by Danny Richter
VATICAN CITY—Today, we had a day off. It was a very welcome change from the 11 hours of talks, sitting in an uncomfortable chair, furious note-taking, and listening to intelligent, but unintelligible accents or languages. I took the opportunity to catch up on a bit of the sleep I’d been missing from the travel and the demands of attention, and to see more of this ancient city; the center of civilization in the Western World for centuries.
Matt, Emily and I therefore headed to the Capitoline Museums, near the Roman Forum and the Colosseum. Unexpectedly, the building that houses the museum was as much an attraction as the art hung on its walls and stood up within its corridors. A particular highlight for me was seeing the she-wolf suckling both Romulus and Remus. Though I have seen this same wolf and those same two twin babies throughout my life as representing both Rome today and Rome of old, I was surprised to learn that the actual statues are separated by some 2,000 years in their construction. The Wolf is Etruscan in origin (Etruscan civilization occupied Rome before what we now think of as Roman Civilization), and was cast for some reason completely un-related to the tale of the twins. The bronze babies, by contrast, were cast in the 1500’s and placed beneath the ancient she-wolf to fit with the tale that has, nonetheless, been around since Roman times. It made me re-think how much ancient Romans, familiar with the tale, actually used representations of the suckling twins, or whether they just told the tale. Historical revisionism by the young who assume that just because this is the way things are now, they have always been that way.
Our time at the Museum was relatively short, unfortunately, for there was an optional mass back at the Vatican. Though neither Matt nor Emily are Catholic, they agreed that when you are invited to attend a mass at the Vatican, you do not refuse!
So we went back to our apartment, changed into nicer clothes (after stopping for some gelato along the way, of course), and headed to Mass. Mass was held in the tiny chapel of the Casina Pio IV; which houses the Academy. It was also packed (for the small space). We had both Monseigneur Sorondo, the Chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and Social Sciences, as well as Monseigneur Minnerath, Archbishop of Dijon, France say the Mass. Though the readings were in English, the prayers were in Latin. This was a fun game for me, for though I studied Latin in middle school, know the universal prayers in English, and have studied enough romance languages that I could fill in some gaps, I still mostly had no idea what we were saying. Still, I don’t believe I’d ever attended a Latin Mass before, but if I was going to attend one, it might as well be in the Vatican, right?
Following the Mass, we wandered. We re-traced some of the steps Emily and I had walked before Matt arrived, caught a drink and snacks at a bar called Piccolo Diavlo (“Little Devil”) as an unintentional counterpoint to the experience we had just had, sauntered over to the Piazza del Popolo, and up to the edge of the Villa Borghese for a good view of sunset over Rome. Down the Spanish steps, and to perhaps the best Italian Restaurant we have yet eaten at by candlelight. The tiramisu was a great end to a great day!