Rome

Intense grace

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The Basilica of St Paul Outside the Walls in Rome preserves the memory of the burial place of the Apostle. Several depictions of this sword-wielding, parchment-packing giant of the New Testament are found in the yards, facades, ceilings, and floors of this site.

I found the intensity of the gaze captured here to be astounding. How do you do that in marble?

As an aside, I also enjoyed James Faulkner’s dynamic presentation in Paul, An Apostle of Christ on the flight home. Have you seen it yet? What did you think? The film’s interpretation of Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” is moving.

This morning I muse over these artistic presentations and set both beside Paul’s own words found in Galatians 1:13-24. See them here.

Bubble man

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Ropes and sticks produce millions of bubbles (or even one giant one!) in the hands of an expert. This expert keeps the crowd entertained near the Fountain of Four Rivers in downtown Rome (Piazza Navona).

The area is a public plaza today, but people used to come here for a different spectacle. In the late first century this was the site of the Stadium of Domitian. People came to see the “games” or agones (the source of our word “agony”), hence its ancient name, the Circus Agonalis.

Packing off Dad

In this partially preserved relief, the pious son carries his lame father while fleeing the sack of Troy. The son's name is Aeneas; the father's name is Anchises. Aeneas is guided by his mother, the goddess Aphrodite (upper left). Anchises carries a box that holds statues of the ancestral gods of Troy.

The purpose of the facade is clear: to communicate the heritage of Rome and underline provincial loyalty. According to the well-worn story, Aeneas was a Trojan hero (a grandson of its founder, in fact) who escaped the epic battle and eventually settled in Italy. His family, called the Aeneads, gave rise to the Romans. As a community foundation story, it is clever; the Romans reject the status of "newcomers" and claim a place of their own in a deep (and mythic) Mediterranean history.

Mentions of Aeneas are found in Homer's Iliad, but his story is played out fully in Virgil's Aeneid (a masterpiece of Latin literature written prior to the birth of Christ).

The detail pictured above is part of a larger set of reliefs recovered at the site of Aphrodisias, Turkey.