Thursday, January 16, 2014

Rome 27.12.2013 (3): Quiet Churchyards and Jewish Christmas Meals

Santissimo Sacramento Oratory, Christmas Eve 2013

Day three, Christmas day: we walked to the liturgy of the American church of Saint Susanna, held this year in the church of St. Camillo de Lellis, because the Paulist church is closed.

Great Synagogue, Christmas Day 2013
Afterwards, since our attempt to make reservations for a meal at a restaurant near the hotel had fallen through, we walked to the old Jewish Ghetto, where I'd read many restaurants are open on Christmas day. Sure enough, there were many choices, all interesting looking, many featuring traditional Roman-Jewish cuisine, others offering pan-Middle Eastern falafels, kebabs, etc. We chose a restaurant we later decided was overpriced--Taverna del Ghetto--where Steve had lamb and I had a soup described as a soup of meatballs and cauliflower, which had a single tiny meatball in a tomato broth with broccoli and pasta. Steve found his three small pieces of lamb all gristle and bone.
San Clemente Mosaic, 26 Dec. 2013

Day four: another long walk to Maria Maggiore, St. John Lateran, San Clemente, and the Coliseum and Forum. Again, we stopped at any church that was open to see and photograph the presepio. One in a Redemptorist church along the way was especially impressive, with a rustic setting and rustic figurines dressed in peasant clothing.

I found both Maria Maggiore and the Lateran frankly overwhelming, swarming with tourists and, in the case of the Lateran church, full of worshipers at an Eastern-rite liturgy, possibly Ukranian, with a gaggle of sumptuously dressed priests far removed from the worshipers, both physically removed and hidden by large columns.

San Clemente was another story altogether--quiet, reverent, intimate, and dark, though I'd gladly have forgone the congeries of ill-behaved French children whose parents did nothing to encourage them to let other visitors see the sights they were hogging.

The mosaics were stunning, and it was a real treat to see them "in the flesh" after having seen them in art history books for many years.

The small courtyard outside the church gave us a feel for the culture of pre-grandiose Roman Christianity in which people refreshed themselves at a fountain before they entered the church. As Barbara P. told us on the tour of the Vatican Museum, Sistine Chapel, and St. Peter's, the custom of blessing oneself with holy water on entering a church is rooted in the practice of Greek and Roman temples and shrines, where fountains were provided outside the holy places for worshipers to wash and refresh themselves before they went inside.

Steve, Coliseum, 26 Dec. 2013
We had wanted, too, to visit St. Peter in Chains, but it was a miserable day, with periods of cold rain and gusty wind, and I was exhausted as we neared the church, and afraid that the combination of wind, rain, and sweat from the walk would cause our chest colds to become worse, so back we came.

And then today a nice, more leisurely walk to the Borghese in the sunny, mild weather that followed the bluster of yesterday, and the Berninis and Caravaggios and fragments of mosaic floors, all intensely beautiful . . . . 

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