The last few days have seen a priest visiting from my Diocese - Northampton: Fr Jonathan Hill. In between my studies, I have arranged several churches where he and I could celebrate the Mass. The first was at the church of St Gregory the Great on the Coelian Hill yesterday - one of the famous seven hills (the other six are the Capitoline, the Palatine, the Aventine, the Quirinal, the Viminal and the Esquiline). We agreed to meet at 5.00pm at the monstrous/magnificent Victor Emmanuel monument overlooking the Piazza Venezia - called the Wedding Cake or Typewriter, depending on the mood: other names spring to mind. The late time gave me the chance to hurtle on with Hilary work (if I get the chance I may mention something about this again). It was a beautiful evening and in Rome there is a certain quality of light, particularly in the evening when the colours are rich and make everything glow rose-red. Below is a photograph of the scene:
In the centre of the picture you will see Trajan's Column, which stands at the mouth of the Forum. Trajan was one of those successful Roman emperors, ruling from 98 to 117AD, who was popular at home and had the fortune of actually dying from natural causes. His column marks the entrance to that area of the Forum which he constructed and which was completed by his successor Hadrian: Trajan's Forum was so magnificent that it reduced the emperor Constantius to stupified silence when he visited in 357 (Constantius was a nasty little heretical emperor who caused a lot of trouble to the universal Church, to St Athansius and to our hero St Hilary whom he exiled to the east). Trajan's care for poor and abandoned children earned from Pope St Gregory the Great the accolade that he deserved to be granted entry into heaven as an honorary Christian.
So, on to St Gregory the Great's church (San Gregorio Magno) on the Coelian Hill. We were able to celebrate Mass at the altar where St Gregory himself is said to have celebrated the Sacred Mysteries. He lived at the monastery there until 590AD when he was elected Pope and proceeded to consolidate the Church in an empire that was rapidly falling apart. He himself had founded the monastery on what was the site of his father's house. He became Pope most unwillingly but soon it was clear that here was one of the three 'Great' Popes of history (four now with John Paul II?) - the other two being Pope Leo and Pope Nicholas. The altar now has a frontal sculptured in the 14th century:
There is also a chair dating from the 1st century AD that was used by St Gregory - and is still used today (by Fr Hill) as is evidenced below:
Finally, it was at this site that St Augustine in 596, prior of the monastery, received the blessing of Pope St Gregory to begin the mission to England with about 40 others, some of whom were young English monks rescued from slavery by Gregory ("Non Angli sed angeli!"). From here they began and the mission is not yet finished.