Tag Archives: Rome

Home and Away

Dear Sor Juana,

Journeys are full of home and away moments.  You are both home and away at the same time. For the act of coming home to yourself you don’t need to be away.  Invisible Hansel and Gretel breadcrumbs trails appear on the landscape having been sown into the subconscious years ago lead my pilgrim steps.  There is deep time (and I have written about this previously) occasionally seeping in between the rocks, cracks and crannies. One such home and away moment recently was spent in a Roman basilica, resting place of brothers Saints Cyril and Methodius. In this lavish palace, once home to a Pope you will find generations of stories laid and overlaid and each breadcrumb you follow will take you down deeper.

In Rome, St Clemente Basilica’s  will lead you under ground to discoveries all the way back to the first century. There you find remnants of a home fed by a still functioning fresh water spring, and is the foundation for the religious community finding refreshment through their faith. At the same time the living museum above is drenched with incense being dispensed by bejewelled thurible’s being held by bejewelled princes of the church.   A smoking ceremony of long past to cleanse and bless the place of worship. This night the feast of the brothers  is celebrated and more than a millennia of history, remembered . The ancient chorus, call and response reverb up and down the crypt sung by the faithful.  It is not my home though and I am resolved to be visiting a living museum.

Sor Juana you would have been at home here in the crypt and with all the trappings of a well-heeled court still visible in the treasures on the walls and behind glass, yet at the same time, I think you too would have felt alienated from this grandeur so far away from the simplicity and radical message at the origins of the faith and the drivers that took Cyril and Methodius to take them far from home to spread their version of good news.

I am home and I am away.


St Cyril’s Feast Day

Gregorian chant

Gold, frankincense and myrrh

Painted stone

Layers discovered below

Another above disappears

Crests and capes

Crowns adorned with rubies, emeralds, pearls

The Holy Roman Empire strikes a chord

While the founder of the firm

Dies (again) of embarrassment.

St Clemente Basilica

St Clemente Basilica


Peaking Early, Paying Back

Dear Sor Juana,

This letter is being written in Rome, where the crisp air of late winter is refreshing. From my window I can see the Coloseum, an icon of imperialism being restored, this generation of artisans preserving the building for future generations to catch the audacity of Ancient Rome at its peak.

The city is down on its luck and signs of recession are all around with waste piling up in the laneways and benches covered in cardboard cartons await their tenants to arrive at dusk. Rome peaked early and has been trading on its past ever since.

One imperial regime after another, Roman gods replaced by the Christian God, and judging by the number of selfie sticks I’ve seen so far Narcissus seems to have found a home again in Rome.

The Pieta, Michaelangelo

The Pieta, Michaelangelo

Trading on early success, the beauty of youth and young ideas brings its own burden. The need to keep living up to your past may mean you miss the mark from time to time. There are exceptions of course, and Michaelangelo comes to mind – at 24 created The Pieta and was still creative five decades more. Sor Juana you would have been moved by the limp body frozen in the solid rock, still, forever. How does a young artist know what it is like to be held and to hold unless he has had that intimate and intense experience himself – a love without the boundary of time or place? He was just six years old when his mother died. An early peak experience that perhaps offered an entry to emotion? Deaths of parents present and re-present themselves throughout our lives.

Last time I was in Rome, I was about nine years old, in part a consequence of my father peaking early in his career as a psychologist. We were on a family summer holiday. I have a few fragments of memory that connect me to that time. Jumping off a bus and then trying to jump back on while it was still moving is the main one – it is a defining intense memory of separation and desperation. In my recollection there is a hand from a stranger pulling me up and back into my place to the relief of all. I always feel close to my father when travelling. And I am regularly pulled back into place by strangers. Acts of kindness and compassion are bestowed as I have fallen off the bus many times over the years.

Having peaked early, Rome needs a hand to help it back onto the bus. As a tourist, my humble and modest contribution is just one pair of hands caressing the Italian economy back into the black and giving back to Rome what it paid forward centuries ago.