So the loud noise going on all afternoon was this:

Incontro con la Scuola cattolica italiana

Piazza San Pietro
ore 16.15

(from the Vatican site)

God help us – and I mean that quite unironically – they’re playing John Lennon’s “Imagine” right now. I hope we can blame it on their typical non-English speaker failure to comprehend the lyrics.


Wow – I certainly understand the long and grand tradition of re-valorizing love poetry as being addressed to Our Lord . . . but Slave to Love?

Holy Saturday

Quiet day in Rome (literally!).

I’m about to head out and buy some artichokes to cook for dinner tomorrow (my colleague Christine is making a leg of lamb!). Easter Vigil tonight – I haven’t decided between the extremely convenient Chiesa Nuova or a mild trek to Santa Prassede — we’ll see if it’s raining by the time I need to leave.

Prayers for Cate tonight as she enters the Church!

Saint Agnes outside the walls

I took the class today to one of my favorite places in Rome – the Sant’Agnese complex on the via Nomentana. The mosaics are splendid – both these early Byzantine ones and the late antique mosaics in the mausoleum of Santa Costanza.

S Agnese flm apse Honorius Agnes 1The pope is a bit of a problem child – Honorius I (625-638), the possible monothelete. I tend to think with the Church on this one – he may have had erroneous beliefs, but he didn’t teach them ex cathedra.

Click here for more pictures.


Another thing that’s kept me busy is the Counter-Reformation Print

Also, over the last 2 weeks my partner Christine and I executed what I think is one of the most interesting class units I’ve ever devised. I worked it up for the 2011 program with my 2-time partner Nick. This time it went a little more smoothly (practice!).

Here’s the set-up. Nick and I taught Inventing Rome, Inventing Romans in 2008 and 2011. Not all of our units really worked in 2008 – including one close to my heart centered on Cola di Rienzo and the mid-14th Century. So for 2011, we decided to replace it – probably with something that engaged print making. It helped that Nick’s second medium is print making, so he can do a History Of lecture with ease. We flailed around looking for something to center the unit around – an article, a set of prints, something. I stumbled across (really, trolling JSTOR with search terms) Kirstin Noreen’s “Ecclesiae militis triumphi: Jesuit Iconography and the Counter Reformation.”* It may sound a little dry, but things get better.

S Stefano Rotondo Int

The Early Christian church of Santo Stefano Rotondo was, in the late 16th century, the site of the German Hungarian College, a Jesuit-run college for students attending the Roman universities. In 1585, the rector had the church redecorated, complete with a cycle of more than 30 paintings of martyrdoms circling the walls – all to encourage the young men to go back to Calvinist Hungary, for instance, and do battle with Protestantism – even at the risk of death. Within five years, the frescoes had been copied in a pamphlet of prints, completed with the addition of four Allegories (Vita, Mors, Peccatum, and Gratia – handy topics for getting at the differences between Catholicism and Protestantism).

All of this was interesting enough, and certainly on the right track. Then I noticed that the photo credits were to the Biblioteca Angelica – which is closer to the Scuola Leonardo da Vinci than Sto Stefano Rotondo! So we made some inquiries and the Biblioteca Angelica folks were happy to have us come see the pamphlet with our students.

Day one, we visit Santo Stefano, discuss the transformations the church has been through (handy for Layers, too!) and see lurid paintings like these.

Boil oil CatherineOn the left, a group of martyrs being boiled in oil; on the right, Catherine’s wheel breaking and killing some of her executioners. And in case you were confused, the painters included labels — the panels below have explanatory texts, keyed to capital letters in the paintings. They are especially handy for the assorted scenes of martyrdom and mayhem in the middlegrounds! So we also talk about the technology of fresco, the medium per se and as a communications device, the limits of things that are in only one location, the reliance on the memories of the students to carry the information back North of the Alps.

Day two, in the classroom, discussing Noreen’s article. She helps a lot by explaining the kind of practices Jesuit colleges followed and how they correspond to cycles of saints – like the regular recitation of the Litany of the Saints. She also reproduces a lot of the engravings.

Day three, we meet at the Library. The vice-director gave us a tour, including the splendid 18th century reading room (unfortunately, no pictures – they were busy filming a t.v. commercial and wouldn’t let us). Then she brought out a trolley of books and talked about the history of book-making as a medium for information. She showed us a 10th Century Evangelistary from Chur with gorgeous decorative pages; a 14th Century theology book with some elegant capitals (but otherwise in a very difficult to read gothic hand); side-by-side the first book PRINTED in Italy (a Cicero) and an almost contemporary manuscript Plautus; and our 16th Century pamphlet of engravings. She let the students TOUCH the pages – explaining rough (hair) and smooth (interior) sides of vellum. They could feel the impressions of the plates in the engravings, even after 400 years.

They really got a sense of the changing technologies, from hand made (manuscripts, frescoes) to multiples (prints) – and I suppose we will see how well they understood it when their assignments come in Thursday!

*The Sixteenth Century Journal, vol 29, no 3 (Autumn 1998), 689-715. .


The foot of St Mary Magdalene!

So far as I can tell, this used to be in the Vatican Tesoro, but was installed in a new shrine in San Giovanni dei Fiorentini in 2012. Is there a new policy to distribute relics to other churches where they can be venerated? I glad to have come across it this morning because my mother has just had a fall and cracked her pelvis, and my sister is suffering a bout of plantar fasciitis – so lower body prayers were well-sent today.

The Crystal Cathedral becomes an actual – you know – cathedral. With a bishop and all.

Pantheon ceiling


A great story of Robert Schuller, the Crystal Cathedral, and it’s current state – as a Roman Catholic cathedral. Cults of personality never last – one of the most important reasons I’m a Roman Catholic today.

Fr. Benedict Groeschel’s book Spiritual Passages, which reduces (self-admittedly) convert motivation to the One, the Good, the True, or the Beautiful spoke to me. Despite what you might think (I’m an art historian – don’t I love the Beautiful?), I am closer to those called to the One. Schism offends me. All that reciting of “the holy catholic church” as a child, partly because of all the footnotes and explanations that “catholic” mean “universal, world wide” rather than Roman Catholic, sank in. I mean, was the Southern Presbyterian Church either universal or world wide in any serious way? I had acquaintances who were children of missionaries in Zaire – but that was about it.

Presbyterianism is a beautiful system: local deacons and elders, near-regionally elected representatives (presbyteries), regional synods, and a national general assembly. But one of the things a man like me learns during his graduate course work is that, pace Jean Calvin, this is not what the evidence shows us about what we can discern about the Church in the brief apostolic period, let alone by 100 A.D. So don’t go claiming that this is Jesus’s preferred model.

There’s lots of room for argument, but I gave it all a lot of thought and submitted to Holy Mother the Roman Catholic Church. All the rest has been clear enough for the last 25 years, if not always easy to live up to. I mean, I’m a big ol’ sinner – but then, I reassure myself, so are those parents of one child headed up to receive.

George Herbert + Ralph Vaughan Williams + the Order of Preachers = ?

George Herbert + Ralph Vaughan Williams + the Order of Preachers = this!

Come, my Way, my Truth, my Life:
Such a way as gives us breath;
Such a truth as ends all strife,
Such a life as killeth death.

Come, my Light, my Feast, my Strength:
Such a light as shows a feast,
Such a feast as mends in length,
Such a strength as makes his guest.

Come, my Joy, my Love, my Heart:
Such a joy as none can move,
Such a love as none can part,
Such a heart as joys in love.

from Herbert’s “The Call,” published in The Temple. Set by Vaughan Williams in 1911.

via Fr. Philip Neri Powell, O.P.

Benedictine Beer in Italy

Father Benedict (pictured) is a Sewanee graduate – what did they expect? Teasing aside, craft beer seems like the perfect Benedictine product.

“People come to the monastery for the beer,” he said, but they leave realizing God brought them to Norcia to meet him.

Making beer “perhaps dissipates any fear that we might be judgmental or overly critical of them,” he said. People assume beer-making monks will accept them.

Brother Anthony Zemenick, a native of Arlington, Texas, who has been at the monastery for seven years, said the beer “is really good stuff.”

“I’m not the world’s most experienced beer connoisseur, but I’ve tried several different types and I’d say ours is the best … not just because it’s ours, but because of the flavor, too,” he said.

I hope the sell it at la Vecchia Birreria in Rome!!


Beyond Parody – exorcising demons = depriving possessed girl of her gift of spiritual awareness

I guess you have to start your hermeneutic exercise with the idea that Saint Paul was a misogynist who is responsible for all that is narrow and exclusive about Christianity to get here – but here she got!

Paul is annoyed at the slave girl who keeps pursuing him, telling the world that he and his companions are slaves of God.  She is quite right.  She’s telling the same truth Paul and others claim for themselves.  But Paul is annoyed, perhaps for being put in his place, and he responds by depriving her of her gift of spiritual awareness.  Paul can’t abide something he won’t see as beautiful or holy, so he tries to destroy it.  It gets him thrown in prison.  That’s pretty much where he’s put himself by his own refusal to recognize that she, too, shares in God’s nature, just as much as he does – maybe more so!

The preacher who sees the gift of spiritual awareness in demon possession is the Most Reverend Katharine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Bishop and Primate of The Episcopal Church. Here’s the whole sermon. It’s mainly about failing to see beauty – in the skin color of others, in nature, in demon possessed teenagers.

I read this at Simcha Fisher’s blog at the National Catholic Register – you can check out her response here. I got there via New Advent.