Thursday, 31 January 2008

More of the visiting clergy

For the memoria of St John Bosco not only did I celebrate Mass for the Sisters here at the Casa at 7.00 am in Italian, with some work on Hilary before and after (an early start was needed), but I also accompanied Fr Jonathan to St Paul's Outside the Walls ( I am sure I have seen this rendered St Paul's Without the Walls) for Mass which was celebrated in the chapel of St Benedict.

St Paul's is often talked down by most commentators on Rome. I suppose the new materials used to re-build the Basilica after the unfortunate events of the night of 15th-16th July 1823, as Pope Pius VII lay dying, when a terrible fire took hold from roof repairs and most of the nave was destroyed in the ensuing conflagration, appear to many to give somewhat too clear an air of the Rebuilt. Nevertheless, I find it a stunning building: its style gives some sense of what St Peter's would have looked like in outline (never forgetting that the old St Peter's also had many frescoes on columns and a multitude of altars, as today) and its sheer size is in no way hidden by clever tricks of perspective as in today's St Peter's.

The recent excavations and the discovery of the Constantinian tomb for Paul's relics make ever clearer the roots of traditions in history: just as St Peter's marks the true place of its patron's burial, so too with St Paul's. The excavations indicate how the first Constantinian church actually faced in the opposite direction to the present Basilica's arrangement - St Paul's (with its marvellous mosaics - well worth seeing) being the fruit of the construction begun in 384 by the emperors Valentinian II and Theodosius the Great, during the reign of Pope Damasus. Below is a picture in the Confessio of the excavated tomb which lies behind the grill:

On the walls of the Basilica are portraits of all the Popes up to and including our present Holy Father, Benedict XVI. In the cloister shop area, I found four other portraits which were rescued from the ruined nave in 1823. Who is this not so cheerful chap pictured here?

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