Art of Subiaco

I promised my aunt I would take pictures of art, so here is the first in a series of posts revolving around that. Unfortunately, these are not my pictures: the frescoes I saw at Subiaco were in much better condition, having been recently restored. I took these photographs from the Subiaco Benedictine’s website.

Subiaco is the site of the cave St. Benedict lived for a few years in his young adulthood, around the year 500. The first communities he founded were set up in the area as well, and a monastery stands there today, built into the side of the mountain, around the cave. Known as Sacra Speco, it features an impressive collection of frescoes, adorning the walls of two churches and several chapels, painted in the 12th, 13th, and 14th centuries.

The fresco reminds the viewer that death (the flowing haired skeleton) can strike anyone at anytime. This photograph doesn’t show it well, but there is speech next to each character’s heads, so this fresco is one of the first comic strips.

I’ve never found an image of our Lady to be totally satisfying. I never find any of them to actually portray Mary as beautiful or natural or human. This photograph really doesn’t do it justice, it’s taken from a weird angle. She has a kind but knowing look in her eyes, just like every other mother on the face of the planet. I bought a couple of prayer cards with this image, and I study with one in view.

There is a rivalry between the Benedictines and the Cistercians (the Cistercians broke off from the Benedictines at the end of the 11th century), and the Benedictine fresco painters protrayed any bad monk in Cistercians garb (white habit with black scapular on top). One Cistercian is being punished, and another is being tempted by the devil in the doorway.

This portrait of St. Francis was painted during his lifetime, because the inscription reads “Fr. Franciscus” and he was widely believed to a be saint immediately following his death. Indeed, he was canonized only two years after his death.


The Miracle of Mt. Subasio

I definitely had my glasses on the climb up Mount Subasio, the wilderness of which St. Francis would often escape to in order to pray.

Saint Rita receiving the partial stigmata

With boots removed, but glasses most definitely on, I set off to make the pilgrimage along the switchbacks.

The views and the shoeless suffering quickly stunned me into a reflective silence. There’s something profoundly moving about choosing to suffer and choosing to respond positively. Pain has the capability to transform a person, for better or for worse. I had a book about Saint Rita as a child, and she asked our Lord to allow her to suffer like he did. She bore a wound on her forehead for the rest of her life after asking this. I never understood how someone could ask to suffer until tramping around barefoot really drove home that suffering is a blessing, especially if you generally have a spirit of sacrifice and generosity.

Please note the glasses.

Please note the glasses.

After 45 minutes, I arrived at the hermitage, and after navigating through it, I reached the site where St. Francis received the stigmata and where he preached to the birds. Also, the site where a classmate had band-aids for the cut on my toe. I got my picture with a statue of St. Francis praying on his back, which proves that my glasses were at the top of the mountain.

For the hike down, I put my shoes on for the sake of expediency and the cut. A few minutes down, I realized I no longer had my glasses on. But Mass was soon, and I didn’t have time to check all my pockets, so I said quick prayers to St. Francis and St. Anthony and hoped that my glasses were somewhere on my person. My roommate, Allie, and I sang “All Creatures of Our God and King” quietly as the crowd behind us shouted some patriotic tune.

Out of all the impressive parts of the universe, the oceans, the planets, the redwoods, the tuataras, the stars… mountains are probably my favorite. A friend once reflected to me, “Mountains make you feel small, but they give you a chance. You can climb them, conquer them, and then you’re on top of the world.” Mountains remind you of your weakness, but give you a chance to prove your strength. The best things in life, whether they be the best friends or the best experiences, participate in this same phenomenon.


Post-hike: I’ve never been happier to see shoes. And I love me some shoes.

Speaking of said experiences, I ended my hike at the lower part of the Basilica of St. Francis, where one of our chaplains celebrated anticipatory Mass. In his homily, he challenged us to “come to the Lord in silence” and offer up ourselves, if we truly wanted happiness. The Mass is a sort of mountain, too.

I searched every last pocket for my glasses, but to no avail. My glasses were lost. I asked the professors and RAs, but they hadn’t seen them either. I resigned myself to waking up at 4 the next morning and making the hike back up the mountain to search for them. I had to see the artwork and the landscapes and Europe! Also, my homework.

After coming back from Groundhog celebrations, though, the RA on duty greeted me with the most beautiful words I have ever heard, “Guess what we found?!” Apparently a hotel staff member had found them in the dining room…only…they were definitely on the mountain. Say hello to St. Francis, hotel staff member and patron saint of my glasses.


View from about halfway up Mt. Subasio

Ash Wednesday with Benedict XVI

The announcement of Benedict XVI’s resignation from the papacy came right after class on Monday, and the following wait in the lunch line was about as loud as I’ve heard it here. To be in Rome for this historic occasion!

On Ash Wednesday, as the Pope prepared to celebrate his final public mass, many of my classmates and I staked out a spot near the beginning of the line at St. Peter’s, studying for the looming Western Civilization test. Two hours after we joined the line, security was opened up at 15:30, and we scrambled to keep up with the wave of people. The other Maria claims her feet weren’t on the ground for parts of the rush into the gates. I believe her.

Sitting on the right side of the altar, in the middle of the pack, I flipped through the mass booklet, took a nap, and when the lights in St. Peter’s were turned on, gazed at the lit up basilica. (Usually, there is minimal lighting in the church.)

The entrance procession began a little after 17:00. I spotted Cardinal Burke, the last archbishop of St. Louis, and then the Pope came into sight, standing on a moving platform. The last time I’d seen the Benedict XVI was when he visited the U.S. in 2008, at the youth rally in Yonkers, NY, and the decline in his health was apparent, but his voice throughout the celebration of the Mass remained strong.

Right before the end of Mass, Cardinal Bertone, the Pope’s right hand man, addressed the Pope. Despite the speech’s Italian delivery, he was clearly thanking the Pope for all he had done in the past 8 years of his pontificate. At the conclusion, we gave Benedict a standing ovation that seemed to go on forever. With all 10,000 occupants applauding, it sounded as though rain were falling inside. It was all very poetic.

After stepping through the Porta Sancta, the great doors that create the middle entrance into St. Peter’s (usually only opened during a Jubilee Year), I managed not to get trampled for a second time, and made the mad dash back to campus for dinner.

I apologize profusely for the lack of photographs…I forgot to bring my camera in the excitement of the day.