Saturday in Rome

My bedroom window (in a cheap little hotel near the main station) overlooks the Baths of Diocletian, the largest bath complex ever built, ranging over 32 acres. Apparently it was restored in the beginning of the 6th century under the pontificate of Pope Symmachus and the reign of King Theoderic.
Pope Symmachus was the last pagan convert to become Pope.

So I went and had a look. It was a Charterhouse full of monks for a few generations. Part of it is now a beautiful, light and airy basilica, designed about 400 years ago. Lots of Roman tombstones, milestones, columns and headless statues from around the city. And an art exhibition of Henry Moore which I wasn't prepared to pay 13 euros for.

Then I strolled up to the Victor Emmanuel monument (the 'wedding cake') and decided to climb all the steps. There is a 'sacrum' as in the ancient legion camps in the Roman army. It houses all the tattered flags of the various regiments of the Italian armed forces in reverential glass cases. Of course, except for a few from the days of the Kingdom of Italy (the House of Savoy), they are all the same: red, white and green. About 300 of them ... not especially interesting.

There is also a tomb of the 'unknown soldier' from World War One. Although the whole monument is rather pagan, the tomb of the warrior is surrounded by images of soldier saints (Sebastian and George) and there is a consecrated marble altar for Masses to be said for his soul. It as all installed by the King in 1921.

One might be forgiven for noticing that on the same hill there is the Basilica of Maria Arca Coeli, which is mainly famous for its ancient Bambino which is held up for veneration every 25th of the month. I popped in and lit a candle. There is some very fine renaissance art there. It seemed somehow more homely and prayerful than some of the other more crowed Roman basilicas.

One has to go down the steps and up again to get to the Capitoline, also called the Campidoglio. Either side of the steps are the gigantic and nonchalantly naked Castor and Pollux, each with horse. The Statues were restored by the renaissance popes, who also had Michaelangelo design a beautiful square at the top of the hill; the buildings now house a museum, filled with roman statuary.

Most impressive of all is the equestrian stature of Marcus Aurelius, unique, because most bronze works were melted down for the metal.

Then behind is the Forum; still very impressive. I'd visited before, so I skipped that. Instead I found another column, just like Trajan's but with St Paul on top instead of St Peter.

The inscriptions said that Pope Sixtus V who restored this other column, originally erected by Marcus Aurelius, had first removed any signs of impiety from it. But I think that was just to reassure the faithful that they could venerate it as a monument to St Paul without any qualms about sacrilege; he didn't remove much if anything.  He also points out that before he found it the column was in a sadly deteriorated state. The main theme of the column is the Romans crushing the barbarians (mainly the Germans). In another inscription Pope Sixtus reflects that St Paul's preaching of the Crucified Christ conquered not just the barbarians, but also the Romans themselves.

Ended the day with evening Mass at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, with beautiful Marian devotions before and after, in the cosy Salesian style.


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