Author: Host Ciao
Date of Trip: December 2010
After my last report on December 24, I spent part of the afternoon in the hotel reading and finally went out around 5 p.m. to wander around and see what was going on. In a fifteen minute walk, umbrella overhead, I passed lots of bored looking clerks in stores still open and almost no possible customers on the street. After seeing the crowds the rest of the last few days, I can only point to the depressing rain that discouraged last minute shoppers.
I went to 7:30 English Mass at San Silvestre a block away. It was one of the best Christmas Eve Masses I can remember. The pastor is very Irish, and celebrating with him were his assistant, a priest from the Philippines, and a priest from Tanzania. The pastor asked me to do the first reading; a college student did the second, and the prayers were read by a man from Austria. I may have mentioned the choir before. It is made up chiefly of Philippine members, as is the congregation at the English Masses, accompanied by a guitar and led by a very Irish director.
As is common in Rome churches, I discovered, two different Nativity symbols were used. After the Gospel, the Philippine priest placed the baby Jesus in a manger in front of the altar. Then at the Offertory the Tanzanian priest carried a smaller Jesus to the large Nativity with the congregation processing along and singing “Silent Night.” Here a young girl placed the baby in the crib, and the pastor blessed the crib scene or presepio in Italian. Mass ended with a rousing version of “Go Tell It on the Mountain” with the director bouncing along to the music.
Because I had decided to avoid the rain as much as possible on Friday, I did not go to the Presepio Museum that afternoon. So that was my major destination on Christmas Day. I also spent part of the day and parts of the next couple of days following a yearly Roman custom. Many people spend time in the week between Christmas and New Years visiting many churches just to view the finished Presepe. The Baby Jesus doesn’t arrive in these until Christmas Eve Midnight Mass or as at San Silvestre the Mass standing in for midnight.
The reason I liked this custom and chose to follow it especially is that I have my own collection of over 60 Nativity sets plus individual pieces that could go into sets. Some of these people have given to me, but most I have bought during my travels. Most come from Italy, which will not be much of a surprise to people who know me.
I walked to some fairly close churches before setting out for the museum because I knew it was in the basement of a church and did not open until after services around 10:30. The museum is housed in the church of Saints Quirico and Giulitta at Via Tor de’ Conti. This is near the Roman Forum so it was a bit of a walk also considering the other churches I wandered to. I will say right now that the walk was worth it. I even bought the catalogue of the museum, which is in Italian. However, there are so many pictures with some descriptions that I can translate, I broke my rule about buying books I can’t read. I can’t possibly do much describing of what I saw.
I will say that Presepe come in many, many forms and many, many sizes. Many are simple and traditional, and many are large and elaborate. And in Rome there is a true Neapolitan Presepio that is pretty much wall sized and that is available for viewing during the whole year whenever the church of Saints Cosmas and Damian is open. This church is easy to visit if you are in the Forum area and are interested since the church’s back is over one of the old temples in the Forum. You will find the church on the Via Fori dei Imperiale.
While I took many pictures of my own, I am not near to loading them into my computer yet. So, if you are interested in seeing some presepe, I am going to give you a page from the museum’s website (I hope). A list of years and numbers should appear. Click on the year, and you should come to a picture of one scene. If you scroll a bit so you get to the bottom of the picture, you will see an arrow; click it and you should get a slide show of 5 or 6 pictures. http://www.presepio.it/foto-e-immagini-presepi-classici.php Good luck!
I headed back toward the hotel and stopped at the Gesu’ church where I had read there was quite an elaborate Presepio. However, not this year. They had a very beautiful icon of the manger scene. The Chapel of the Angels was behind a drape and under construction I guess since when I asked in the office I was told only the icon. After this stop I was very near the Scholars’ Pub, straight from Ireland. I knew it was open so I stopped there and had beef and Guinness stew, a very good, if very un-Roman, Christmas lunch. After that I went back to the hotel and collapsed before heading out to visit churches in the other direction. My dinner consisted of a sandwich from the Auto Grill across the street, which I ate back at the hotel.
Sunday December 26 I headed up one of the hills to Mass at Santa Susannah, the American Church in Rome. Afterwards the nuns in the convent connected to the church let several of us interested into their office where we could view through a glass plate in the floor the Presepio built in the ruins of the old church, which was what is known as a “house church” from early Christian days when that was where services had to held.
I wandered around the churches on the Esquiline Hill along with many others. I headed back toward the hotel on the bus and ate lunch and rested a bit. My plan had been to go to St. Peter’s to see the finished Presepe both inside and outside.
The piazza was very, very busy, but I managed to worm my way through the crowd in front of the outside crib. I went into the line going toward security to enter the basilica, and after 15 minutes of barely moving, I gave up. There was only an hour plus a little before the church closed, and there was no way that line would make it in.
I headed to the nearby bus stop and after a long wait I was back in the center of town. I got off and wandered through some of the side streets, heading into a couple of churches and looking at the souvenir type stores that were open. Near the hotel the streets were so mobbed that I gave up on much of a dinner and took a sandwich back to the hotel to eat with one of the apples I had bought at the Campo dei Fiori market on Friday.
On Monday while I, of course, saw some more Presepe, my purpose was to visit several of the big churches that I hadn’t been to yet. I started with St. John Lateran, which is the cathedral of Rome. I also visited the Baptistry which is still the old Constantian style, and the Santa Scala, Holy Stairs, across the street. I walked to Holy Cross in Jerusalem, where relics brought back by St. Helena, mother of Constantine, are kept. From there I headed past Porta Maggiore and some other old sites and crossed into the San Lorenzo area, which is a working class and student district.
I managed to take the wrong street under the railroad tracks and ended up having to find my way up a long hill and missing a couple of places I wanted to see across the tracks. However, I did manage my main goal here by reaching and visiting San Lorenzo, another of the major basilicas and one I had not been to in many years. As it happens there was a “mostro” (display, show) here of perhaps 15 or 20 Presepe so that was a bonus.
Very conveniently one of the buses from Piazza San Silvestre runs clear out past San Lorenzo so I was able to take that “home.” My next excursion was to pull one of my carry-on size suitcases containing many books to a Mail Boxes, Etc. not too far away. That is always my main travel problem. I buy books and have to get them home, and this was my third box sent home. I stopped at a shop near there and bought a piece of Parmeggiano Reggiano wrapped airtight so I could bring it home and also some mortedella and bread for lunch.
Later that afternoon I returned to St. Peter’s. This time the security line was considerably shorter, and I went in to take pictures of the Presepio inside the basilica. I was especially interested in this since I had seen the men working on it a couple times. Back in the center I went to a couple of more churches and made my last visit to the Piazza Navona Christmas Fair. I knew this would be my last chance so I bought a porchetta panini (sandwich of roasted herb-stuffed pig) for supper. I also enjoyed the lights and activity around the stands.
On Tuesday I managed my biggest mistake of the trip. I had signed up for a tour with Context Travel to visit the Colosseum and Trajan’s Market. I managed to mix up the time for this tour and the time for one I had already taken so I missed this and emailed apologies to the company. I was able to sign up for a different tour the next day. In the process of missing the tour, I visited a couple of more churches. Then that afternoon I visited a museum that had a special exhibit about the influence of Ancient Rome on travelers, architects, artists, and decorators in the second half of the 19th Century. That evening I went for dinner at my favorite restaurant, L’Archetto and had spaghetti with a great onion sauce.
Guess what! On Wednesday morning I went to more churches to take more pictures of Presepe, this time in Trastevere across the river. I have tried to keep track of the churches I went to and the order so I hope I can identify the Nativities. I then went to the Victor Emmanuel II monument and took the glass elevator to the top of the huge memorial. It is a great place to view many parts of Rome, and this is where I like to go to take my leave of one of my favorite cities.
That afternoon I took the tour called Culinary Stroll with Context. There were six of us on the tour, a small group, but that is one of the things I like about the company. It was rather a long walk, but we were well fueled with food as we went along. We first stopped in the Ghetto of old Rome and had a fruit cake from a bakery there. I believe the guide said it was called “burned cake.” It is quite crispy on the edges, but very good. We sampled two types of pizza cut from huge rectangles, one with tomato sauce and cheese, and the other, pizza bianca (plain) split into a sandwich with mortedella. I had better say these were small samples about 1 1/2 by 3 inches.
At another place near Campo dei Fiori we had small bites of store-made mozzarella with the shop’s sun-dried tomato in oil. After a bit of a walk we sampled “supli,” which are rice croquettes with mozzarella in the middle. Then it was on to espresso at Tazzo d’ Oro, a famous coffee shop. “Dessert” was first a piece of chocolate from a shop that had been around for many years. Then we walked almost to Castel San Angelo and had gelato at a very small shop with some rather exotic flavors. We could try two so I had peach and lavender and raspberry and sage. Both were very good. I was surprised that while I could taste the lavender over the peach, the raspberry rather overpowered the sage, which was OK with me.
Then it was a walk to the bus back to the hotel where I still had to pack and chat with a couple of the hotel workers. The next morning the taxi that the hotel had arranged for me came at 7 am and I was on my way back to Rockford. And believe me I said, “A presto, Roma,” and not arrivederci! Or “until later” and not “goodbye!”