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Sunday, 3 February 2013

An atmospheric setting

Wednesday, February 3rd., Rome.

Reflecting on the different ways people choose to live their lives. For some, fulfilment arises from activity, experience and sensation; for others from personal reflection, tranquillity and detachment. Of course they are not mutually exclusive, nor can they be consistently successful as routes to contentment.

After tea I went into S. Maria of the Miracles in the P. del Popolo, because it was open, and I was too feeble to walk.
Twin churches in Piazza del Popolo - S. Maria del Miracolo on the right
<www. gizmoweb.org/>
All at once in a different world (with the lounge of the Russie just across the street). Church scarcely lit. A few people, chiefly old and poor. A choir boy or acolyte moves about, bowing to altar every time he passes in front of it, lighting a bit of electric light. The a bigger acolyte, a tall man, appears, and climbs up and does things to the altar. people come in, like the others chiefly old and poor and mainly women, but a few aged men. The priest comes with hands together, and kneels at altar, and begins to chant and the congregation gives the responses. I should say quite twenty minutes this goes on. It is wonderful how the congregation remembers the responses. meanwhile the boy, having left bell-ringing to the priest, begins to light tall altar candles by a light on the end of a long stick. He has difficulty with some of them. Somebody hidden behind the altar helps with a still longer stick - uncanny effect of this longer stick moving about without hands. At last all lighted. An older priest, only in black - no ornaments, has come and sat at a desk within the choir. Church now lit. Very effective. Then an organ (?American) in a gallery strikes up. It is awful. Also a small hidden choir, equally awful. A tremendously long and monotonous choral business. I left before it was over. I had been in the church fifty minutes at least.

Santa Maria dei Miracoli and Santa Maria di Montesanto are two churches in Rome. They are located on the Piazza del Popolo, facing the northern gate of the Aurelian Walls, at the entrance of Via del Corso on the square. The churches are often cited as "twin", due to their similar external appearance: they have indeed some differences, in both plan and exterior details. The origin of the two churches traces back to the 17th-century restoration of what was the main entrance to the Middle Ages and Renaissance Rome, from the Via Flaminia (known as Via Lata and Via del Corso in its urban trait). Pope Alexander VII commissioned the monumental design of the entrance of Via del Corso to architect Carlo Rainaldi. Both were financed by cardinal Girolamo Gastaldi, whose crest is present in the two churches. Santa Maria dei Miracoli was begun in 1675 and finished in 1681. With a circular plan, it has an elegant 18th century bell tower by Girolamo Theodoli and an octagonal cupola. The interior has a rich stucco decoration by Antonio Raggi, Bernini's pupil. At the high altar is the miraculous image of the Virgin which has given the church its name. The first chapel on the right-hand side has an altar dedicated to Our Lady of Bétharram, named after a shrine near Lourdes. The order of Priests of the Sacred Heart was founded at Bétharram. There is a reproduction of Renoir's Madonna at Bétharram.

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