Favorite Photos

Favorite Photos
Bernini's Ecstasy of St. Teresa

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Bernini's "The Ecstasy of St. Teresa of Avila"

Living in Rome, during that magical year, made me fall in love with The Eternal City! Sadly, I had planned to explore and discover much more of Her than in the end, I was able to. When we left, I vowed to return, if I could, to visit some sites which at the end of our stay remained elusive. Visiting familiar and favorite places would be on the agenda too, of course!  

One of the places I failed to visit at the time was the Church of Santa Maria della Vittoria. Another church? Well yes, another of the thousands of churches in and around Rome, except that this one was home to Gian Lorenzo Bernini's The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa!

Santa Maria della Vittoria is unremarkable (from the fascade at least), being one church among many in Rome. When we lived in Rome, I would walk to Via 20 Septiembre from the Piazza della Republica. The church is located right on the corner where Via 20 Septiembre intersects with Largo Santa Susanna. I would pass this church noticing only that it was mirrored on the other side by another church. 

I had heard about Bernini's Ecstasy of St. Teresa, but was under the impression that it was in one of the churches in Trastevere, the church of San Francesco a Ripa.  In fact what is in Trastevere is Bernini's funerary monument to Blessed Ludovica Albertoni, which we had gone to see but were unable to, as the chapel where the sculpture was, was under restoration at the time. Because there were too many places to visit, too many "masterpieces" to see, I failed to properly research where I could find the Ecstacy.. 

Gian Lorenzo Bernini, another of those "Renaissance" men, like Da Vinci, and Michelangelo, may have created or more definitely was one of the dominant figures of Baroque style sculpture. His work is seen in parks, piazzas and churches all over Rome, some of which I saw and took pictures of. He was also an architect, a playwrite and a set designer par excellence!

A perfect example of the latter is the Cornaro Chapel in the Church of Santa Maria della Vittoria, which was designed and built by Bernini as the perfect setting for his Ecstasy of St. Teresa of Avila. 

The chapel looks like a mini theater, with the Ecstasy on center stage, light from the skylight above dramatically enhanced by gilded rays behind the statue, and on the sides as if in the box seats are "the witnesses". On the left side are 4 members of the Cornaro family and on the right side are 4 representatives of the church. And in the orchestra area, would be us. Interestingly, as my husband thought or strangely, as I did, all the "witnesses" were male! With this theatrical setting, and the powerful representation of the ecstasy, critics are divided as to whether Teresa is depicted as being in the throes of experiencing an intense state of divine joy or a more human-like physical orgasm. 

The sculpture is a direct representation by Bernini of an account  of religious ecstasy as described by St. Teresa of Avila in her autobiography. The passage:

"He appeared to me to be thrusting it at times into my heart, and... to leave me all on fire with a great love of God. The pain was so great, that it made me moan; and yet so surpassing was the sweetness of this excessive pain, that I could not wish to be rid of it. The soul is satisfied now with nothing less than God."

The intensity of the experienced ecstasy is mirrored in her face.

Her limp hand and languid fingers:

Her limp feet but surprisingly taut toes:

The ruffled folds of her habit: 

The Angel seems to be smiling as he readies himself to pierce her with his arrow:

After spending a considerable amount of time contemplating the Ecstasy, I came to a personal understanding and appreciation of the erotic, yet spiritual character of Bernini's St. Teresa. I think my strict Catholic upbringing and the presence of the angel, are in large part responsible for this understanding. Then there is his sculpture of Blessed Ludovica Albertoni, which I was able to see on this return to Rome. This representation is definitely more erotic! 

It may also be that we, being human, can express encounters with the divine, only in human emotional terms. The more intense the encounter, the more intense the emotional response, bringing with it a purely physical reaction....What do you think?

Monday, November 17, 2014

A Return to Rome and a Pope Named Francis

Almost two years after leaving Rome, my husband and I returned for a visit in November 2013. We rented an apartment on Via Gregorio VII, very close to the Vatican, beside a gelato shop (ideal location, right?) and a few blocks away from a wet market. We were staying for a full two weeks, my aim to allow my husband to soak up Rome's atmosphere at leisure, to appreciate it, something he could not do when we lived there. Yes, I took him around then too, but his vision of Rome was clouded by the pressures and worries of work.

We had no schedules, no "pressing need" to see this or that, we would do what we wanted, see what we wanted, when we wanted. So we would wake up a bit later than usual, have a nice breakfast, a cornetto or baguette with prosciutto and cups of espresso (of course). Then we would go to the market to buy what we would have for dinner that night. Lunch was always taken wherever we were at the time.

Gregorio VII Local Market 

We made friends with the people in the market, the meat seller, the vegetable and fruit vendors.

But most especially the fish monger, who always tempted us with the freshest catch of the day.

And more!

At the time of our visit, the Catholic Church was experiencing the beginnings of a reformation of sorts, a reformation initiated by the ascension, of the first Jesuit Pope, to St. Peter's throne. A Pope already becoming known for his simplicity, a pope who took his name from St. Francis of Assissi.

One of the first places we went back to was, of course, St. Peter's. We went there on a Wednesday to attend the public audience with Pope Francis. We were one of thousands present and the excitement around us was palpable! We decided to stay outside of the barrier, to witness the "spectacle" from afar. 

a view of the crowd 
There were giant screen strategically placed so everyone could witness the event. Anticipation and expectations were more than satisfied! Pope Francis is a consummate communicator. I could understand but a few words and phrases but his manner of speaking made him seem....understandable. I recalled listening to Pope Benedict, who was Pope, when we were living in Rome, and though we shouldn't compare, I remember at that time thinking that he sounded like a lecturer,...lecturing.

Pope Francis came across as warm, engaging and down to earth. He spoke about many things that I could not quite understand, but I did catch his mention of the typhoon Yolanda and his urging the people of the world to pray for the people of the Philippines.

As we stood there just witnessing the moment, we are greeted by friends from Cote d'Voire, who were themselves in Rome and had decided to "see this new pope". They brought their son with them to share in this moment.

The following Sunday, we decided to attend the mass in St. Peter's Square. From our apartment window, we noticed that traffic started to build up from 6 in the morning! But keeping with our pledge "to take things easy", we took our time getting ready and started to walk toward St. Peter's at 8:30, enough time for us to catch the 9 AM mass. We made it for the mass but we had to settle for "seats" on the pillars of one of the buildings surrounding the square, very far away from where altar was. 

The mass was in Italian, but the offertory prayers were offered in different languages, by people of different nationalities. Again there was a prayer for the Philippines, offered by a Filipina.

We were afraid that we wouldn't be able to receive communion, but we should have know better, since we were in the Vatican after all! An army of priests made sure that everyone who wanted to receive communion were able to do so. 

After the mass, Pope Francis did his traditional walk around. He rode in a roofed golf cart and was driven around the square, along the pathway in between the sections of seats. It was truly a joy watching him engage with the crowd, shaking hands, giving thumbs up, blessing babies! And much to our joy, they moved back the barriers where we were standing, and we found ourselves close enough to take this:

And closer still:

And after he passed us:

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Trastevere and John Paul II

What, you may wonder is the relationship between Trastevere, Pope John Paul II and this blog. Serendipitous, that's what! On the day that John Paul II was beatified (a step away from sainthood), my sister, my husband and I braved the crowds to get to the vicinity of the Vatican. We were told that we didn't need a pass or ticket to get in. Naive people that we were, we believed it! Were we ever wrong! We could not even get anywhere near the Vatican. So we ended up walking southward until we got to Ponte Sisto, an ancient footbridge reconstructed by Pope Sixtus IV, hence it's name, leading to Trastevere.

And that's how we got to Trastevere, which became one of my favorite places in Rome! An eclectic enclave, it is charming, picturesque, historical.  It is also hip, trendy and, oh yes, seedy in some areas. It is the 13th Rioni (town or district) of Rome and considered one of its most beautiful neighborhoods.

When we entered Trastevere through the Ponte Sisto that first time, the streets were empty and eerily quiet. We were to find out later that this was indeed a rare sight.

In ancient times, Trastevere which means beyond the Tiber, was a "poor" area, home to sailors and fishermen who made their living on the Tiber. There was also a large Jewish community. But during the Imperial age, Rome's elite started to build villas in Trastevere. Julius Caesar, Livia, wife of Octavian, Julius Caesar's heir and Marcus Vispanius Agrippa had villas built in Trastevere. Today, the sites of those ancient villas are being unearthed.

However, even with the movement of the elite to Trastevere, it remained an area of narrow and winding streets. Sixtus IV paved the streets with bricks, which were later changed to cobblestones to accomodate carriages.

notice laundry line across the street

To this day, the streets of Trastevere, are narrow and winding, but lined by charming houses, apartments, shops, restaurants, bars and coffee houses.

On the day of John Paul II's beatification, the streets of Trastevere were as empty as most of Rome's streets, the people having converged on the Vatican by the thousands! We ended up in a charming coffee shop, Caffe della Scala, the only coffee house that was open at the time. 

It was pleasant in that little cafe, we occupied one table and there was only one other table occupied by a couple. We ended up watching the proceedings in the Vatican on the cafe's television, while enjoying cornettos and cups of espresso.

After breakfast, we decided to walk to the nearest chruch to hear mass. We ended up in the Church of Santa Maria in Trastevere.

There is a piazza in front of this church which we would return to many more times.
This piazza is one of the most popular gathering sites in Trastevere. It's fountain is believed to be the oldest in Rome, dating back to the 8th century. The fountain as it is today is believed to have been the work of Donato Bramante with some later work done by Gian Lorenzo Bernini.
On this piazza also one will find several restaurants where one can dine alfresco, roman style. Fellini, a famous Italian film maker, filmed segments of his film Roma here in this Piazza. One of the restaurants, Sabatini was featured in this movie. My mother, remembering this film, asked me to find out if Sabatini still existed. It is still there. So, with it's ancient sites, and glorious ruins, one also comes across establishments like Sabatini! No wonder some people call Rome "the eternal city".

My husband and I decided to eat there once for lunch.
my penne alla arabiata
The restaurant is picturesque, the paper placemats bear Trastevere's coat of arms, the food... well it was ok if a bit overpriced.
The other times we visited, we simply strolled down the cobbled stone and chose a restaurant at random.
Hmm...do they have beer?
On the day of John Paul II's beatification, the piazza was quiet, clean and almost empty. But on our subsequent visits, we saw it's true character. There were crowds of people of different nationalities, ethnic backgrounds, ages,  orientations and states of inebriation.
A drunk sleeping it off in the Piazza
We were told this piazza is a known gathering place for drunks.
We were to discover more of the paradox that is Trastevere on our later visits.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Largo Di Torre Argentina; A Sacred Place

There is a bus stop in Rome, in the area known in antiquity as Campus Martius or Field of Mars, as busy as the bus stop at the Colosseum. It is as unattractive a bus stop as you can find anywhere in any busy metropolis, surrounded as you are with people, the ever present smell of gasoline  and the swirling eddies of dust brought on the wheels of buses. I stopped at this bus stop countless times, seeing but not "really seeing" the ruins in front. I think many people fail to notice these ruins because they are hurrying to board a bus or frantically searching for the right bus to board.
If this were not Rome, this ruin would be a showcase, with the history attached to it, but being in Rome, Largo de Torre Argentina is just one of the many excavation sites. In ancient times, this place was a holy place (area sacra), where four temples were clustered together.

This site was discovered in the time of Mussolini, who had ordered demolition work in the site to build a new building. The 4 temples were built between the 4th and 2nd century. But for a long time not much was known about these temples and were simply given letters to distinguish the four of them. Looking at what remains today, it is difficult to envision what they looked like in their heyday, however, one can distinguish the outlines with the help of the site map.

The temples were built by victorious generals in celebration and thanksgiving. Temple A is now known as the Temple of Juturna.

The circular temple or Temple B is known as "The Fortune of This Day".

It was dedicated to the Goddess of Fortune, parts of whose colossal statue was found on the site and is now displayed in the Capitoline Museum.

Goddess of Fortune
Temple C is the oldest of the temples and was most probably built to honor Feronia, a roman deity.

Temple D is still partially buried and there is no consensus among archaeologists as to whose temple this is.

Behind Temple B and D was located the wall of the Curia of the Porticus of the theater of Pompey, where Julius Caesar was assassinated on the Ides of March. Later on, during the imperial age this was converted into a "monumental latrine", a fanciful name! I wonder if every year at the Ides of March Caesar makes an appearance to protest this construction! 

Imperial toilets under the arches
Apparently today on these sacred grounds, stray cats roam freely as this site is supposedly a sanctuary for homeless cats. However, on my visit I didn't see a single one!


Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Ravenna; City of Mosaics

My three sisters and I took a mosaic making course in the City of Ravenna, a UNESCO designated World Heritage Site, primarily because of it's unique collection of early Christian mosaics and monuments.

Basilica of San Vitale
From being the seat of the Western Roman Empire in the 5th century, Ravenna became a Gothic Kingdom when conqured by the Ostrogoths, who were in turn driven out by Justinian I, who made Ravenna the seat of the Byzantine Empire in Italy. At this time Europe was in the midst of what came to be called it's Dark Ages, Ravenna however was at the pinnacle of it's influence and power.  It was at this time that most of the churches and monuments designated as Unesco Heritage sites were built.

Ravenna is called the City of Mosaics for good reason, becoming the center of mosaic making in the 6th century when it became the seat of the Byzantine Empire. Today, it's greatest attraction is its collection of mosaic masterpieces found in its churches and mausoleums. Because of her ties with the Byzantine Empire, Ravenna is believed to have the finest Byzantine mosaics outside of Istanbul.

Mosaic of the palace of Justinian I in the  Basilica of San't Appolinare

Most of the early churches like the Basilica of San Vitale are covered with brilliant, glittering mosaics, the intervening centuries seeming not to have changed them in any way.

The Mausoleum of Galla Placida is a rather plain brick structure with small windows on the outside. Therefore, one is unprepared for what is inside.

When I walked in, my eyes needed to adjust to the rather dim interior due to the fact that the small openings were covered in alabaster (a type of fine grained, translucent white mineral which are usually made into vases, statues etc). But once adjusted, my eyes were immediately drawn upward to a starry night sky, a lovely mosaic on the vault of the mausoleum! Beautiful! And then the assault on the senses, from all sides, figures, stars, flowers, geometric designs and color, and more color, it was an awe-inspiring sight! 

Starry sky
 Alongside these ancient structures and monuments, one can also see the tomb of Dante Alighieri, author of the Divine Comedy and one of Italy's supreme poets. He died in Ravenna in 1321, having been exiled from Florence. His remains were never returned to Florence, the Ravenans refused to give him up, saying that Florence "did not welcome him in life, so she did not deserve him in death."

Dante's Tomb
Ravenna's city center is compact and is generally car free. Free use of bicycles parked around the city makes it a popular mode of transportation for those who can navigate cobbled stone streets. We preferred to walk. Signs are prominently displayed so it is not difficult to find your way.

Because there was an evening mass, just as our mosaic classes ended, we would attend mass which would finish just as the restaurants opened their doors for dinner. The number of people attending mass could be counted on 1 hand (excluding us the 4 sisters). The masses were said in a small side chapel. Sunday mass was not much better attended, and most of them were middle-aged or elderly. And to think we were in Italy!
Basilica where we attended mass
Entry into the older part of the city was through an archway.
The side streets are narrow, the buildings painted in different hues of beige and terra cota.

The shops are small, mostly specialty shops, gellaterias (ice cream), macellerias (butcher), panetteria (bakery), enoteca (wine) and the ever present tabacchi (tobacco store, Italians are still heavy smokers). There are also souvenir shops and not to be missed, the colorful mosaic supply store selling smalti, millefiore, tiles and whatever else one needs to make a mosaic.
Ravenna's charm also captivates with simple but unforgettable sites like these cattails guarding an entrance to an apartment complex.

And this bush found in the courtyard of a basilica.
And as a reminder of it's glorious mosaic making history, modern mosaics with a sense of humor!
Leaking water floor mosaic in a bathroom

And in the park, a three dimensional mosaic of a bench with a forgotten coat. This one was done by Lucianno Noturnni, a world renowned mosaicist, whose school we attended.
Now, about the food! What can I say? I love Italian food for so many reasons, but most of all, I think because of it's simplicity, no heavy sauces, just enough to enhance the pasta or the meat. My Siennese friend says Italian cooking evolved mainly from peasant food, using fresh, limited ingredients. Cheese, ham and wine are mainstays in my friends kitchen and his pasta, well he buys it from a local store in Sienna, no packaged pasta for him and all Italians (so he says!)
We ate in many family owned restaurants when we were in Ravenna, but on the last day we decided to eat at a highly recommended restaurant Ca' de Ven. Ambiance was fantastic, wine was excellent. Food, well most of what we ate while in Ravenna could compare.
Ristorante Ca' de Ven