A city like no other, maybe even more so this time of year.
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Thus this great church took more than two centuries to be built, and was the work of more than a dozen architects under thirty-two Popes, some of whom interfered directly and imposed their own ideas or vetoes, and it spanned the mid-fifteenth-century Renaissance, the High Renaissance and the Baroque (I am ignoring the sacristy and the clocks, the work of Rococo times.) This wonderful building, closely examined, bears all the marks of its long evolution and manifold progenitors. Yet, as with its dome, because we are used to it, it looks right, as though the endless squabbles, changes of plan and demolitions had never been.
Bramante and Michelangelo made important and necessary contributions to St. Peter’s, but the entire process was multi-generational and grounded in a religious and artistic tradition transcending any one person.
I was struck by how much more archaeological work has been done over the years and how well preserved and interpreted the sites of Rome are today. Again, the Excavations under St. Peter’s, revealing the former necropolis or city of the dead, along with the painstaking work to authenticate the remains of St. Peter after his crucifixion upside down, are well preserved under climate-controlled conditions. Professional archaeologists of the Ufficio Scavi lead tours that accommodate 115 people per day versus the 15,000 that tour the Basilica above ground. The “Scavi” tour is very impressive, but you need to make a reservation.
The story of how the excavation proceeded over decades and the effort to verify the remains of St. Peter is well told, or so I am informed by my wife and others, in John Evangelist Walsh’s The Bones of St. Peter: The First Full Account of the Search for the Apostle’s Body.
The Basilica of San Clemente, run by Irish Dominicans, is another opportunity for time traveling in place. The current church, or at least part of it, dates from the 13th century and has a Baroque façade. Inside, the apse is resplendent with a stunning 12th century mosaic, The Triumph of the Cross, just one of the priceless items in this house of worship where St. Cyril, missionary to the Slavs, is buried.
The first archaeological level is about 4 meters below the Basilica. Here the early Christian basilica dates from the mid fourth to the early fifth century. You then descend stairs to the second level, ten meters below current street level, first excavated in 1857. Here there are remains of a first century building that was turned into a Mithraeum, seat of an eastern pagan cult of the god Mithras, between the second and third centuries, and used up until the fourth century. There are walkways directing the visitor and the lighting is very subtle by design. I could go on.
The visitor with only limited time to savor the delights of the Eternal City is inevitably frustrated or completely over-dosed on the magnificence, say, of the Villa Borghese and its collection of classical sculpture and other significant works of art. There are also the standard tourist destinations, always worth a visit-the Forum (there are several, actually), the Coliseum, the Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel and the Spanish Steps. But it is the surprise of discovering yet another Caravaggio painting, or other great artist, in yet another beautiful church or basilica that makes Rome such an amazing place.
San Luigi dei Francesi, the French national church, is a beautiful thing. It is named after the patron saint of my hometown, St. Louis. In the last chapel on the left, just before the high altar, are three of Caravaggio’s most beautiful works in Rome: The Calling of St. Matthew, The Martyrdom of St. Matthew and St. Matthew and the Angel. Spectacular.
While viewing these painting, along with a sizeable number of other visitors, the spotlights went out eliciting a collective groan. We immediately scrambled for more change to put money in the box to bring back the illumination before a holy riot broke out.
For me the most impressive Caravaggio is The Conversion of St. Paul. This is an outstanding Baroque painting by an artist with a volcanic temper. The famous scene depicted from the Bible displays a dramatic interplay of light and darkness with Paul under his horse’s uplifted leg looking at some distant source of illumination, hands upraised. Caravaggio’s work “introduced his new and spectacular epoch of realism and scattered the last, lingering leaves of the Renaissance to the four winds,” writes Johnson.
The painting can be found in another lovely church, Santa Maria del Popolo, nestled under the Aurelian Wall, along with another by the same artist depicting The Crucifixion of St. Peter. It is really an embarrassment of riches wherever one looks in Rome.
Roman fever is contagious. The Eternal City is like no other. It was painful to contemplate our departure. But Madrid beckoned, and we left the Italian for the Iberian Peninsula with great expectations.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?
H/T to National Review Online