Jul 06 2010

WLC History Students Discover Ancient Road

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WLC history majors Jon Jossart, Shannon Turner, and Paul Young recently returned from two weeks of exploration in Turkey with Prof. Glen Thompson.  Using GPS technology and GoogleEarth, the expedition hoped to develop a methodology for more accurately recording the remains of the Roman road system and discovering new surviving sections.  The expedition was funded by a generous grant from the Fischer Family Foundation, and WLC board member Dr. Jerry Fischer and his wife Kay took part in the expedition as well. The trip was co-led by Dr. Mark Wilson, a historian and Bible scholar who lives in Izmir, Turkey, and who has already visited many of the Roman remains.

Students measuring width of Roman road
Students measuring width of Roman road

Scholars of ancient Rome have made lists of Roman bridges, milestones, and sections of road that are still visible, but the descriptions given often make them difficult to find.  Armed with these lists, photos, and maps, the WLC group would drive to the approximate site of a road and began hunting for the remains.  Local villagers were quizzed for information, then the participants would hike to likely spots, and examine ancient stones for inscriptions.  The area that was especially targeted was the region of St. Paul’s first missionary journey, and so the group began in Antalya and Perge and traveled north to Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, Lystra and Derbe. The June trip had ten working days, followed by two days of debriefing, reflection and relaxation in Cappadocia.

After spending the first day testing our equipment and methodology, we headed on the second day for Climax Pass.  We knew that the main Roman road for the area went through this ancient pass, and we were able to accurately chart the known section, as well as add data on its extension to the south.  After coming out of the north end of the pass, we discovered a whole new section of road, not previously mentioned in the literature, including several unknown inscriptions, something far beyond our trip expectations.

WLC team on the Roman bridge at Yunuslar
WLC team on the Roman bridge at Yunuslar

The next day we traced the road between Perge and its harbor town of Magydos.  This may have been the path taken by Paul when he first arrived from Cyprus. Several days later we made a positive ID on the ancient city of Malos, south of Pisidian Antioch.  Using GPS coordinates, we can now share this information with other scholars of the ancient world.  We spent a full day looking for evidence of the road that connects Pisidian Antioch with Lystra, and finally succeeded in mapping a full one mile stretch.  Finally, as we headed for Cappadocia, Mrs. Thompson spotted a Roman bridge off the side of the modern highway.  While it was only one of 6 Roman bridges that we studied and mapped, this one does not seem to have been noticed by previous scholars.

Our expedition was a total success and outstripped our expectation. Not only did we test a methodology for more accurately recording the position of artifacts already known, we also made new discoveries.  In addition we became aware that previously known sections of road and some milestones have since disappeared, the victims of expanded farming and urban sprawl.  So besides sharing our data with other scholars, we have seen the importance of archiving pictures of the artifacts, and hope to do so on a new website.  We also intend that this will be the first of a series of such trips, and that we can work toward a larger online database of information on Roman roads, milestones and bridges in this area of the world.

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Apr 25 2010

A Farewell from Suetonius

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It’s hard to believe, but our three months in Rome is over, and we fly to Switzerland tomorrow, and back to the US on Friday. The time has flown by so quickly, and we have enjoyed Rome immensely, but are also ready to see home again. We are all packed, and have just enough time for one last blog.

This week I have been finishing some last projects in the various libraries, putting the finishing touches on a lecture I will give on Thursday in Basel, Switzerland, saying goodbye to some of the scholars who have assisted me with my work, and dong some last minute sight-seeing. Today was a beautiful spring day, the last day of Culture Week, and most sites were open for free. It was also a national holiday — Liberation Day, the 65th anniversary of the liberation of Italy from the Nazis at the end of World War II.

When we went out early for our last walk, we ended up going back into the Roman Forum again. This time the ancient Curia (Senate building) was open. It had been closed when we visited the Forum several weeks ago, as they were setting up a special exhibit. We also went to area on the Palatine Hill where the powerful Farnesi family had their vineyards in the late Middle Ages. And there I met one last famous scholar before leaving Rome — Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus.

Suetonius, as he is known today, was a secretary of the emperor Hadrian.  His “Lives of the 12 Caesars” is one of our best sources of knowledge on the early Roman Empire. So I feel it must have been divine providence that arranged for WLC’s most famous (and only) historian of Rome to meet Suetonius on the former’s last day in the city.

No, it was not a hallucination; nor a ghost (Suetonius died in AD 135).  As I was gazing from the Farnesi vineyards out over the Colloseum and the Arch of  Constantine, I heard music, and saw a woman dressed in ancient Roman dress playing a (not-so-ancient) harp.  Then, from around the corner of one of the ancient walls, came a man in a Roman toga, pacing while studiously talking to himself.

I greeted him with “Vale”, and he responded with “Ave.”  He then told us that he would be performing as Suetonius in a short play in the Farnesi garden. 15 minutes later, we heard his monologue about the glory days of Rome, and his employer Hadrian, while lilting harp music played in the background. Unfortunately, we did not have time to share trade secrets with each other, but it did make for a memorable last visit to the Forum.

Suetonius is the one on the right

Suetonius is the one on the right

So “Vale” and “Arrivederci” from Rome.  I will try to add another blog or two this July when I return to live 5 weeks on the opposite side of the city while taking part in a summer seminar at the American Academy at Rome.

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Apr 17 2010

Timing, Timing, Timing!

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Realtors will tell you that the three most important attributes of property are “Location, Location, Location.” For travelers and tourists, one could say it is “Timing, timing, timing!” Now that spring has sprung, Rome has become even more enjoyable than before. But I’m glad I am not a tourist at the moment. With the vast ash cloud creating chaos over much of Europe’s skies, travel has become quite uncertain. We are due to fly to Switzerland in 10 days, and hope that things have cleared up by then.

But our timing has been (accidentally) impeccable for this trip. As it turns out yesterday began the twelfth annual Roman “Settimana della Cultura” — “Week of Culture.” Someone tipped us off to this a few weeks back. The exact dates of this year’s “week” were not made public until recently, but it turns out to be April 16-25, and we leave on the 26th!

So, what happens in the Week of Culture? Virtually all the public museums in Rome are open for free or at vastly reduced prices. Free guided tours are available at many of the archaeological sites and Renaissance palazzos, even those that are usually closed. Special free lectures and concerts also take place. Any tourists who happen to hit Rome during Culture Week will easily save $25 a day on entrance fees and get to visit buildings and sites that are usually off limits.

Yesterday, while I was working in the library, my wife went to visit the Palazzo Santacroce which had beautiful ceiling frescoes of the Old Testament done by the seventeenth-century painter Giovanni Francesco Grimaldi. Today, we are off for a guided tour of Monte Testaccio, the artificial “8th hill” of Rome, built up in ancient times by layers of broken oil and wine jars from all the imported goods brought in to imperial Rome. Later this afternoon, I hope to get into the Cemetery of San Sebastiano, next to the famous catacomb of that name.

Monte Testaccio

We still have a lecture and concert on our cultural “to-do” list for next week, and my wife has several more palazzos to visit. However, because the timing is so close to the end of our visit, I have to finish a few projects in various libraries next week. While she has to finish seeing everything in the next eight days, the pressure is off me. I found out ten days ago that I will be coming back to Rome for five more weeks this summer. The American Academy in Rome will host a National Endowment for the Humanities summer seminar for college professors on “The Falls of Rome” in the fourth to six centuries. I was accepted as a participant and given a grant by the NEH to attend. So I will be able to do any left-over sight-seeing trips at that time, though it will be less pleasant in the summer heat and crowds of tourists. Timing is important.

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Mar 31 2010

On Ancient and Modern Sculpture

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In one of my Feb. posts, I mentioned attending a series of lectures on an ancient boy poet.  At the lectures and on the ensuing field trip, one of the participants was a local sculptor, Peter Rockwell. Peter, son of the famous American artist Norman Rockwell, came to Rome in 1961 as a young sculptor, and has made Rome his home ever since. Besides being an outstanding artist in his own right (mostly sculpture, but also woodcuts and lithographs), Peter became an expert on the history and development of stone cutting.  Yesterday we were able to visit his studio on the Janiculum Hill and have lunch with him afterwards.

Peter showed us the tools of the trade, and how they developed over the years.  He has often been called in as a consultant on issues of forgery, because evidence of which tools were used, or how finely polished a piece of sculpture is, are good indicators of the date of production.  He showed us two types of drills, one used already in ancient times, the other by Renaissance sculptors.  He also demonstrated techniques of pointing, used to  allow workmen to rough out a sculpture from a smaller model, and then allowing the artist to do the fine work at the end. Unfortunately, his book The Art of Stoneworking: A Reference Guide (Cambridge Univ. Press, 1993) is now out of print, but it is still a standard for discussions of history and technique.

Another lecture I heard at a conference last week discussed the reuse of building materials — taking columns from a pagan temple to build a fifth century church, for example.  Peter has spoken on a related issue — why so many ancient, and even Renaissance sculptures (such as some of Michelangelo’s) remained unfinished. Whether discussing the carving techniques used in the first century on Trajan’s Column, or his favorite sculptor Donatello, Peter’s passion for art is contagious.

I hope we can bring some WLC history and art majors to Rome in the next few years, and if so, we will definitely make a stop to see Peter’s studio and have him demonstrate for us the wonderful techniques of the sculptor.  In the meantime, you can find out more about Peter and see some of his work on the following site:

http://www.geoffreyrockwell.com/PRportfolio/.

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Mar 15 2010

Looking for St. Paul on the Appian Way

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When Paul was taken to Rome as a prisoner, Luke tells us in Acts 28:15 that Paul was coming up the Appian Way from Naples with his guards, and that the Christians in Rome  “had heard that we were coming, and they traveled as far as the Forum of Appius and the Three Taverns to meet us. At the sight of these men Paul thanked God and was encouraged.”  I had hoped to go out the Via Appia sometime during our time in Rome, and try to find the site of these ancient settlements.  At one of the lectures I attended, I met a New Testament scholar named Karl Donfried who had arranged for just such a trip. He had a local contact, a catholic priest who lived in the area, who was going to arrange for a car. They were kind enough to allow us to join the expedition.

I spent a half day getting ready at the library.  We have some late antique maps and itineraries that listed all the stations along the most important Roman roads, for they also served as the imperial pony-express system.  According to these, the city of Arricia was the first stop, 16 Roman miles south of Rome, followed by the Three Taverns (Tres Tabernae) 17 miles further on, then the Forum of Appius 10 miles further, then Terracina 18 miles beyond.  While Arricia and Terracina still exist with the same names, the two stops in between, the two mentioned in Acts, are not on the map.  But armed with the Roman measurements, I calculated that the 61 Roman miles were equal to 56 modern miles, and using Google Earth, I was able to approximate where each of the spots would be.

We had a beautiful sunny spring day for our outing, with the temperature close to 60.  After taking a local train from Rome to Cecchina, we were met by the priest and loaded into his car.  We first went looking for the southernmost of the two locations, the Forum of Appius, which we thought should be near the modern village of Borgo Faiti.  The church in the town was not dedicated to St. Paul, but had two large paintings on each side of the front wall – one of St. Paul on the road to Damascus, the other of Paul on the Rome to Rome.  He was shown with his guards, but also being greeted by local Christians.  But otherwise, there was little to tie this village to the ancient Forum of Appius.

We asked for a map at the only store in town, and the kind man told us that a former priest of the village had written a book about Paul’s visit here.  He did not have a copy, but while we waited, he dashed off to find the present priest, returning in 15 minutes with a copy of the book for each of us.  Following the map in the book, we soon located three Roman inscriptions at quarter mile intervals along the road.  Two were announcements that the Emperor Trajan had paid for repairs to the road at the end of the first century; the third was a milestone, with the number 43 clearly written on, and still apparently in its original location (in situ, as an archeologist would say).  Since our sources had said that the Forum of Appius was 43 Roman miles from Rome, we had hit paydirt!

dscn5609

Milepost XLIII

I was asked then how Paul had traveled up this far  — on foot, or in a cart?  Both are possible, but he could also have come this far in a boat.  In ancient times, this was the center of the Pontine Marshes, a swampy area through which the Via Appia ran straight as an arrow.  Starting at this point, and extending to the south, the road had a canal along side of it. (It’s still there, and we watched men fishing in it.) The Roman poet Horace (in his Satires, Book 1.5) tells how travelers could take a night express across the marshes – sleeping in a boat which would be pulled by mules down the canal during the night.  So if Paul could afford it, he may have gone the first stretch by boat.

Did Paul ride here?

Did Paul ride here?

We then headed north to look for the Three Taverns.  Along the way we found another milestone, but the distance it marked was no longer legible.  At the 10-mile point, where the Three Taverns should have been, the road jogged to the left and entered the large town of Cisterna.  I suspected in was at this poinnt, at an intersection just south of the modern city, that the ancient staging post would have been, but we were unable to find any confirmation.  We asked in the town, but no one could provide any information.  So armed with better maps and more research, I look forward to another expedition sometime in the future.  For the present, it was exciting to know we had walked at least a few paces in the footsteps of the great Apostle.

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Mar 10 2010

Two Most Unusual Saints

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Rome is a city of churches, and we have visited a lot of them – some for their beautiful architecture (St. Ivo designed by B0rromini), some for the works of art displayed in them (St. Augustino with a painting of Caravaggio), and some for their historical significance (St. Paul outside the Walls, thought to be built over the grave of that great apostle).  Our stay is only half over and my computer’s collection of photos has exactly 50 subfolders, 1 for each of the churches we’ve visited!

I noticed that almost all the churches we’ve visited so far are named after saints, except Gesu, the Baroque Jesuit church named for Jesus himself.  Most of you have heard of St. Peter’s, and Saint Mary (Maggiore), and St. John (Lateran), but Rome is filled with just as many churches named in honor of local, and at times rather obscure, saints.  St Agnes and St. Cecilia are the two most famous local female martyrs from the early church; St. Lawrence and St. Clement perhaps the two most famous male saints.  But few people even in Rome know much about St. Vito, St. Nero, St. Achilles, St. Susanna, or St. Pudenziana.  This past Sunday we visited two churches dedicated to two of the strangest saints around – St. Bibiana (or Vivian), and St. Eusebius.

The Church of Santa Bibiana is a little architectural gem, abutting the modern (and quite ugly) central train station in Rome.  The church is about half a mile down the southern side of the station, so few tourists ever see it.  It may have been first built in the mid-fifth century, but after several medieval face-lifts, the present design dates to the early seventeenth century and was one of the first jobs done by the young architect Lorenzo Bernini.  On the interior walls are a beautiful set of frescoes from the same century by Pietro da Cortona illustrating the life of St. Bibiana. Above the altar is a breathtaking marble statue of the saint carved by Bernini, and under the altar is an alabaster urn containing her remains (or relics), found under the altar of the previous church during its seventeenth century renovations.

Bernini's Church of St. Bibiana

Bernini's Church of St. Bibiana

But who was St. Bibiana?  The early medieval stories center on one Christian family in Rome in the mid-fourth century.  Bibiana’s father Flavian, her mother Dafrosa, and her sister Demetria all suffered in various ways for refusing to deny their faith, and Bibiana was executed – all during the time of Julian the Apostate.  Julian was emperor from 361-363, and he tried to turn the empire back to paganism 50 years after Constantine had made Christianity legal. However he died before he got his program off the ground, and there is no record of any overt persecution of Christians in Rome during Julian’s time, much less any martyrdoms!  The legends about Bibiana were made up about a century later.  To us it seems strange that people would invent a saint for whom to dedicate their church, rather than merely choose the name of a well-documented one.  My theory is that the land for the church was donated by someone, and that the story was created to give that particular spot meaning.  According to the legend, the church occupies the spot where Bibiana’s house once stood.

Just  as unhistorical, and even stranger, is the story of St. Eusebius of Rome.  He was supposedly a priest in the mid-fourth century at the time of Emperor Constantius II (who ruled just before Julian the Apostate).  Being a son of Constantine, Constantius was a Christian, but he was surrounded by spiritual advisors who were supporters of the heresy of Arianism.  As a result, he exiled many orthodox bishops, including the bishop of Rome, Liberius.  However, the rigors of exile made Liberius give in to the emperors demands, so he was allowed to return, but with a tarnished reputation.

Enter our priest Eusebius.  According to the story, being a faithful orthodox man, Eusebius refused to accept the tainted Liberius’s authority and ministerial acts, so he continued to have his own congregational meetings.  This made Constantius and Liberius so mad that they had him imprisoned in a four foot square room in his house, where, after seven months, he died as a martyr.

While this story does reflect the confusion in Rome caused by the “fall” of bishop Liberius, all evidence is that this story was concocted a century or so later, again to create a new saint for a new building.  At that time, some people still remembered the story of Liberius, the pope who caved in to the Arians, and so this story made him one of the villains.  So Eusebius was martyred by a pope, and Bibiana was martyred by an Emperor who did not reign long enough to persecute Christians.  Who says truth is stranger than fiction!

Interior of the Church of St. Eusebius

Interior of the Church of St. Eusebius

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Mar 01 2010

When in Rome …

Published by under Rome

Rome is one of the great cities of the world, and you can hear many languages on the streets. Since our Western civilization is shared by numerous European and American countries, one cannot be a true scholar in the humanities without knowing and using other languages. Since I am a historian of Greece and Rome by training, I am spending much of my sabbatical time studying texts in Latin and Greek. But since I must also read what other scholars are saying about these texts, I also read a lot of German, French and Italian. I also attend lectures and conferences and go on tours in which the presentations have been in German, French and Italian. Being able to use these languages not only enriches my scholarship, but opens new opportunities for learning and interacting with other scholars.

When we arrived in Rome in late January, Italian still felt like a “foreign” language for me, but I am happy to report that I am progressing well in both reading and speaking this beautiful language. Our WLC library has a wonderful book entitled From Italian to English which is a step-by-step guide to reading Italian. By working through that book, and reading Italian books and journal articles every day, I am starting to gain more confidence in my reading abilities.

The internet, however, is also helpful. With new luggage restrictions, I decided not even to bring along an Italian dictionary. Instead, since I have internet access in our apartment and in most of the libraries, when I come across a word or form I don’t know, I look it up on wordreference.com, a wonderful website with dictionaries in most major European languages. Their Italian-to-English dictionary is especially good.

In previous trips to Rome, usually for only two weeks at a time, I was too busy in the libraries to learn much spoken Italian. But speaking the language, even if only in an elementary way, was important for this trip. By doing so, we are accepted by our neighbors as more than just casual tourists. The people in restaurants explain what the local dishes are, not just haul out the pizza menu as they do for the other “foreigners.” We are able to read the explanations on signs in museums, and understand some of what the Italian tour guides are saying. I am able to speak better with Italian scholars, many of whom can understand some English, although few have confidence in speaking it.

Most days it takes me 30 to 60 minutes to ride the bus to one of the libraries for my study. On the way I am listening to my Italian lessons on my MP3 player. I strongly recommend the Pimsleur Italian series (also in the WLC library). Each of the 3 levels has 30 lessons, each 30 minutes long. You only have to listen and repeat or answer the questions; no books necessary. I am half way through the second level and am starting to feel comfortable ordering in the restaurant, asking questions in the supermarket, and making small talk with the attendants at the library.

Now when I overhear conversations, or someone talks to me, I am usually able to get the gist of what is being said. For some reason it feels especially good when someone asks Come sta? (How are you?) to not just give the generic answer “Sto bene” (I’m fine), but to give a good Midwestern answer – Non che male – “Not bad.”

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Feb 21 2010

St. Peter and a Precocious Prepubescent Poet

Published by under Rome

Rome is the home of a large number of international scholarly academies. In my first month here I have attended lectures at the American, British, and French academies, and met and interacted with scholars from the Norwegian, Swedish and Finnish institutes. These organizations have libraries open to visiting scholars, offer public lectures and seminars, give tours of historical sites, and often run archaeological projects in Rome and the surrounding areas. So while “sabbatical” has the root meaning of “rest,” there are so many activities going on in Rome that rest is usually not part of the weekly agenda. The past week I have fit two especially interesting events into my calendar.

 The first was a four-day conference put on by the Görres Institut, a German scholarly group located inside the Vatican. The conference was entitled “Petrus in Rom” – Peter in Rome. Except for one local Italian archaeologist, all the speakers were Germans, and all spoke about various aspects of the question as to whether St. Peter ever visited Rome, died here and was buried here. Excavations carried out under the Vatican during the 1940s discovered what appears to be his tomb, but questions remain – even for Catholic scholars. Interestingly, two of the papers were given by German evangelicals, one a Lutheran. If that surprised me, it surprised them even more to find a conservative American Lutheran in the audience. One, Rainer Riesner, wrote an outstanding book on the early life of Paul that has been translated into English and which I can recommend to everyone.

After four days of lectures in German, it was nice to move across the Janiculum Hill to the American Academy for a series of 5 lectures in English. Prof. Kathleen Coleman of Harvard is giving the annual Jerome Lectures, and her topic is the funerary monument of Quintus Sulpicius Maximus, discovered in Rome in 1871. Q.S.M. died when just 11, but his impressive monument declares he had already made his mark as a poet, competing successfully in a public competition composing extemporaneous Greek poetry! In fact the monument has 43 lines of one of his poems on the subject “What words Zeus might use when reproving Helios” (for allowing his son Phaethon to drive his sun-chariot which ends up crashing into the sea, killing Phaethon).

The tomb as it would have looked in its original setting

The tomb as it would have looked in its original setting

In addition the tombstone has two shorter poetic epigrams as well. In the lectures, Prof. Coleman is discussing the educational system that can produce a prodigy like Q.S.M., ancient poetic contests, why the parents would erect a monument like this, the pressures of ancient childhood, etc. On Saturday she led an outing to visit the spot where the monument was found (and where a reproduction now stands), and to see the monument itself in the Museum Montemartini, an old power plant that now provides a unique setting for several hundred ancient sculptures that formerly sat in storage at the Capitoline Museum.

In one of his epigrams, Maximus laments that “illness and exhaustion destroyed me; for neither morning or night did I turn my heart away from the Muses,” i.e. studying the liberal arts. It sounded just like my WLC students. So let me end by sending you all greetings and warning you, as I so often do, not to study too hard, at least not until midterms!

The youthful poet surrounded by his poems

The youthful poet surrounded by his poems

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Feb 10 2010

Uno Palazzo, Due Palazzi

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While an ancient historian loves to spend his time in old libraries and climbing around ancient Roman ruins and underneath early churches, there are other sights to be seen in the Eternal City. Although not exactly “modern,” the two palaces we visited this weekend are still in use, although both are 500 years old. So these visits took us back to the beauty and opulance of the Renaissance and the depravity which made the Reformation necessary. However their modern uses taught us some modern Italian history as well. Even though our guides only spoke Italian, we did enough homework to vouch for most of what follows.

Palazzo Madama in 17th Century

Palazzo Madama in 17th Century

On Saturday we visited the Palazzo Madama, originally the home of the powerful Crescenzi family. Piero, the brother of Pope Leo X (the Medici pope who excommunicated Luther) became its owner when he married into the family. Its name, however, comes from its later mistress, “Madame” Margaret of Austria, also known as Margaret of Parma. She was the illegitimate daughter of Charles V (the Holy Roman Emperor who outlawed Luther at the Diet of Worms); she was married off to an illegitimate son of another Medici, and the couple was set up to live here.

The print  to the right shows what the Palazzo looked like in the 17th century, and it hasn’t changed much on the outside. Unfortunately, we were not allowed to take pictures inside due to its modern use. In the 18th century Pope Benedict XIV purchased the building and made it one of the principal palaces of the Papal States for the next century. When the fledgling Republic of Rome was formed in the 19th century, it first became the residence of the governor of Rome and later the headquarters for the Ministry of Finance. Since 1871, however, it has been the seat of the Italian Senate. One of the two courtyards in the center of the building was roofed over to create the main meeting chamber for the 315 senators who represent the various districts of Italy yet today

Our Sunday visit took us to the Palazzo Spada, today the seat of the Council of State which functions something like our supreme court. It was built by a cardinal in the mid 16th century, and later became the residence of a Cardinal Spada. We were able to visit the rooms where the council works, most still with their 16th and 17th century decor, as well as the cardinal’s four-room art gallery, now one of the most famous small collections in Italy. My wife loved intricately frescoed ceilings, while I admire the cardinal’s wonderful collection of Roman sculptures, including a colossal statue, for several centuries thought to be the statue of Pompey that stood in Pompey’s portico and in whose shadow Julius Caesar was murdered on the Ides of March. Even though it probably is a century too young to match that story, it still is impressive.

Our favorite part of the Spada, however, is the magnificently clever and beautiful garden “Perspective” of the great Borromini. The cardinal had some unused space at the side of the building looking out at the bare wall of the neighboring palazzo, and so he asked the artist to create a beautiful view for him. Borromini created a narrow corridor lined with columns and with a beautiful statue and some ornamental plants at the far end. When the viewer stands at the end and looks down, it appears that the corridor is about 40 yards long and ends in a colossal statue. In fact, the corridor is only 10 yards deep, and the statue is only three feet high! By lowering the ceiling, raising the floor, placing the columns closer and closer together,and controlling the light, the effect fools the eye completely. Professor Gjerdset’s art class should try this out on the WLC “nun run!”

Borromini's Perspective, from my perspective

Borromini's Perspective, from my perspective

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Feb 05 2010

A History Professor in Rome

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This semester I have the double privilege of being on sabbatical and being in Rome! Having arrived on Jan. 20, my wife and I will spend about 3 months here. I am working on the second volume of my study of the popes of the fourth century, this one centering on Pope Liberius (bishop of Rome from 352-366).

The first week wast spent getting settled and getting the proper permission to use various libraries. We are living in the shadow of St. John Lateran, and so I began by using the library at the Pontifical LAteran University. I have also spent several mornings at the Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale, the national library of Italy. There I checked two seventeenth-century printed books that contained references for two different projects.  Look forward to further updates on this particular issue!

Most of my time, however, has been spent at the the Pontifical Institute of Christian Archaeology.  This is a small institution that gives degrees in the study of the earliest Christian churches and the catacombs.  Its library is a treasure house of material on all aspects of early Christianity, especially in Rome — architecture, liturgy, history, and inscriptions.  I have met the director, Prof. Fabrizio Bisconti, one of the world’s leading experts in Christian iconography.  I have also met the institute’s secretary, Dr. Olof Brandt, an expert in early Christian architecture.  It is so wonderful to be able to consult such experts at the same time as one is reading the published material on any given problem.

My first volume, now awaiting publication, is on Bishop Julius I (bishop from 337-352).  Excavations in the 1970s found what might be his burial place, in the Catacomb of Calepodeus and Callistus, on the far side of the Tiber River.  Unfortunately,Prof. Bisconti informed me that this particular catacomb can not currently be visited due to its poor state of preservation.

I was more lucky with my second attempt — to see if anything is left of the Basilica Liberiana — a church built by Bishop Liberius on the site of what is now the famous basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, just one block from the Institute of Christian Archaeology!  Last Sunday I was able to join a guided tour underneath the present basilica.  There I was able to see and take pictures of a first century Roman domus (upper class urban villa) that was located there.  But there was no sign of the earlier church.  I had read that most scholars have felt that the church of Liberius must have been located somewhere else nearby.  But my new friend, Prof. Brandt said that he believes that the present church is really just an expanded and refurbished version of the original church.  I hope to spend an hour with Prof. Brandt over a capucino in the coming week to hear more about his theory.

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