounding the mystery, those same fascinated foreigners can never really explain why it is that they think the Appian Way is worth a visit. Continue reading
Happy feast of Saint Ignatius! (Okay, it was yesterday.) This tremendously holy soldier-turned-saint (1491-1556) founded the Society of Jesus, which proved to be the Pope’s secret weapon during the Counter-reformation. The Jesuits were not only staunch Catholics, but they were also brilliant intellectuals–and they managed to regain many, although not all, of the Catholic Church’s losses to Luther, Calvin and other protestants.
Right in the center of Rome stands a Jesuit church containing the tomb of Saint Ignatius. It too screams “Counter-reformation!” as it was deliberately designed to be the absolute antithesis of the dour, austere, always-wear-black mentality of Jean Calvin and many of the other protestant leaders. The chapel containing Ignatius’ tomb is simply dripping with precious marbles, lapis lazuli, silver and gold–including the jaw-dropping, larger-than-life silver statue of Ignatius which you can see here, as well as on the main page of our website. Continue reading
Happy feast of St. Pantaleon! This early martyr died for the faith during the last and fiercest Christian persecution under Emperor Diocletian, around the year 305 A.D.
Tucked in a corner in the center of Rome is a church that is partially dedicated to the memory of St. Pantaleon–but he shares that honor with a very different saint, who lived many centuries later. Continue reading
Rome is so chock-full of ancient statuary that visitors quickly start tuning it all out. It’s understandable, of course; but it’s a shame, because they tune out the ancient statuary in Catholic churches as well… but if they thought about it, that is always unusual enough to merit one’s full attention! Continue reading
One of our guides was walking down the street one day, and realized that a young, British tourist-couple was a few yards ahead, arguing about something. He was insisting that he was right, while she rolled her eyes and shook her head.
“Babe, listen to me. I’m telling you it’s a COUNTRY, an independent country!”
The topic of their disagreement immediately became obvious: they were talking about Vatican City. Continue reading
Yesterday was the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, which was cause for a procession through the hot and humid streets near St. Peter’s Square. Most on-lookers were probably familiar with this Marian title… but how many people know where and how it originated? Continue reading
Other tour guides continue to say the most amazing things…
One of our guides was in church one day, when a group of tourists arrived and gathered around this painting nearby. It was impossible not to overhear every word that this guide told the people in the group. Continue reading
Millions of tourists visit the Pantheon every year. And the total sum collected in entrance fees? Zero. Visiting the Pantheon is always free. Did you ever wonder why? Continue reading
If you visit a museum dedicated to a subject that you know little about, one thing quickly becomes evident: the biggest frustration is not knowing what to look at!
The fact is, even if you have all the time and patience in the world, you’re simply not going to spend time looking at every single item in the entire museum. You naturally want to concentrate on the most important pieces–but if you’re not an expert in the field, how do you even know which ones those are?
This statue is a case in point. Located in one of Rome’s many museums of antiquities, it generally is ignored by tourists. After all, the museum is chock-full of full-length, life-sized statues of pagan gods like this Athena–so why stop to pay particular attention to this one? But if you fall prey to that mentality, you’re going to miss something of tremendous historical interest! Continue reading
Not all famous painters are Italian, of course; but for many generations it was important for every upcoming artist to come to Italy, either to study or at least to take a long, hard look at Italian art. That’s why it’s so ironic that Rome is happily playing host this summer to an exhibition of fabulous works by a British artist who not only never came to Italy… he probably couldn’t have cared less. Continue reading
We don’t normally recommend that visitors take the “long” route through the Vatican Museums, since even the so-called “short” route is grueling enough! But if you’ve got the stamina and the time, and you love crowds… you get to see the Raphael Rooms as a reward. Continue reading
An awful lot of the ancient statues one encounters in Rome are missing their heads. This often leads confused visitors to wonder whether they were beheaded deliberately. Nope! In quite a few cases, the statue simply toppled over at some point, and the thinnest parts of it broke–like the neck.
But in many other cases, there’s a different reason why the head is missing. Continue reading
Every so often, we get an email like this one: “Hi! We’re looking for a kid-friendly tour of the Vatican Museums!”
Let us translate this email for you: “Hi! We’re coming to Rome with kids and we haven’t thought for a nano-second about what they’re actually going to do and see there!” Continue reading
When visitors enter the Sistine Chapel, they naturally focus on Michelangelo’s ceiling, and with good reason. But that means the fabulous frescos on the side walls tend to get ignored. Continue reading
In the 1800’s, an Italian scholar amassed quite an impressive collection of antiquities, not only from Rome but from other ancient civilizations farther east. He probably never imagined in a million years that in a century to come, extremists would destroy many of the artifacts he didn’t manage to bring to Rome–and brutally murder at least one eminent archaeologist who vainly tried to protect and preserve them. Continue reading
When Christians hear the term “Prince of Peace,” we naturally think of Christ. That’s because Christianity interprets Isaiah 9:6 as applying to Jesus directly:
His name will be called wonderful, counsellor, mighty God, everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Interestingly, however, the man who was Emperor of Rome at the time of Jesus’ birth was also styled the “Prince of Peace” by his pagan subjects. Continue reading
June is the month that is traditionally dedicated to devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, so maybe it’s a good time for us all to pause and be collectively appalled at the theft of a painting of the Sacred Heart from a famous church in the center of Rome. Continue reading
Classical-music lovers are all familiar with the oratorio, a musical presentation that is partly a concert, and partly an operatic performance. Few people realize, however, that this genre had its origins here in Rome, among the Priests of the Oratory (a.k.a. Oratorians). Their founder, St. Philip Neri, popularized the practice of combining the reading of spiritual texts with musical performances, as a means of evangelizing the people of Rome in the 1500’s. Continue reading
Saint Augustine (354-430) was once walking down the beach in his native northern Africa, contemplating the difficulties inherent in understanding the mystery of the Trinity. How could three Persons be one God? Continue reading
It’s hard to find a saint who’s “bigger” than Saint Jerome (347-420). Jerome isn’t merely a Doctor of the Church; he’s considered one of the Four Latin Fathers of the Church as well. (By the way, who are the other three? We can tell you…) Not only was Jerome a fantastic scriptural scholar who wrote prolifically, but he was also a monk who took very seriously the concepts of poverty, chastity, and obedience–and didn’t hesitate to call out those lukewarm monks who didn’t.
Jerome is best known for his Latin translation of the entire Bible from the original Hebrew and Greek manuscripts. Known as the Vulgate, it is still the “official” text of the Bible that the Church uses today. Jerome spent long years working on this project in a cave in Bethlehem, living the ascetic life of a monk. He did his translating on his knees, convinced that any task that involved the Word of God was holy.
In the center of the shopping-district of Rome stands a church that most tourists ignore. After all, they’re wandering that part of the city because they’re looking for bargains, not because they’re looking for a miracle. But back in the year 1256, that’s exactly what the locals got. Continue reading
As everybody knows, there’s some first-rate art here in Rome. Some is located in the churches for which it was originally created, and the rest is found in the many museums located all over the city. As scholars, we tend to know where the art that’s worth seeing can be found.
That’s why this sign gave us pause. It hangs in a parish church which in centuries past was established for the people of Florence, which was a different nation at the time. What “works of Michelangelo and Bernini” have they got in there, and why don’t we know about them? Continue reading
Visitors to Rome know very well that the city streets are filled with images of the Blessed Virgin Mary. They can be found on the walls of private homes, apartment houses, embassies, restaurants, you name it! Continue reading
Once upon a time, hundreds of years ago, some little Roman boys were playing ball in the street, like boys all over the world in every era. Over their heads was this nondescript fresco of the Madonna and Child, plastered onto the side of an apartment house. Continue reading
When you think about the Elizabethan persecution of Catholics, you don’t tend to think of Rome. But in fact many of the Catholic priests who were martyred during the reigns of Elizabeth and her successor James were educated right here in the Eternal City–and these days a special exhibition includes rarely seen documents and other artifacts from the period. Continue reading
In the very center of Rome, there’s a surprisingly ugly church at the top of an endless flight of stairs. (Btw there’s actually a back entrance, which doesn’t requiring much of a climb–and we know exactly where it is.) Few tourists have any indication that the history of this church goes all the way back to the very beginnings of ancient Rome. Continue reading
Happy feast-day of Saint Pius V! If you’re not familiar with this great man’s many achievements, you’re in for a surprise. Pius V reigned in the late 1500’s, when the Reformation had already ripped the Church into shreds–and on top of that, he single-handedly saved the Western World from muslim domination. Pretty good for a simple Dominican, wouldn’t you say?
It’s easy to imagine the proud parents of this adorable little boy–particularly his doting mother, who was convinced for much of her son’s life that he was the gods’ gift to Rome. As can be seen from the child’s portrait-bust, the wealthy Gnaeus Domitius Ahenobarbus and his wife Agrippina had produced a real cherub! But no parents really know how their children are going to turn out, do they? Continue reading
In one of Rome’s major basilicas is a side chapel containing this tomb. Most tourists walk right past it without a glance; a few look inside inquiringly, but can’t figure out what it’s all about, so they move on. Continue reading
The Impressionists were French painters, not Italians. That’s why very few of their paintings are here in Rome. Most of their work is found today in France (surprise!).
In one particularly confusing museum here in Rome, tourists can always be seen wandering around aimlessly, unsure of which displays to really focus on… and they invariably miss THIS extraordinary treasure. Continue reading
Most visitors to Rome are surprised to find that authentic ancient Egyptian artifacts are scattered all over the city, and have been here for centuries! What are they doing here? Continue reading
In Rome, it happens often that you walk down a seemingly uninteresting street, and don’t pay attention to the details. But this random residential area in the center of the city contains a couple of surprises!
Happy Easter! Today we celebrate the fact that God can always, always do the impossible, and turn what appears to be a total disaster into a fabulous success! Never doubt that God is in full control, and knows exactly what He is doing… even when we don’t.
St. John the Evangelist, who was present at Christ’s Crucifixion between the two thieves, described what happened to Our Lord’s body after His death:
“Since it was the day of Preparation, in order to prevent the bodies from remaining on the cross on the sabbath (for that sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away. Continue reading
Holy Week began with yesterday’s Palm Sunday Mass in St. Peter’s Square. Complicating things for visitors was the fact that daylight saving’s time began in Italy on the same day–and if they were unaware of that, they arrived an hour late!
There are hundreds of churches in Rome, most of them containing multiple side-chapels. And in one of those zillions of side-chapels hangs this lovely Crucifixion by Scipione Pulzone (1544-1598).
It’s very pretty, but on Rome’s art-circuit it really doesn’t merit a second glance. After all, when it comes to Italian sacred art, Rome contains the best of the best! Continue reading
Happy Feast of St. Joseph! Today is an especially big feast here in Italy, where it sort of does double-duty as Fathers’ Day, for understandable reasons. Continue reading
In a church along one of Rome’s busiest shopping streets is a side chapel containing this 14th-century crucifix. Few tourists would even bother to venture in; those who do, almost certainly give it only a passing glance.
But what an amazing history this image has! Continue reading