Holy Ground

In Rome, All Paths Lead To History

I recently traveled to Rome with Mary, Our Lady of Light. I sat in coach, she in a plastic PVC pipe in the overhead compartment. She was painted on a piece of rolled-up canvas and I was accompanying her to her new home in the chapel of my religious community’s headquarters. Mary, under that somewhat obscure but lovely title, is the patron of my community, the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales, and I had been commissioned to create an image of her, which I was now delivering.

Our community’s house is beautifully situated in Trastevere, one of the most ancient and interesting of Roman neighborhoods. It is halfway up the highest of the city’s seven hills, called the Janiculum. When you look down from this hill, you get a stunning panorama of the Eternal City. The toughest decision I faced each morning, after descending the thirty-three steps from the front door of our house to the street, was whether to turn left and climb to the top of the Janiculum, where there’s a magnificent Baroque fountain, or turn right, downhill, and walk around Trastevere. The heart of Trastevere is the ancient Basilica di Santa Maria, one of the oldest parishes in the Christian world, renowned for its stunning mosaics. Whichever way I decided to turn, a treasure hunt awaited me—as did a very steep climb, either coming or going. And, since this was August in Rome, a steep climb had to be finished by noon: after that, things get a little toasty under the Roman sun, which revolves around the...

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About the Author

Michael O’Neill McGrath, OSFS, is an artist who lives and works in Camden, New Jersey. His newest book, St. Cecilia’s Orchestra, is forthcoming.