This morning at 6.25 we marched off in the cool Roman air to San Giorgio in Velabro. To get there you have to walk across the Piazza Venezia, around the bottom of the Capitoline Hill, and on towards the church of Santa Maria in Cosmadin. Then just opposite the beautiful temple of Hercules Victor, known to many as the temple of the Vestal Virgins (only it isn't), a sharp left turn is taken. Then a climb past the 4th century Arch of Janus leads you to the entrance of San Giorgio. It is worth noting that the temple of Hercules Victor dates from just before 100BC - extraordinary.
The church of San Giorgio has ancient origins, though it wasn't always dedicated to St George. For a period (from about 682) it was dedicated to St Sebastian, the soldier who was martyred in the terrible persecution of Diocletian (c.300) and whose body was thrown into the great drain of the forum, the Cloaca Maxima, which flows under this area of Rome into the Tiber: the Cloaca was designed to drain the marshes between the hills of Rome and still partially in use under the square in front of the church: its dates are c. 600BC for its first canalisation and it was enclosed and built over around c.200BC.
The church was dedicated to St George around the reign of Pope Zachary (741-752) when the Pope donated the head of St George to the church, making him co-patron with St Sebastian. The relic of his skull can be seen under the altar of the church. The altar and baldachino in the church date from the 12th century as does the fresco in the apse. In the fresco you can spot St George on his horse!
The church had as its Cardinal Protector the great Cardinal Newman (1801-1890). There is a plaque inside detailing this - indeed there are plaques to many of the Cardinal protectors. This plaque mentions his claims for fame but then says, "sed ante omnia christianus" - "but before all things he was a Christian":
Newman was made a Cardinal in 1879 and many hope that his beatification and canonisation cannot be far off.
The Mass was very prayerful and it was impressive to see the numbers of clergy, religious and people who attended : a real witness of devotion and dedication.