Friday, August 26, 2016

Saint Bartholomew the Great: London's best preserved Medieval church.

The church of Saint Bartholomew the Great in London is the best preserved Norman building in London, it was founded in 1123 by Rahere, a prebendary of Saint Paul's and an Augustinian canon. According to legend, Rahere was originally a jester - he travelled to Rome on pilgrimage and fell ill - he was hospitalised in Saint Bartholomew on the Tiber Island and at length he made a vow to build a church dedicated to that saint in London.

The current building was part of a larger complex, with a priory and a hospital. Whereas much of the hospital survived the Reformation, the the priory and the church were pulled down, the latter until the crossing, which still survives together with the choir, in its Norman style. The church can be accessed through a Tudor frontage which was erected after the Reformation by Lord Rich between 1547 and 1551.

Only part of the cloisters remain of the Medieval priory - they now host a cafe. 

The church escaped the fire of London in 1666 and subsequently fell into disrepair, the Lady Chapel had been used for commercial purposes, in it Benjamin Franklin worked as a journeyman printer for a year. The Priory Church was one of a few to escape damage during the WWII. 

The interior is quite impressive and solemn, despite the church was basically cut in two one can still feel the vastness of it, the beautiful nave and ambulatory behind the high altar are in the Romanesque, Norman style, whereas the Lady Chapel and the transepts are in the English Gothic one. The round apse in England was quite rare and it was introduced by the French. Later were added Perpendicular features around the apse and transepts. 

In the south transept is the baptismal font from 1405, it is only one of the two pre-Reformation ones in London, painter William Hogarth was baptised in it on 28 November 1697. 

In the right aisle is the late 16th century monument to Sir Walter Mildmay and his wife, he was the founder of Emmanuel College in Cambridge and Chancellor of England under Elizabeth I.

Behind the high altar is the Lady Chapel, as has already been mentioned and also a large ambulatory in the massive Romanesque style.

In the chancel is the tomb of Prior Rahere, founder of the priory and courtier of Henry I, died in 1143. The tomb dates from 1405 and it portrays him dressed in the Augustinian habit, an angel carries a shield with the arms of the priory: the lions of Normandy surmounted by two crowns. 

In the choir there is also a fascinating Jacobean carved pew that also holds the warden's stick.

On the left aisle is the rather fascinating monument to Sir Robert Chamberlayne. 

The great lectern is made out of ancient timbers of the Lady Chapel.

Perhaps the most interesting feature of Saint Bartholomew's is the Perpendicular oriel window: installed in the early 16th century by Prior William Bolton, so that he could keep an eye on the friars during the liturgy!
There is also a rebus in the carving below the window: it represents a tun (barrell) pierced by a bolt - thus punning on the Prior's surname!

The English parish church.

The English parish church is an institution - it is perhaps one of the great cultural symbols that defines Britain. These buildings conserve all the testimonies of the history of England. Whereas it would be impossible to write an article about them all, I have decided to analyse one particular case: Saint Andrew's church in Chesterton, Cambridgeshire.

This fascinating Medieval parish, just outside Cambridge is like many churches, located in a large church yard. Chesterton was initially an old Roman town, "chester" derives from the Latin word castrum, camp. Later, the Normans built a castle within the parish boundary. It is not clear when the church was founded but there is evidence in the Domesday Book that states that a priest has one virgate of land. Around 1200 we have the first recorded rector: Reginald of Paris (but then the Mass was in Latin wasn't it!). The Manor of Chesterton belonged to the King and the church was a subscription church which was built by the efforts of villagers, like most churches in England, the parishioners were mostly villeins or serfs who worked for the castle. 
In 1216, before the death of King John, England almost entered a civil war and in order to avoid this unpleasant situation the Pope sent a legate, Cardinal Guala, to reconcile the parties, he eventually succeeded and on 8 November 1217 he was granted the church and living of Chesterton by King Henry III. Because the Cardinal from Vercelli had already founded an Abbey, the parish church became benefice of the Italian abbey for over 200 years. 
In 1250 the church was rebuilt in the new Gothic style, known as Early English, not much remains of this phase but only a section of the chancel and the east windows of the aisles. In 1330 a new form of Gothic arrived, the Decorated style, and the church was rebuilt and expanded according to it. In the mid 1300s a church house was built in the grounds on orders from Vercelli and the beautiful Medieval building still stands. 

The Medieval "Tower of Chesterton": the old church house

In the 15th century the chancel was rebuilt and the North porch and clerestory were added. 
The Canons of Vercelli ended the two centuries' link with Chesterton as in 1436 Henry VI, with the aid of Pope Eugenius IV, seized the church and passed it on to King's Hall Cambridge (now Trinity College). There were subsequent efforts from the Abbey to regain the benefice but the Reformation intervened. By the end of the 15th century a wall painting representing the Last Judgement, a very popular theme, was commissioned.
It is known that on 25 May 1668 Samuel Pepys visited the church ... walked to Chesterton to see our old walk; and there into the Church, the bells ringing, and saw the place I used to sit in; and so to the ferry, and ferried over to the other side and walked with great pleasure, the river being mighty high by Barnwell Abbey; and so by Jesus College to the town…
Until the 18th century the vicars were fellows of Trinity College and lived there, until in 1803 Parliament passed an act that insisted on parish priests living within the parish premises. In the early 1820s a vicarage was built on Church Street.

The real gems of this church are the details that bring us back to life in Medieval England: the bosses in the forms of jesters or angels (within the sanctuary). 

15th century boss

A very interesting feature are also the pew ends which are from the 1430s/1440s. The are several carved figures: from imaginary animals such as griffins, dragons, greyhounds as it was popular at the time, to men dressed in English 15th century fashion.

15th century pew end

The sanctuary is also an interesting part of the church that brings us back to the history of the Church in England. There are still traces that show where the rood screen would have been (the wooden "fence" that divided the church from the sanctuary); the roof bosses here are not mocking jesters but rather angels, and on the right is the piscina for the holy vessels and the sedilia where deacon, priest and subdeacon would have been seated during the Mass. 

The Piscina

The whole chancel is opened by the real treasure of this church, the arch above the sanctuary is decorated with a rare Medieval wall painting representing the Last Judgement.

Last Judgement scenes, also known as "Doom Paintings", were very popular in the Middle Ages, and in England some have survived, not many are well preserved but the one at Chesterton is not in bad conditions. The whole scene is focused on the still whitewashed figure of Christ in Majesty, and the rood that was the focal point of churches before the Reformation, beneath him are Saint Peter and the Virgin Mary who welcome the just into the heavenly Jerusalem (on the left), St. Michael is sounding a loud trumpet reawakening the dead. Angels and demons fight over the salvation or damnation of souls. On the right are the devil and the unfortunate souls - there is no hierarchy here, the damned include popes, monks, kings, all entering hell's mouth. The whole scene though is tempered by a certain sense of humour. 

A demon in the Last Judgement

The artist and materials were not standard but rather high standard as compared to other churches. Eventually the painting was whitewashed during the Reformation, there are still fragments of the Protestant decorations such as the ten commandments, the Tudor rose and the coat of arms of James II.

The Last Judgement

The Pulpit is Jacobean, carved with in the patterns popular at the time, in the back of the church are information boards from the 18th and 19th century and a painting of the Royal Arms. 

The Jacobean Pulpit

As it was popular in churches, I think that this splendid building shows the continuity of the Church in England and it gives an idea of what churches were like and how they changed. Each parish church has a long story to tell, explore the one closest to you and you may find some interesting story or hidden treasure!

The interesting fact is that churches like St. Andrew’s never cease to amaze, here is another story, again linked to Italy, that is quite impressive: in 1871 the church restorers opened up a ogee-shaped 14th century window at the south-east end of the south aisle. They made an amazing discovery, they found a 14th century wall painting in the jamb of an old window, previously hidden in the 15th century to make room for a more “fashionable” Perpendicular window. The art work that had been hidden for public view for most of its life was eventually handed over to the Fitzwilliam Museum.
At first the Victorian historians identified her as Saint Dorothy, a 4th century virgin martyr, but later scholarship concluded that the small scythe (’sithe’ in middle English) in her right hand must be a rebus. In her left hand is the reference to a miracle: when she took some bread for the poor, her master eventually asked what she was carrying and the bread transformed into flowers.
Sitha was born in c.1212 in central Tuscany, and served in Lucca with the Fratinelli family until she died in 1272 - she lived a devout life as an uneducated lay-woman. She didn’t care for possession but gave herself entirely to prayer and the poor. When she died her employers treated her with honour as one of the family - she was then popularly acclaimed as a saint. Her fame was not great elsewhere - except in England, where she became a role model for those of all classes that went into service, even the wealthy ones, as it was part of their education. She is pictured carrying a bunch of keys, symbols of her office in the household. In England, but not elsewhere, she became the heavenly assistant in finding lost keys (and other things), much to the contempt of the Reformers! Another interesting link between Italy and England. Saint Sitha can now be admired at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, very close to its original home.

Monday, August 15, 2016

The Feast of Mary: the Falling Asleep or the Assumption.

Today, for Anglicans, is the Feast of Our Lady, the Mother of God, the ever-virgin Mary without sin, the tabernacle of Christ. The other churches that hold the feast have rather clear definitions of what occurs today: the celebration of Mary's departure from this world. As it often happens in Anglicanism, the theology behind this is more vague, most churches in the Anglican Communion commemorate this day as the "Falling Asleep of the Blessed Virgin Mary”, some believe in her Assumption, which for us in an adiaphora (a thing different), the closest we have to a dogma. 

Assumption of the Virgin Mary. London, Skinners' Company. c.15th century. 

The joint Anglican-Roman Catholic document Mary: Hope and Grace in Christ states that the origin of the teachings concerning the Dormition or the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary are not particularly clear but their earliest traces can be found no later than the fourth century, possibly in a Syrian or Jewish Christian group. The New Testament may be silent on the end of Mary’s life, but several early apocryphal sources, such as Transitus Mariae and other Apocryphas and accounts by various early saints, describe her dormition and assumption in Jerusalem, despite her house being in Ephesus. The end of the Virgin is disputed, the point is that the flesh that gave life to God could not be corruptible and therefore was assumed into heaven, for she was greater than Moses or Elijah who were taken into heaven and then so should she. Both in the West and in the East Mary is believed to share the glory of the heavens, though in the second case there is little concern over details. If the Incarnation is truly revealed through Mary and her history in Israel, then it is consistent with the economy of God’s revelation works for our salvation and how the figure of the Mother of God shares in the divine glory. The document gives for Anglicans a place for both the Dormition and the Assumption. Anglican theology had been vague over this previously, although the departure of Mary was not commemorated in the Book of Common Prayer, as it placed more importance on other Marian feasts - before the Reformation a theology of the Assumption was already spread in England as we can see from the later Sarum, York and Hereford Missals, after the Reformation, the position on this was not clear - perhaps in a very Anglican way - the followers were drawn to think that [Saint] Mary the Virgin (as the Prayer Book refers to her), the Mother of God, was now above with her Son, how this happened was not important.
The lowly maid who gave us Jesus the Christ; God the Son, with whom she shared a body and for who she was chosen then she has to share that heavenly sphere as also the Book of Revelation reveals: a great portent appeared in heaven, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. The Mother and the Son’s lives interlink and this gives us enough of an answer. 
As Anglicans, I believe we really are lucky to have the freedom of choosing between two splendid theologies: that of the Dormition and that of the Assumption, which really are not so different and could be complementary to an extent.

The Dormitio in the Basilica of Santa Maria in Aracoeli in Rome. 

The Dormition of Mary, perhaps the earliest theology regarding Mary’s departure from the earth, is today mainly upheld by the Eastern churches - it commemorates the Falling Asleep of Mary. In Orthodox and Catholic language of Scripture, [spiritual] death is often called “falling asleep”, in Greek and Latin coemeterium means a place of sleeping. A prominent example is also the Dormition of St. Anna, Mary’s mother. Although it is indeed a spiritual death, as Mary was very much into a deep sleep - the body that was shared and became a tabernacle of that of the Christ could not die, as death was the fruit of the original sin and being Mary the first redeemed by the Son.
Until the 5th century the Fathers of the Church do not mention the Dormition and it was until the 6th century that it was not celebrated as a holy day. 
Epiphanius of Salamis, a Jew from Syria Palestina, states that in Scripture there is nowhere one can find about the Virgin’s death or burial - he realises that silence might be the key to the holy Virgin’s heavenly fate.
The events from the Dormition can be found in the apocrypha and therefore the Church did not take all their contents but only the basic and common idea that her soul was adopted by Christ through the Dormition. 
Emperor Maurice (582-602) set the first date for the Feast of the Dormition on August 15, that is when commemorations for the departing of the Virgin officially began, Rome borrowed the tradition from Constantinople during the pontificate of Pope Sergius I (687-701), the feast was called “Dormitio Beatae Virginis”. The Council of Ephesus was instrumental in spreading this particular Marian devotion.
The Dormition is associated with various places, notably with Jerusalem; the Tomb of Mary and the Basilica of the Dormition as well as Ephesus in Turkey, which contains the House of the Virgin Mary and also with Constantinople, where a shrine dedicated to her girdle survived until the fall of the Empire in the 15th century.
Christian iconography regarding the Dormitio follows the belief of the Church that Mary spent her life after her central role during the Pentecost, living at the house of Saint John in Jerusalem, when the Archangel Gabriel came back to reveal to her her coming death after three days. The apostles, scattered throughout the world, were suddenly taken at her side, except Thomas who arrived three days later. He saw a cloud above the tomb and her body being assumed into heaven. He asked her “where are you going, O Holy One?” and she gave him her girdle saying “receive this my friend” only to disappear suddenly. Then Thomas and the apostles went to see her grave in Gethsemane (another tradition sets it by her Ephesus, where Mary's House is located), where she had been buried at her request, but her body was gone, leaving a sweet fragrance in the air. An apparition informed them that her body reunited with her soul in heaven after the third day. 
This is the tradition of East, but for long it has also been that of the West, indeed the iconography of the Madonna of the Girdle, extremely popular in late Medieval and Renaissance Italy, was very much western. This theology tells us that the Theotokos has already undergone the bodily resurrection we will experience at the final judgement, as she was without sin, she stands in heaven with all the holy ones and on a privileged place by the Trinity.

Madonna of the Girdle - Sebastiano Mainardi - c.1490 - Fresco - Baroncelli Chapel, Santa Croce, Florence. 

The Assumption of Mary into Heaven is the way in which the Western church describes the completion of Mary’s earthly life, while her soul and body were assumed into heavenly glory. A doctrine that has become dogma of the Roman Catholic Church since 1950 with the constitution Munificentissimus Deus (1950) by Pope Pius XII in which Mary’s triumph over death and sin is based on 1 Corinthian 15:54: then shall come to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory.
Saint Epiphanius of Salamis (he was really called that) in AD 377 states that we could not know whether Mary had died or not, but apocryphal accounts of the Virgin’s assumption circulated since the 4th century, notably the Book of Mary’s Repose. The Church interpreted Revelation 12 as a scriptural basis for this doctrine.
Apocrypha of the 5th, attributed to St. John and St. Melito of Sardis presents further documents on the Assumption of the Virgin - both tell of Mary being transported into the clouds from her deathbed. Later in the 6th century, Dionysus the Areopagite and John of Damascus mention the same event, they are the first church authorities to advocate this doctrine, backed by none other than Gregory of Tours who helped to spread it.
The story is originally set at Mary’s deathbed in Jerusalem, though later accounts suggest the House of the Virgin Mary in Ephesus. By the 7th century, a variation of the Dormition’s story of St. Thomas appears, showing how by now the theologies of the Dormition and Assumption are still very much interlinked, and the first celebrations of the Assumption are in fact celebrations of the Dormition, the first recorded being that established in the East by Emperor Maurice around AD 600. In the West the Assumption was celebrated under Pope Sergius I in 8th century and Pope Leo IV made the feast official. In England, even more so than the continent, the Assumption was a widespread and common iconography since the 1300s, in Italy the two coexisted into the 1500s. Throughout the Middle Ages, well into the Renaissance, the Dormition and Assumption, were still not very distinct but seemed rather like two moments of the same story, especially in Christian iconography the Falling Asleep often takes places around the Virgin’s deathbed, set in dull landscapes, as portrayed by Filippo Lippi in Spoleto Cathedral, with St. Thomas famously arriving later! The scene seems void of any hope, it is truly a death, can we really tell the Virgin is sleeping?

Dormition of the Virgin Mary - Filippo Lippi - c.1467 - Fresco - Spoleto Cathedral. 

But the story continues and if we look at an Assumption from roughly the same time, let’s take Pintoricchio’s Assumption in Santa Maria del Popolo, we do see the Virgin being assumed into heaven, out of a sepulchre (which is always present in the iconography of the assumption), reminder of the first scene, the dormition (then the two theologies weren't really defined as different, instead were more vague), but now surrounded by joyful saints and adoring angels, as well as a bright background - joy fills the scene - Mary is with Christ and all sadness is gone. She becomes active part in God’s revelation unto humanity and his economy of Salvation. Dormition and Ascension are very much part of the same event, it would seem that one is the natural continuation of the other, and they do not antagonise one or the other but rather complete each other beautifully. The Dormition is complete in the Assumption.

Assumption of the Virgin Mary - Pintoricchio - c.1490 - Fresco - Basso della Rovere Chapel, Santa Maria del Popolo, Rome. 

The scriptural basis for both the Mary’s departure is not only found in the Scriptures as Pius XII reminds us in Munificentissimus Deus: All these proofs and considerations of the holy Fathers and the theologians are based upon the Sacred Writings as their ultimate foundation. -- Precedent to this, he cited many passages that have been offered in support of this teaching. But indeed in the very commonality of so many sources regarding this subject and the very work and the revelation of the Holy Spirit through the Tradition of the Church.
Although, some passages do announce Mary’s special way of leaving us to become Queen of Heaven if we look closely: in 1st Corinthians 15, Saint Paul recalls Genesis 3:15 where it is foretold that the seed of the woman will crush Satan with his feet. This is a reference to the Son of God and how Mary will share in this role in heaven. Psalm 132 is also rather revealing: Arise, O Lord, into thy resting place: thou and the ark, which thou hast sanctified (v. 8). Just like the Church is the New Covenant, Jesus the new Temple, Mary is their Ark - taken to heaven in soul and body. Finally, Revelation 12 that already tells us of a woman with a crown of twelve stars announces of a woman clothed with the sun. This is how Mary’s bodily assumption is understood from a scriptural point of view - it is a very poetic way of doing theology in my opinion, a subtle and profound way to discern the mystery of God.

Assumption of Mary - English - 15th century - Alabaster - Victoria&Albert Museum, London. 

As Anglicans we are fortunate to make use of this great patrimony of the Tradition of faith of the Church, a patrimony in which God is mysteriously revealed to us day by day, on this day by the Virgin the Mother with whom, her Son shared this holy tabernacle, now partaking in the work of Salvation from the highest point of the celestial sphere right below you. Happy Feast of the Dormition and the Assumption. I like to think that today, as the Apostles, we witness the Assumption of Mary, from below, whereas the departed and the saints witness the Coronation of the Virgin above, as she leaves us, she is crowned into glory. Our earthly path ends with the heavenly vision in the sight of God, although it's not yet time for us to see beyond, for the moment we are here below, but this is what awaits us, there are always two sides to the Christian story. Mary departs from us to be a woman with a crown of twelve stars. The end is only the beginning. Salve Regina!

Coronation of the Virgin - Lorenzo Monaco - c.1414 - Tempera on Panel - Uffizi Gallery, Florence.

Friday, August 12, 2016

The Daddi Polyptych at the Courtauld Institute.

Sometimes in my posts I can't just write as much as I would like to, because each single work might require an entire book, this time I decided to analyse just one, but more deeply. Far from me to sound boorish, but I hope this article will help you to understand and read the stories these wonderful works want to tell.
The Courtauld Institute in London has a rather extensive and fine art collection, sometimes museums have simply too many good works to write a blog article about, in these cases I prefer to focus on a single work, and my favourite work in this collection is certainly Bernardo Daddi's Polyptych. This Florentine artist who collaborated with Giotto himself is indeed very skilled and belongs to that last breath of the Italian Middle Ages that were already turning into a courtois "international" Gothic - pre-Renaissance style. We can indeed notice that from the plasticity of the figures, the iconography and indeed the theological meaning of the work and its use in the liturgical life of the church.
This particular work was executed c.1348, during that time Florence had an original version of the Roman rite, that while for some reason it was looking back, it was also starting to depart from the earlier Roman rite and churches were starting to have rather "modern" (in the art historical sense of the word) liturgical arrangements. Altarpieces also reflected this, they were clearly made as reredos for the late Medieval altar, it is when the "altar - piece" as we know it originates, which is also why it is such a pity to see them in museums nowadays often taken away from their original context which way too often is not mentioned, especially from works bought (or stolen) that are now abroad in England, Germany, France or America. These are altarpieces, not gallery paintings, this is to be reminded. Not that I am criticising that. However, this particular work is a perfect representation of this, it has all the symbolism of an altarpiece.
The beautiful Gothic frame contains one main scene and four side "stories". In the central panel we have the crucifixion, central because it was in the centre of the altar, substituting the altar cross and even more so it was representing the holiness of the sacrament of the Mass that would have been taking place right in front of it. It is a rather common iconography in Italian works: Christ's blood is being collected by an angel in a cup, recalling how the sacred Blood of Christ is that same one found in the cup at the Eucharist. Other two angels are flying, quite harmoniously for 1348, around Christ because this is Christ's sacrifice, it is after the Last Supper the moment that solemnises his promise to the world, his sacrifice, it validates it and therefore the angels from God the Father, above the scene, honour the scene. This is the heavenly and also actual representation of what is happening on the altar. The scene below is quite traditional, the Roman soldiers have just witnessed the miracle, the earth trembled "this was truly the Son of God". Mary is in total despair, John seems lost, Mary Magdalene is holding the cross, as a proto-relic, as the link Christians in the future will always have with Christ Jesus, through it, she is adoring Him, iconographically the cross will always be Christ and she is very well making that sure. Our crosses are that cross. The fulfilment of Christ's revelation to humankind. Besides, the art historical and theological description this very image tells us and reveals itself to each one of us in a different and profound way, I leave that to you all.
The four evangelists are located in the upper part of the two side panels, they represent the Biblical revelation and truth of this scene, they are the link, those through whom Christ was revealed in history to us.
As in other Medieval and Renaissance altarpieces, various saints are located in the side niches - they often had links with the particular institutions and towns where they were located, and unlike works for private chapels, donors were not represented.
This altarpiece was made for the little church of San Giorgio in Ruballa, outside Florence. 
The saints are from left to right: Saint Lawrence, one of the most important martyrs, recognisable for his dalmatic and palm branch, Andrew holding the cross on which he was crucified, Saint Bartholomew with the knife used for his terrible martyrdom and George patron of the church where the altarpiece was located, his iconography is rather charming: the spear, the shield and under his feet the famous dragon. A rather suggestive magical Gothic feature. On the other side are: Peter and Paul, patron saints of Rome and therefore "of the Church", with the sword and keys and finally are Saint James Major and St. Stephen, the first martyr, with a dalmatic and flag, probably representing the power of Christ's resurrection over death (and martyrdom) which would also be an interesting response to the central scene. All the martyrs are also holding books, the Holy Writ, for which they died, in the case of Paul and Peter, they also represent the letters and the doctrine of Holy Mother Church. St. Lawrence and Stephen open and close the altarpiece, it is interesting as their stories are interlinked in death, according to the Golden Legend and the "Invention of St. Stephen", his relics were discovered in Jerusalem and were sent to Constantinople and then to Rome so that they could rest near those of St. Lawrence, the two first and most important martyrs of Christianity, presenting you this glorious work.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

10 things to see and to do in Rome this summer. 2016 edition.

As many of you probably might have noticed, I focus my articles pretty much on peculiar artistic or historical subjects, however, I did want to write a lighter post that some of you might find helpful, and indeed a light summer reading, if you find yourself in Rome. Here are 10 things you should do, they also cover the main attractions you would want to visit anyway, Coliseum and St. Peter's excluded. But we are not so banal, are we? One last warning, some of these places will offer shade from the sun, but if you're looking for anywhere cool, then you shouldn't visit Rome in the summer. Always bring a bottle of water with you, never throw it away, you can always refill it with the fresh mountain water coming from the city's nasoni (the little fountains). Now, wear a proper hat and enjoy the tour!


Want to see a "newly" discovered, old Roman church that has been covered for over a thousand years by debris and which is entirely decorated with Byzantine frescoes that are world renowned? Make sure to pay a visit to Santa Maria Antiqua in the Roman Forum. The church is open this summer for an exhibition. You must make sure not to miss it! There is even one greater gift included in the ticket: the church is in the Roman Forum so you will have free access to most of it. Wander around and discover the wonders of the greatest of ancient civilisations. You will find beautiful ruins of old classical buildings but also some peculiar features, such as the church that has a façade that was previously a Roman temple's! Make sure to visit in the early morning or in the late evening, for better light and when the sun is not too deadly...


Rome is a city built on hills, surely you don't have to see them all (but you should), two of them offer great views on the city but also an escape from the heat, the best ones are the Janiculum and Aventine hills. The first located above the Trastevere hosts two Renaissance churches: Sant'Onofrio and San Pietro in Montorio - the first with beautiful cloisters, frescoes by Antoniazzo Romano and Pintoricchio, the second with works by Antoniazzo Romano, Sebastiano del Piombo, Bernini, Vasari and with the famous Bramante's temple, built on the site of Saint Peter's crucifixion. The hill offers a nice walk, under the shade of pine and oak trees, the view is spectacular, on one side it overlooks the whole city, on the other is the dome of St. Peter's. The Adventine is equally great, it hosts ancient basilicas, among the very first ones in Rome in fact, among them San Saba and Santa Balbina, from whence you could start your walk, the scenery there is amazing, then Santa Sabina, famous for being the best preserved early Christian church in Rome, in its interior and for its 5th century carved door! Nearby there is the famous key-hole with a spectacular view on St. Peter's, you can end your walk at the Giardino degli Aranci, it offers one of the best views on the Eternal City. A little tip: you will need to cross the river to get from one hill to the other, use the ancient Roman bridges of the Tiber Island or the Renaissance Ponte Sisto!


I highly suggest you to opt for this option on 5th August. You could start your journey by visiting the earliest churches of Rome, renowned for their ancient mosaics. The first one would be Santi Cosma e Damiano, right outside the Forum, the church was built in an ancient Roman temple, divided into two storeys during the 17th century because of the Tiber's floodings, you can visit the early Christian crypt and the 6th century mosaics. You could then proceed to Santa Pudenziana to admire the oldest mosaic in Rome, dating back to the 4th century, in fact it isn't even in the early-Christian style but in the late Roman one! After that you could move on to Santa Prassede that hosts both a beautiful 9th century apse mosaic but also a greater treasure, the chapel of San Zeno, with glorious mosaics in the Byzantine style and even the relic of the column on which Jesus was flagellated. Remember to check out, everything in these churches, the mosaics aren't the only things to see! Often the floor, decorated with another form of mosaics called "Cosmati" is equally mind blowing. Now, we will reach the point in which you will realise why you should take this tour on this exact day. 5th August is the feast of the Virgin in Rome, on this special day make sure to visit the oldest standing Papal basilica of Rome: Saint Mary Major, its beautiful early and Medieval mosaics, the Renaissance works by Mino da Fiesole and Piero della Francesca (?), the first crib scene in the world (in the treasury) but first of all say a prayer to Our Lady. According to the legend she appeared in a dream to pope Liberius asking him to build a church dedicated after her, the following morning the miracle happened: it snowed on the exact spot the basilica had to be build, in the middle of the summer! During Vespers, at the Magnificat a snowfall will pour on the high altar, you will never forget it! You can end journey visit by visiting the Victorian Anglican church of St. Paul's within the Walls with lovely Pre-Raphaelite mosaics by Edward Burne-Jones!


As they say in Rome "if you need some air", I highly suggest you to visit the city's beautiful parks: get lost in the vast Villa Doria Pamphilj, walk endlessly in this charming estate, it couldn't just be better: the large trees, the hills, the little ponds and fountains but especially the Versailles-like huge Baroque water games, ending in a large lake populated by swans and beavers. It's only a short walk from the Janiculum hill. Another beautiful park is the Villa Borghese, somehow "smaller" but with plenty of eclectic Neo-Classical works and even Egyptian-like architecture. The beautiful fountains, the trees, the majestic promenades offer a charming escape from the city life. There is also a lovely lake with a temple where you can go on a boat ride, it is a must at sunset! Make sure to end your visit on the Pincio, overlooking the Spanish Steps and the whole city. If you have children, there is an ecologic and animal friendly Zoo, if you have teens take them to the park's world-renowned art gallery! If you don't have any children, visit it anyway.


If you want to escape the city, in favour of a "wilder" option, there is the walk along the Via Appia Antica, you will be able to stroll on the ancient Roman "motorway", along it you will find tombs, ancient houses and will be brought back in time. You can relax and have a picnic in the wild field facing the Cecilia Metella's Mausoleum. It will be like approaching the city in the old days of the Grand-Tour. Talking about Grand-Tour, if you want to experience the life of the great tourists that visited Rome during the 18th and 19th century, visit the Protestant Cemetery in Testaccio, the Keats-Shelley House near the Spanish Steps or the Goethe House on the Via del Corso! But careful about the ghosts...


I have been quite kind to you until now, Rome is also a city of art, of course our museums are churches and ruins, but we have our fair share of great art galleries too. Surely, you should visit the Borghese Gallery, booking in advance, you will be able to admire ancient sculptures, works by Bernini or Canova and paintings by the great masters, such as Titian or Raphael, all of them in the original location in which the family placed them, some of the ancient ones are unfortunately in the Louvre now. Napoleon and all that... The Corsini Gallery is never really crowded and offers a great collection of art works, Caravaggio, Fra Angelico, Annibale Carracci are all there. As for any respectable noble Roman family collection the Barberini Gallery hosts a great deal of works too: Caravaggios, Raphael, Filippo Lippi and even one of the most famous portraits of Henry VIII. In the setting of a family palazzo designed by Bernini and Borromini. The great salone has a spectacular fresco celebrating the family by Pietro da Cortona. For a more "familiar" atmosphere there is also the Doria-Pamphilj Gallery, still family owned! This beautiful palazzo hosts some threats, you will be able to see the original Renaissance cloisters, the family chapel, the great Versailles-like corridor with Venetian mirrors, and Memling, Filippo Lippi, Caravaggio and the most famous Velazquez painting in the world. You can end your visit with the Villa Farnesina and its Raphael frescoes, located in a charming and calm area of the Trastevere.


Explore Baroque Rome: whether it'd be the excesses of the Gesù, the optical illusions in the ceiling frescoes at Sant'Ignazio or the Pietro da Cortona and Rubens works at the Chiesa Nuova - covering also the post-Trent Jesuit and Oratorian churches of Rome and the charming tomb of St. Philip Neri. Or the crazy works by Bernini and Borromini in Santa Maria della Vittoria, Sant'Ivo, Sant'Andrea al Quirinale, San Carlino or Sant'Agnese in Agone or their "secular" commissions such as the stair-cases of the Barberini Palace, the Ponte Sant'Angelo (leading to the castle) or the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi. Explore any church on your way, you will probably see a Baroque masterpiece in every one! It is here that the Counter-Reformation started after all. It might not be Baroque, but make sure to see the Caravaggios scattered through the city: Sant'Agostino, San Luigi dei Francesi, Santa Maria del Popolo. They are a must-see and it may sound banal, but it is a transcendental experience to see the works of a great master.


If you want to escape ancient ruins or Baroque works there is also the dreamy Renaissance option, the greatest art mankind ever produced, visiting the churches of the Medieval mendicant orders of Augustinians, Franciscans and Dominicans, take a relaxed stroll through the most central area of Rome, starting with the Franciscan Santa Maria in Aracoeli, near the Capitol Hill, built on the site of Augustus' house, where he received the famous vision. The church hosts the Bufalini Chapel, with the famous Pinturicchio frescoes representing the life of Saint Bernardino. Another chapel on the opposite aisle hosts a fresco of Saint Anthony of Padua by Benozzo Gozzoli, follower of Fra Angelico who decorated the Magi Chapel in Florence. In the counter-façade is also one of the greatest tombs by Andrea Bregno, with fine sculptures of Saints Peter, Paul, Michael and Francis. The ideal Renaissance tomb. Nearby is a tombstone by Donatello. Not too far from that stands the Dominican church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva, the only remaining church in Rome with Gothic architecture, here is the splendid Carafa Chapel with frescoes by Florentine Filippino Lippi representing the Annunciation and the Assumption of Our Lady and the life of Saint Thomas Aquinas. In another chapel is the tomb of Fra Angelico himself, the altarpiece is a Madonna and Child by Benozzo Gozzoli. Tombs by Andrea Bregno and Mino da Fiesole, some with the original painted decorations, and Bregno's very tomb, are scattered through the church, find them all! The Annunciation chapel hosts the last works by the only Roman Renaissance artist Antoniazzo Romano, representing the Annunciation and with the good cardinal Torquemada (not the other one) donating alms to poor women that would have had to be prostitutes instead. Another chapel hosts the tomb of another Spanish cardinal with a fresco by a follower of Antoniazzo, Christ with angels. You can continue this tour by visiting  the Augustinian Santa Maria del Popolo, famous for the Pintoricchio Della Rovere and Cybo chapels and choir frescoes, representing the life of the Virgin and saints, the Bregno sculptures and finally the Chigi Chapel designed and decorated by Raphael and Sebastiano del Piombo. The tour could end with Santa Maria della Pace and Sant'Agostino, that host the only frescoes in a church outside the Vatican City by Raphael: the Sibyls and the prophet Isaiah. Sorry I could not make this any shorter, but you know how much I love the Renaissance! Santa Maria della Pace and Santa Trinità dei Monti also offer a great "Mannerist alternative" to the previous places.


Don't feel like having a plan? Just take a walk in central Rome and chances are you will find something amazing, why don't you take a tour of the city's fountains? You could start with the famous ones such as the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi by Bernini, the Fontana del Tritone also by Bernini, the Barcaccia by Bernini, they're all located in the main piazzas. But after you have seen them there are plenty of other ones to see, from the smallest ones, such as the one in Piazza Lancellotti or the one in the Piazza of Sant'Andrea della Valle, that were located in the Piazza Montanara and Piazza Scossacavalli, demolished by Mussolini... A must-see is the Fontana delle Tartarughe, near the Jewish Ghetto, good photos are guaranteed and you will have a refreshing fun!


This is the most important point, you must remember you are in Rome, you have to relax, wherever you are, stop and admire what's around you. Preferably, with a good gelato in your hand, always add panna, don't be a tourist! You might also have a great dish of pasta and don't say it will make you fat! It annoys us, if you will follow a strict Mediterranean diet it won't (supposedly) make you fat! Did I mention the wine? Yes the wine...

The most amazing Flemish tapestries.

Two of my favourite tapestries are the two French/Flemish Renaissance (late 15th century) ones representing the "Lady and the Unicorn" and the "Hunt of the Unicorn". The first is located at the Musée national du Moyen Âge in Cluny and the other in the Cloisters Museum in New York. The first represents the five senses and an ideal representation of understanding or love, the second represents the hunt of a unicorn and its joyous "resurrection". In both works the unicorn might be a symbol of the Virgin and of Christ. I believe these tapestries are the essence of the Renaissance magic, that idealised version of the Middle Ages that we all dream of.

The Lady and the Unicorn






À Mon Seul Désir

The Hunt of the Unicorn

The Start of the Hunt


Fragments of the "Mystic Capture of the Unicorn"

The Unicorn is Found

The Unicorn is Attacked

The Unicorn Defends Itself

The Unicorn is Killed and Brought to the Castle

The Unicorn is in Captivity and No Longer Dead