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?

Worth the price of admission . . .

I went to an exhibition on Friday that I won’t bother to take the class to see. It wasn’t nearly as interesting as it could have been. Looking at this ivory up close (and taking a photo!)  was worth the price of admission for me, though.Symmachus Diptych, British Museum

An apotheosis – perhaps the apotheosis of Quintus Aurelius Symmachus, late 4th/early 5th C. British Museum, London. M&ME 1857,10-13,1. 30.1×11.3 cm. Really something to see. Symmachus was one of the last great pagans – an opponent of Ambrose and Theodosius. The organizers of the show wanted to suggest that it was an emperor – but at the very least it’s a deeply nostalgic pagan senator recalling imperial funerals and apotheoses – or just apotheosizing himself. Hence, Symmachus.

Crushed in a crowd . . .

Every time I teach Gothic (and the abbey of St-Denis) I tell my students that one reason Abbot Suger was so eager to rebuild the west end entrance to the church was that he had seen people crushed to death in their rush to get inside to see the relics. They never quite believe me, I think.

Well, read about the crowds at the public viewing (propped up in a throne, no less!) of Pope Shenouda III, head of the Coptic Church. Lots of pictures (including Pope Shenouda embalmed and propped up in his throne!). That’s a relic display!

Protestant Megachurch Shattering

First they sell the Crystal Cathedral (sic) to the Diocese of Orange. Which they had to do because of money problems, of course.

Now the congregation is fracturing.

The Crystal Cathedral’s senior pastor announced Sunday that she was leaving to start a new church, a move that appears likely to split the congregation.

“This is the last Sunday we will be worshiping in this building,” Pastor Sheila Schuller Coleman told congregants during an emotional 11 a.m. service in the 10,000-pane glass cathedral, designed by architect Phillip Johnson.

But what’s more, she’s going off and starting a new congregation, because of the “hostile work environment” for her family. (You know, I don’t think a bad working relationship between a board and a family creates a legally actionable hostile work environment, but I’m not a lawyer.)

But even her parents aren’t going with her!

“We will bless her faith pursuits as we have blessed all our children, but we will not be moving with her to the new location nor are we willing, at this time, to commit to participating in worship at the Crystal Cathedral,” according to the statement. “How we will express ourselves in worship remains up in the air.”

Megachurch cults of personality are always doomed after the death or retirement of the founder; I’m open to counter-examples. I don’t see much future for the so-called mainline denominations, either, though they had a better run of it.
Whatever I may think of the conversion into a Roman Catholic cathedral, in awhile there will be something quite different going on in the building – and it will be connected to something bigger, broader, and deeper than the Schuller family’s ambition.

Lost in a crowd

Beatification of John Paul II -- banners at the end!
I really don’t like crowds much — DI sports events, political rallies, stadium rock — and tend to avoid them. The same goes for papal mega-masses. Yesterday I didn’t resist.
I first saw John Paul II in Poland, of all places, in the summer of 1979. I was traveling with a school music group and everywhere we went our official translators (who must have been junior trainees – what kind of official translator gets stuck with a bunch of high school boys?) explained how excited all Poland was with the impending papal visit. And when we got back to Warsaw, we were lucky enough to be there for one of the great parades. I saw the John Paul from about half a block down a crowded street. I don’t think I have ever or will ever again feel such a concentrated dose of shared joy spilling over into optimism. We didn’t need translators that day.
I’ve never been up front at a papal mass, but 23 years after Warsaw, I happened to be here (here here – I was staying in the same apartment I’m in this morning) in the June of 2002. No one in Rome that month could not have known about the canonization of Padre Pio, and I had certainly read posters and figured out the schedule from newspapers. Here I was a block from the Ponte Sant’Angelo — I had to go, if only for cultural interest. That was a big crowd — and because it was all so much in the open it felt bigger than Warsaw. Latecomer as I was, I was able to walk about a third of the way down the via della Conciliazione without breaking pace and then to work my way forward until I was about half way to St Peter’s Square. Luckily, the average person with a strong devotion to Padre Pio was an Italian grandmother, so I could see clearly.
The mass itself didn’t impress me with strong memories, other than the crazy communion distributed by a cast of thousands. More impressive were the blessings from the Popemobile — the pope drove down the via della Conciliazione blessing the crowd. The crowd began to thin out and the little clutch of Americans I had found myself attached to (you know, we tall ones picked each other out in the crowd) began chatting, congratulating ourselves on the full papal experience — and he came driving back from a side street! And then again a few minutes later! Triple blessings, which I felt much more strongly than Padre Pio. By that time I had been a Catholic for about 10 years and had read a fair amount of John Paul’s less abstruse stuff, so I respected him as well as honored him as pope.
Saturday Rome filled up with pilgrims. There had been increasing crowds all week, but the backpackers got here in force on Saturday. There were churches open all night for vigils (go see my pictures from yesterday to see some people who were feeling the vigil more than the beatification), there was a carefully produced vigil-spectacle at the Circus Maximus, and everywhere I went there were groups of people following not just the usual raised umbrella of the tour guide but pilgrimage banners — not all of them red and white Polish flags, but certainly a lot of them.
Yesterday morning I didn’t leave the apartment until 9. I knew that any time I was willing to get up and go would have been too late to get into good view, but the best I could do was the intersection of via San Pio X and Borgo Santo Spirito. We didn’t have a view of a GODzillatron, but the sound was great. There was a patch of shade around the corner, to which I retreated occasionally. I would have stayed there but the sound fell off sharply, and I would have had only the Polish coverage from the radios of a group of very tired pilgrims (go back to flickr to see the folks in red cloaks).
Still, on the level of mere emotionality, this mass moved me in a way that the mass for Padre Pio didn’t, and it moved me twice. The first time was early on, at the formal proclamation of blessedness. In the applause and cheers and flag waving I felt something I don’t feel in cheers and flag-waving at sporting events or political gatherings — I felt the Sense of the Faithful. Maybe it’s because I’m one of them — but it was there, that oceanic feeling. We agree.
The ordinary of the mass was in Latin (the few English readings were in Australian, which was a bit of a shock!). The Lord’s Prayer was really something. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised with the self-selected crowd, but out of the million (or million and a half – estimates have been rising since I last looked), many if not most of the people in that out-of-sight intersection said the prayer together in Latin. And that was something — not cheering our assent but praying in one voice.
And for someone who doesn’t like crowds, that makes it worthwhile, for once.

Another Iconographical Oddity – the Holy Family in Nazareth

Now if may strike you as odd that St Joseph is not old in this panel showing the Holy Family in his workshop in Nazareth. It’s an outlier, but there is certainly opinion to support it (and nothing but extra-scriptural texts to suggest that he was old). St Josemaria used the younger St Joseph somewhere to explain the Holy Family as a more realistic model for modern families than the Old Man / Virgin pairing of so much religious art, where the iconographical tradition of the melancholic St Joseph sitting in the background would not have appealed to St Josemaria.
Chiesa San Josemaria Escriva - Altarpiece - Workshop of Joseph
That’s all well and good – but why are they working on metal vessels instead of carpentry? THAT I’ve never heard of. On the other hand, if they are repairing things, I can read them as TINKERS. I.e., do the classic relate-yourself-to-the-narrative thing.

Adventure in the (former) Campana near EUR

Chiesa San Josemaria Escriva - Exterior
Today I took a LONG bus ride…. If you ride the 716 for 45 stops from Teatro Marcello you get to the front gate of the Church of Saint Josemaria Escriva, founder of Opus Dei. The church was built after his 1992 beatification, and dedicated in 1996. It’s a simple, modern building – clean lines on the exterior and interior. It’s set in a 1980s-90s office park and residential area (high rises), so recent that the bus passed a couple of big working olive groves. You know, I could be in Gwinett County, Georgia — there are any number of post-1985 Catholic churches there like this – minus the palm tree in front. What the parish web page refers to as a style of romanità might be semplicità. Or, to be a little more harsh, banalità. This is not very inspiring, and the scale difference between the church and surrounding buildings is rather the reverse of the city of Rome, where most little parish churches are about the same scale as their surroundings and the basilicas dominate everything. Welcome to the 20th Century.
The interior is very plain, with the exception of the altar area. There are relics of St Josemaria under the glass-fronted altar. The altarpiece, by a Spanish artist named Armando Pareja, is a little odd. Scenes from the life of Christ concentrating on the life in Nazareth — very Opus Dei, that, with the interest in Joseph. Click to see the whole thing. One odd choice – St Joseph and Jesus are shown working on metal vessels, not doing carpentry. I have NO idea what that’s about. See the next entry for detail.
Then in the center is the tabernacle – visible through a cut-out. According to the parish website this is a normal arrangement for Renaissance Spain.
The top center panel shows St Josemaria enjoying the Beatific Vision. I need some interpretation from my more specialized friends – he’s wearing a cope — but what is he wearing underneath it?
Chiesa San Josemaria Escriva - Top of Altarpiece
Parrochia San Josemaria.
On my way back I took a long walk in EUR! Pictures and discussion to follow.

Padre Pio Surprises Jesus

"Padre Pio Surprises Jesus"
This over life-sized sculpture group in the church of San Salvatore in Lauro is one of the strangest pieces of religious art that I have ever seen. Our Lord looks a little surprised to be getting some help with His cross just then. Simon of Cyrene, perhaps.
Of course I understand that this is part of a long tradition of inserting mystic-saints into weird situations with Jesus. I was looking at a lurid painting of St Liutgard just the other day — something about Jesus looking for somewhere to plant the end of his cross (as though the Roman soldiers didn’t do that for him!) and St Liutgard offering her heart?
I was in Rome (in fact, staying in this very apartment) in the summer of 2002 and happened to attend the canonization mass for Padre Pio. The crowd was very impressive. Click on this picture and go see my photos from Saturday of a procession organized by the Padre Pio Prayer Circles of Lazio on the occasion of the 5th Anniversary of the death of Pope John Paul II.

Ready for May 1, 2011

Ready for May 1, 2011

Originally uploaded by Michael Tinkler.

That’s the date set for the beatification of John Paul II – and the church of Sta Maria del Popolo has already taken delivery of its painting!

I was there last Friday looking at the Cerasi Chapel again and saw something leaning against the wall in the chapel of St Rita of Cascia. I walked over to find this. The late pope is floating a little bit with the piazza of St Peter’s below him in the background. Hmm.

House of the Vestals

Friday, for the first time ever, I got to go into the House of the Vestals (click to see a picture on my flickr stream of me standing in front of the courtyard). They opened the House AFTER I took my class to the Forum! I think I have to take them back . . . .

Really, it was a splendid day in the Forum and on the Palantine. A friend is visiting from Rochester, and his enthusiasm helped me get over the tiredness generated by the cold I’m fighting and go go go.

There was another first at the Forum – I’ll post that soon!