A few days ago at the Vatican with Fr. Franz I was fortunate to find a book at the Pauline bookstore that had material I’ve been looking for here in Rome. Happily, it was cheap. (8 Euros, on sale) An Italian book “Viaggio at Roma e nella sua compangna: Pittori e letterati alla scoperta del paesaggio e della magiche atmosfere di un mondo perduto,Roma, 2007”
The book is about secular pilgrims to Rome and its surrounding areas: writers and artists who found inspiration in this ancient world. It’s a big, heavy book of 527 pages; I don’t know yet how I’m going to carry it home. A computer’s one thing, books are another.
The book is filled with pictures painted all the way back to the 16th century and notes about the artists who painted them. Besides religious pilgrims, secular pilgrims have long been attracted to Rome. “We’re all pilgrims looking for Italy,” Goethe said. “We find here something we have lost,” the English poet Samuel Rogers wrote to his friend Lord Byron. So many of them were touched by the ruins of this city.
The book’s author says the artists and writers furnish us today with a “multi-media” look at those times, and that’s precisely what I was looking for.
I’m searching for the secular background of some of our Passionist saints, like St. Paul of the Cross and Vincent Strambi, saints of the 18th and 19th century. This book helps.
We tend to put saints like them into a spiritual world, or a church world, but in reality they also walked in the world painted by the artists mentioned in this book. Besides their links to heaven, they walked on earth.
Some days ago, I was at the shrine of Maria Goretti in Nettuno, and there found some historical pictures of peasant families and how they lived in the poverty-stricken countryside where she lived in the last century. Those pictures were more moving and informative than any holy card I’ve seen of the saint.
Besides holy cards, we need a better appreciation of earthly wisdom and spirituality of the saints and the ground on which they walked.