The Church Where Popes Take a Back-Seat

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, Catherine of Siena tombFrance, 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

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How Well Do You Know St. Lawrence?

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 St. Lawrence, Strozzione 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

The “Great Idea” That Isn’t

“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 IMG_5003you 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

Saint Ignatius and the Hidden Statue

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. Gesu Ignatius statueIt 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

Centuries Apart, but Side by Side

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.

catalogo_urban_alta.pdfTucked 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

It’s a Country, an Independent Country!

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.Vatican Map-Aerial

“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

Our Lady of Mount Carmel

Yesterday was the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, which was cause for a procession PROCESSIONE DELLA BEATA VERGINE DEL CARMELOthrough 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

Look at This, Not at That!

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!

IMG_5140The 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

What’s HE doing in Rome?

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 Turner, Decline Carthaginian Empire 1817exhibition of fabulous works by a British artist who not only never came to Italy… he probably couldn’t have cared less. Continue reading

All Those Headless Ancient Statues…

An awful lot of the ancient statues one encounters in Rome are missing their heads. This IMG_5143often 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

NOT Kid-Friendly

Every so often, we get an email like this one: “Hi! We’re looking for a kid-friendly tour of Vat Mus 1the 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

Ancient Heritage, Modern-day Violence

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 IMG_4973imagined 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

A Very Different “Prince of Peace”

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 IMG_5110was also styled the “Prince of Peace” by his pagan subjects. Continue reading

An “Oratorio” in the Original Sense of the Word…

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 St Elizabeth Trinitypeople of Rome in the 1500’s. Continue reading

How Do You Lose a Saint?

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.

St Mary Major Jerome Continue reading

Floating on the Water

In the center of the shopping-district of Rome stands a church that most tourists ignore. Pozzo 2After 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

Definitely Worth Missing…

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 peopleIMG_4775 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

Elizabethan England Meets Rome

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

The Marian Month of May

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 Aracoeli facadeclimb–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

One of the Greatest Popes Ever!

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?

Pius V 2 Continue reading

When I Grow Up…

It’s easy to imagine the proud parents of this adorable little boy–particularly his doting IMG_4974mother, 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

A Rarity in Rome

A Rarity in Rome

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!).

A Good-Friday Miracle: “I Can See!”

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 Longinus Berninicross 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 in Rome

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–Palm Sunday Vaticanand if they were unaware of that, they arrived an hour late!

Continue reading

Other Tour Guides Say the Most Amazing Things…

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 S_Pulzone_Crucifixión_Santa_Maria_in_Valicella_RomaScipione 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