Saturday, September 21, 2013

Rome: Body parts and works of art--sometimes in works of art

During my free time here in Rome, I've spent a good part of the day visiting churches, rapt in works of art that museums in the US would long to have (see my earlier post today on St. Matthew).

A surprising number of the churches are pretty laid back about photography, as long as you don't use a flash. I was disappointed to find a "no photos" sign by the Caravaggios in Santa Maria del Popolo, but having to restrain my trigger finger kept my eyes trained on the art itself.

This visit, I was especially taken by the Crucifixion of St Peter. It was so vivid, I expected to hear grunts of exertion from the executioners who were struggling to raise the laden crucifix to an upright position.

St Catherine of Siena (but not her
head) lies in state in a  marble
sarcophagus under the high altar.
I've also been surprised by the body parts that I've been finding. Thursday it was heads. The tiny skull of the young St. Agnes, in a silver reliquary behind the tabernacle in a dingy side chapel. The mummified, shrunken head of John the Baptist in an ornate reliquary, likewise in a dingy side chapel. The Precursor of the Lord has the misfortune of being positioned opposite a larger-than-life (and very colorful) statue of Mary at the foot of the Cross. During my short visit, Our Lady's statue got way more attention than the saint's remains.

Across the piazza from the Church of San Silvestro (John the Baptist's resting place), the Church of San Claudio was closed, so I missed out on the head of St. Peter Julian Eymard. But it was there last time I was in Rome.

I also visited a saint whose head was not in Rome, but in her native Siena. Despite the testimony of the marble sarcophagus which depicts an intact Catherine, the "sacra testa" of this Doctor of the Church was long ago claimed for the Siena Cathedral, where it awaits reunion with the rest of her body in the universal resurrection.

Another (creepy) head; from
Santa Maria sopra Minerva.
Yesterday was a day for arms. The first arm bone I came across was in the parish Church of Our Lady of Loretto, ground zero for the Padre Pio prayer groups of Rome. In fact, there was a priest stationed in the center aisle with a reliquary containing one of Padre Pio's distinctive cut-off gloves, and he blessed all comers with it, laying it on one's head as he said a prayer. The Padre Pio shrine includes a habit, vestments and other relics of the saint. But the altar next to it was devoted to St. Jude, and that was where the arm bone was: a large relic, said to be that of the Apostle himself. Since one of my brothers has Jude as his middle name, I lit a candle for him there.

I continued on my random, self-guided pilgrimage and finally made it to the Gesu, the mother-church of the Jesuits and burial place of St. Ignatius. This Church has a famous relic of the arm of St. Francis Xavier, who had once written about how his arm had become almost paralyzed from weariness after thousands and thousands of baptisms. But in a side altar there was another relic in a golden box. In case one was to wonder what might be in it, there was a bas-relief of a muscular arm and hand. It contains the arm of St. Andrew. So I prayed there for our Sister Andrew.

I have one more free day (or at least morning) in Rome. What else will I find?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The relic of my husband's ancestor is kept at the Bar Convent, York. It is a hand, uncorrupt, visible under a glass reliquary. Though we haven't visited there ourselves, we have a good photo of Auntie Maggie's hand, and we do ask her intercessions for our family. Quite a trip for you, so much to take in! - Jean