Thursday, May 29, 2008

CAS in Rome

As I write about schools in Rome, I cannot overlook the school that I am attending. Penn State's presence in Rome in its current form, the Sede di Roma, is a little over two decades old, but the Communication Arts & Sciences Program is only three years old. The curriculum is comprised of three classes: one on travel writing, one on neo-realist film, and one called "Street and Studio" which require the students to blog about their experiences in Rome. The students are also required to keep a journal that records their experiences in Rome including their reactions to the films and readings. As a graduate student, I do all of the work that the undergraduates do in order to provide a model for them and I grade six of their journals on a weekly basis.

One of the overarching goals of the program is to teach the students to rhetorically analyze tourism and travel writing. The students are encouraged to take Rome as a text, identify themes that the city displays, and analyze those themes in search of greater understanding. The hope is that the students will improve their experience of Rome if they investigate it as a purposeful human production. That is, if they view Rome itself as an act of communication, they may be able to identify the communicative manipulations that have gone into its construction. At the same time, the students are encouraged to examine writing about Rome as rhetorical. In this case, they are asked to look into the ways in which Rome is represented at home and abroad and ask how these reproductions have influenced their expectations for and experience of the city. Ultimately, through this process of rhetorical examination, the students are encouraged to engage in an enlightened form of tourism that results in meaningful learning about place and not merely the consumption of it.

As a graduate student, I fit somewhere in the middle of this educational process. I am here both to learn about Rome itself and to learn about teaching in a study abroad program. For me, the extra layer of analysis is primarily pedagogical and this is enhanced by research interests in education. I am learning about Rome and, at the same time, learning how to teach about Rome through rhetoric's disciplinary lens. This requires quite a bit of attention to detail. It is difficult to take in new information and at the same time analyze the pedagogical purpose behind its deployment, but this nervous process of double-think is excellent practice for any scholar of rhetoric. Meaningful rhetorical analysis almost always requires the scholar to be attuned both to the object of rhetorical action (that is, the subject matter that is being communicated) and the strategic nature of its deployment (its rhetoric) at the same time. In this way, I think this experience will help me to develop both as an educator and as a scholar.

The second picture (with Mia, Jessica, and myself on the bus) was taken and edited by Hillary.

Sometimes it rains in Rome...

and the people do strange things.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Ghetto School

In my pursuit of Roman schooling, I am still finding different institutions to catalog. Walking with Jessica on my way home from the Sede, we passed through the Jewish Ghetto. The name of the school on the plaque is in two pieces. The first, "Scuole Ebriache di Roma," simply translates to "The Jewish School of Rome." The second part, "Scuola Primaria Ebraica Parificata e Paritaria 'Vittorio Polacco,'" is more difficult to make out. According to the Jewish Encyclopedia online, Vittorio Polacco was an Italian law professor at the University of Padua who was Jewish and of Polish descent . It would appear that the school is named after him. "Scuola Primaria Ebracia" means Jewish Primary School. "Paritaria" means equal, but I cannot figure out what "parificata" means. So, as far as I can tell, the plaque means something along the lines of "Vittorio Polacco: Equal Jewish Primary School."

The space around the school is the very center of the Jewish community in Rome. Rome's most prominent synagogue is just up the street and the area is under heavy surveillance and police protection. The display of power is confusing in its ubiquity. There are at least three policy guard posts and tens of cameras around the outside of the synagogue. One is forced to wonder whether the state is protecting the people there or monitoring them. The school is slightly removed from this scene and opens, on its other end, to a modest piazza. The building itself looks well kept and I suspect that it is a good school. Passing by this morning I saw a group of well-behave students outside listening to their instructor.

There are more schools to catalog in Rome, but I think that I will need to get inside of one to improve my exploration, so I am going to try to put together a visit through our office at the Sede. Watching Caterina in the Big City, I was able to get a brief glimpse inside the Collegio Romano (as staged by a filmmaker in 2003), but I would like to see for myself.

Confessionals at San Giovanni

Today, we visited San Giovanni in Laterano. San Giovanni is a very large basilica that was something like a precursor to the Vatican. It was actually the first cathedral of Rome. The Pope's official ecclesiastical seat is the Bishop of Rome and San Giovanni is where the seat is held (1). Thus, just like the Vatican, San Giovanni is extraterritorial and administered by the Vatican.

Saint Giovanni in Laterano means Saint John in Lateran. The land on which the church was built was confiscated from the Laterani family by Emperor Constantine and St. John refers to John the Baptiste (2). I snapped a quick picture of the statue of John that stands below the altar. I had trouble identifying the statue at first; not knowing that Giovanni translates to John. Joe and I discussed who it could be and to give us credit we did consider St. John as a possible candidate...along with Jesus and Jebediah Springfield.

If one thinks of saint statues as action figures, St. John's has collected all of the best ones. Carley pointed out the most intense saint statue at Saint John's. It is of Saint Bartholomew holding a piece of his skinned face. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, he was killed for converting his brother, the King of Armenia, to Christianity. St. Bart is typically represented in this way; holding his own head or his own skin.

I was surprised when I entered St. John's to find so many people confessing. There were more people seeking absolution at San Giovanni than at any other church that I have been in with the exception of St. Peter's. The confessional crowd, however, seemed to be comprised mostly of people involved with the church. I saw a host of nuns going to an from confession while I tried to get pictures of the confessionals. I was able to snap this shot while hiding between a column and some chairs which ended up in the frame. My suspicion, that certain confessionals serve certain populations, has been confirmed again at St. Johns.

Having seen many confessionals by this point, I have also noticed that the elaborateness of the confessionals themselves seems related to the importance of the church. It might also be related to how many confessors the church serves. In any case, both St. Peter's and St. John's have significantly more complex confessionals than Santa Maria Liberatrice. Although one cannot enter fully into a confessional at St. John's, when kneeling as one can at St. Peter's, the walls on the sides of confessional conceal the confessor with the possible exception of his or her shoes. The level of privacy for the penitent at St. John's is thus much greater than the level of privacy for the penitent of Santa Maria Liberatrice.

Lights continue to be important as well. At Santa Maria Liberatrice, the first thing that the young priest did when he entered the confessional was to turn the light on. The light seems to be the universal sign that the confessional is open for business. The light at Santa Maria was a simple bulb that the priest also used for reading. It shown through a hole just above the doors of the confessional. At St. Peter's and St. Paul's, the light is colored (green and red respectively) and is separate from the light that the priest uses to illuminate his chamber.

1. Fiona Wild, ed., Eye Witness Travel Rome (London: Dorling Kindersley Limited, 1993), 2007 edition, 182-183.
2. Wild, 182-183.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Political Issues in Florence

Visiting Florence on Saturday, I was able to get a number of pictures of political art and graffiti. Florence, being an important international tourist town, is, not surprisingly, the palate for a number of political statements. Here are some images of the more interesting political statements I saw while in town:

This message, expressing some disfavor with the recent declaration of independence by the the Baltic state, Kosovo, appeared in three languages: English, Italian, and a third that I could not identify. All of the messages were written in the same color of magic marker and appeared to have been done by the same hand. Additionally, all of them were within about a half mile radius of each other. So, I can confirm that the size of the anti-Kosovo independence movement in Florence numbers at least one.

This anti-Bush and antiwar statement was on the bottom of a shop shutter in Florence. Antiwar statements about Iraq a relatively common in Italy, but not nearly as common as statements against fascism (which are sometimes paired with antiwar statements, but they are usually concerned with domestic fascism) and statements in favor of communism.

On the topic of statements in favor of communism, I found this poster advertising what appears to be the national congress of pro-marxists and pro-leninists in Italy hanging just off one of the main piazzas in Florence. The poster encourages people to attend thereby contribute to the national conference.

Duomo-Measuring Contest

There are few representations of power more ubiquitous in Italy than churches and few churches have more thought put into their construction than the cathedral or duomo of a diocese. Despite a church's professed function as a monument to the piety of the people who construct it, the construction of churches is often caught in the politics of local and regional rivalry. Siena and Florence had just such a rivalry in the early fourteenth century. After Florence built its duomo, which is one of the largest in world, Siena, determined not to be outdone, drew up plans for its own, larger church. Unfortunately for Siena, the plague struck halting construction. In this picture, you can see front walls still standing that would have made up the nave of the massive church had its construction gone forward.

The power function of the cathedrals can be ascertained simply by observing them close up. Both Florence and Siena's cathedrals have massive green and white facades. This picture, of the duomo in Florence, was difficult to take. The facade is simply too big to fit within the camera's frame standing in the piazza in front of it. The structures are certainly impressive now, but they must have been awe inspiring in the fourteenth century. With few buildings in existence of such a large size and with the knowledge of math, geometry, and art put into the design of these cathedrals being so rare, they must have appeared to truly have the sanction of a higher power.

In addition to their massive size and artistic complexity, both churches have very high bell towers. They would be able to reach the entire town and perhaps neighboring areas by ringing the huge bells in these towers. In fact, in Siena, the bells are so loud that we found them to be a bit of an annoyance when visiting. They would ring for a couple minutes each hour and were easily heard, even inside our hotel. These bell towers may not seem significant on face, but the ability to sound the bells thereby regulate the conception of time held by the people in both towns is fantastic. The church became the default arbiter of the passage of time since its bells would have announced the hours and times for worship.

This massive, and apparently unused, twenty-four hour clock is located above the main door of the the Duomo in Florence. The piece is very confusing because, as an American, I tend to think of churches as one of few places that never have clocks and so far my understanding has not been challenged except in this case. However, in light of the bell towers and the capacity of these cathedrals to mark the passage of time for the community, the clock makes more sense.

Confessional Comparisons

St. Peter's basilica has some fifty or so confessionals. They are located mostly in the wings of the church in sections roped off for prayer and genuflection. With Hillary's camera I was able to sneak couple quick shots of one of the operating confessionals, before I was told not to photograph the confessionals. As I had imagined, it is a touchy subject for photography. Given the secretive nature of the sacrament, I will have to be cautious about how I document it.

There are some significant differences between confession at St. Peter's as compared to Santa Maria Liberatrice. At Santa Maria, a younger priest came out to hear confession during the service. As far as I can tell, at St. Peter's you can confess anytime. It seems pretty clear that this is designed for different audiences. Santa Maria is a neighborhood church and the priests there are fewer in number and offering a spiritual service for a population with habituated practices for attending mass. At St. Peter's the population that is confessing is largely tourist. One of the students in our program who took confession at St. Peter's explained that when he went, he was able to select a priest based on the language that the priest spoke. Each confessional had a list of languages outside ranging, he said, from two to four or five. He also said that he spent a fair amount of time talking about St. Peter's as well as confessing. I got the impression from the behavior of the people confessing at Santa Maria Liberatrice, that they were not taking time to talk about the building during their confession.

Another interesting point of comparison is provided by the Pantheon. The Pantheon has been a Catholic church since it was given to the Pope in the seventh century. Despite its technical existence as a local church, the Pantheon did not have any visible confessionals. It seems that people interact with the Pantheon more as a secular monument than as a religious one. That is, no one goes to the Pantheon to confess their sins. I would assume that it is grander to confess your sins at St. Peter's. As Hillary joked, if you have a really big sin to confess, St. Peter's would be the place to confess it. In fairness as well, you are much more likely to get a priest who speaks English and absolves sins on a regular basis at St. Peter's. Confession at the Pantheon and certainly at Santa Maria Liberatrice is much less tourist-friendly.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Bats in the Belfry

The other graduate students (from the left, Mia, Jessica, Hillary) and myself are visiting Siena this weekend. Among other sights, we went to see the view from the top of the bell tower in Siena's historic city hall. According to Rick Steves' Italy 2008, the bell tower is the tallest secular tower in Italy (1). It overlooks the town's central piazza, Il Campo, and much of the surrounding countryside. The views are spectacular. The entire area is beautiful. I only wish that I was better equipped to capture it on film. Here some of the images I was able to get from the tower:

This is Il Campo, the central piazza in Siena. We ate at one of the restaurants here last night when we arrived. It was past ten o'clock, so we were fortunate to be served.

Here is an image inside the stairwell of the 330ft tower. The square spiral staircase is a challenge to ascend.

This is the Duomo. It is Siena's central cathedral. You can see the church itself (the black and white striped building with a tower) and a structure that looks like front wall of a church protruding to the left. Originally, the cathedral was planned to be the largest in Italy. According to Steves, Siena and Florence were engaged in a heated church-building contest when the plague struck forcing Siena to circumscribe its dreams of out-building Florence (2).

My favorite part of Siena so far has been the frescoes "Allegory of Good Government" and "Allegory of Bad Government" painted by Ambrogio Lorenzetti and located in the City Hall Museum. They depict the ruler of bad government with horns, a famous image. As I viewed the painting with Hillary she theorized that perhaps we had seen it before as the cover for Machiavelli's The Prince, but I cannot find a copy of this online. In any case, I think that she is right; that I have seen it used as a book cover.

If you can get a chance to visit Siena, I think I can speak for all us in saying that you should. The town contains countless, beautiful masterpieces of medieval art and architecture.

1. Rick Steves, Italy 2008 (Emeryville CAAvalon: Travel Publishing, 2008), 461.
2. Steves, 469.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Field Trip

As I have wandered from historic site to historic site in Rome, I have come across groups of children on school trips. The end of the school year is nearing in Rome just as it is back home. Field trips, as I have witnessed them, seem to be very similar to the trips school children take at home. I would like to be able to report some significant differences between field trips for Roman students and field trips for American students, but as of yet I have not noticed any significant diversions. Roman students go to important historic sites like the Forum as depicted in this picture from Hillary. You can see the school kids wearing yellow hats standin underneath the arch of Septimius Severus (Nicole got another shot of these children).

They take chaperons. I have to assume that the older, parent-looking people are fulfilling this duty. They also tend to wear some sort of uniform hat or bandanna with their school's name on it so that the children can be identified easily and kept safe. I even caught a group outside of the Vatican sitting on a long bench eating bagged lunches.

Today, in Siena, I saw more students in the museum at the City Hall. Some were Italian and some were French. They looked older, middle school/high school age, and they did not wear uniforms. Just as at home, there is little reason to keep track of older students on field trips with uniforms. Seeing French students on a trip was interesting. Presumably the trip, for them, was a little long than the daytime excursions that many of the Roman school children are on at the Forum. The French students, like many of the Roman students, were receiving a lecture from someone who appeared to be an authority on the site that they were visiting. Just as museums at home provide guides for school groups, so do many Italian museums.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Pantheon and Power Across Time

As a group, we visited the Pantheon today. This was my first time inside and I snapped a few poorly composed pictures of the interior. It is a difficult place to photograph both because framing a shot inside a circular space is confusing and because it is perpetually crammed with tourists.

The pantheon is a particularly fascinating place for the examination of representations of power in Rome. Pan-theon literally means all gods and the temple was constructed to be a place to honor all of ancient Rome's many deities. According to our Eyewitness guide, the pantheon was originally constructed by M. Agrippa during his third and final consulate in the twenties BC (1). Marcus Agrippa was a contemporary of Caesar Augustus and served as a general for him, winning a number of important battles. He was elected as one of the two consuls of Rome in 37 BC. He served as consul twice more. First, M. Agrippa served in 28 BC with Octavian and second in 27, again with Octavian. In 27 BC Octavian received the title Augustus and became the first emperor of Rome.

The original Pantheon was destroyed in a fire in 80 AD during the brief reign of the emperor Titus and then rebuilt by the emperor Hadrian. The original plans from M. Agrippa's Pantheon were reused by Hadrian and the building still bears a prominent inscription across its famous portico crediting him for the design of the building. Hadrian's building is what stands today.

While the Pantheon began as a temple for the worship of all of the many gods of Roman mythology, it became a church for the worship of only one god in the seventh century AD when it was given as a gift from the Christianized Byzantine Empire to the Vatican. The structure was rededicated as a church and the quality of its preservation is often credited to the Catholic Church. Both the interior and the exterior of the Pantheon have been altered by the groups that have controlled the Pantheon throughout history. Pope Urban VIII added two turrets to back of the portico in eighteenth century. The turrets were removed in the nineteenth century. The turrets, despite their hideousness, did make the Pantheon look more like a Christian church.

Inside, the Pantheon is littered with the influence of history. Around the circular interior of the Pantheon there are seven indented alcoves (the eighth would be the entrance) and each is used much like the small chapels inside many of the larger churches in Rome. Several of these chapel-like structures have been used to inter elite Romans. The Renaissance painter and architect Raphael was laid to rest in one of these in the sixteenth century. In the nineteenth century, Victor Emmanuel II, the first king of a unified Italy, was also laid to rest in the Pantheon. Victor Emmanuel's son, Uberto I, the second king of a unified Italy also has a sarcophagus in the Pantheon.

The Pantheon, a quintessentially Roman building, has thus become an important site for the expression of power in Rome. Because it is a building that has been a notable part of the cityscape for almost two millennia, to be able to change the physical appearance of both the inside and outside of the Pantheon not only indicates the possession of a great deal of power, but also produces an expression of that power likely to last an extremely long time. The sense of permanence that the Pantheon lends to the expression of power is likely part of its appeal for the powerful of Roman history.

1. Fiona Wild, ed., Eye Witness Travel Rome (London: Dorling Kindersley Limited, 1993), 2007 edition, 110-111.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Red Rome

Among other political groups, the Italian Communists seem to inspire a great deal of graffiti. Italy has had a communist party in one form or another since 1921, but the party has split and merged with factions within itself and with other parts of the Italian left on a number of occasions. All of this makes its history difficult to follow. Amusingly, the top of the Wikipedia site on the topic attempts to summarize the history of organized communism in Italy and fails to do so in a single paragraph. Today, communists are a political minority. Italy has a parliamentary system and the current Italian government is run by a rightist coalition headed by the Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi. None of the coalitions containing communist parties hold any seats in the parliament. The marginal nature of Italy's far left may help create the need for graffiti as political speech.

Walking home from the Sede, I found a great deal of communist graffiti on the walls lining the Tiber; both on the Largo Avention and Largo Pierleoni. The image above is an example of this. It declares "Rome Free and Red" with a star following. The graffiti is actually more easily viewed when riding by on a bus than it is when walking by. It appears that the artist of this particular piece is attempting to advertise his or her political views to passing motorized traffic more than to those walking by.

Not all of of the communist graffiti in Rome is aimed at passing traffic. Some of it is smaller and aimed at the sidewalk instead of the street. Yesterday, I found this hammer and sickle freshly painted on an electrical box on the Via del Circo Massimo. Given the covering of the trees in the parkway and direction of the graffiti, it is most likely intended for those passing on foot. The appeals that these pieces make are not particularly complicated; appearing to do more to simply reiterate the existence of the marginalized political left in Italy than anything else. Some other pieces seem to have more of a targeted meaning.

For example, I found this piece spray-painted on an automated currency exchange across the street from the steps that lead up to the Capitoline Museums. This piece is clearly meant for an audience of foreigners. First, this can be presumed because it is written in English and not in Italian as most of the other pieces of communist graffiti that I have found. Second, it is written across a currency exchange and foreigners presumably use these machines more than anyone else. Additionally, the machine, being across the street from the Capitoline Museums, and located near the capitol hill and downtown is placed in a prime tourist location. In addition to the message being conveyed, this particular piece of graffiti splashes paint across the screen that is used to complete the transaction. This makes it impossible for anyone using the machine to ignore its presence. It may also make the machine unusable, but I have not tested this hypothesis.

Limits: Setting and Exploding

As I develop my theme on representations of power in Rome, I realize that I will have to be open minded to sites where the expression of power happens. So far, I want to explore two major places: first, the ancient expressions of state power that are made up largely of the famous monuments that populate Rome's landscape, and second, the graffiti that marks almost every public wall in Rome. I hope that I will find other sources of inspiration like advertising, protests, and contemporary statements of power made by the state. Of course, any set of sites will limit my vision of the expression of power in Rome, but I think that I can still add more breath without sacrificing any significant depth.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Festa Patronale di Santa Maria Liberatrice

This morning I attended the Celebrazione Eucaristica as part of the Festa Patronale di Santa Maria Libertrice (that is the celebration of the eucharist that is part of the festival of the patron Saint Maria Liberatrice). The church in Testaccio is the new Santa Maria Liberatrice. The original church was erected in the middle of the forum and torn down at the beginning of the twentieth century.

I attended the festival mass at Santa Maria in pursuit of finding a particular confessional that I can observe. Entering the church, I noticed that there were four confessionals, two on each side of the nave. I resolved to get some photos of them, but I did not want to alarm the church goers by my strange photographic behavior, so I sat down and began casually photographing the church. Eventually, I made my way around to getting some shaky images of the confessional nearest to me. The experience made me consider the difficulty of documenting cultural practices that are ongoing. It is difficult to do so without allowing the academic perspective trivialize the culture that is being studied.

As the church began to fill, I noticed flashes going off. It turns out that the festival mass is a special occasion that brings the parishioners to church in their best clothes. The mass itself also included a great deal of parishioner participation. The church, which is not small, filled with people; some had to stand in the back. I suspect that all of these realities made today a photo-worthy occasion for the parishioners as well as me and so I felt a little less out of place taking pictures than I might have otherwise.

At the beginning of the mass, the head father came out and began to speak. The room got quieter as the parishioners began to listen to mass. At the same time, and much to my fascination, a younger priest came into the nave and entered the confessional closest to where I was sitting. During the mass, about five or six parishioners came to give penance. I was able to snap a few pictures and tried to be careful not be intrusive or to take photographs that would identify any of the confessing Catholics. In order to study confession responsibly, I think that I will have to respect the anonymity of the sacrament just as the church does.

I did learn some small pieces of information about the process of confession for the priest. The father who sat for confession today brought a book with him. When he arrived at the confessional, he turned on a light and closed the curtain, but he did not feel obligated to keep the curtain closed the entire time that he was hearing confession. At one point he had the curtain open and even appeared to be paying attention to the festival mass.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Street Horrrsing

Walking through our neighborhood, Testaccio, Hillary noticed that one of the noise bands that I have been listening to lately had an add up for their new album, Street Horrrsing. It is now covered up by another poster for a photographic exhibition. These poster hangers are all over Rome and carry posters concerning anything from obscure noise bands to important political figures like the Prime Minister of Italy, Silvio Berlusconi. Like the talking statues of old, these posters offer a space for the direct public display of discourse. The dual purposes, both for the advertisement of art and for the advertisement of power, of the poster hangers demonstrates the complex interrelationship of power and art. As I develop my theme on power and its representations, I will have to pay careful attention to the messages that these poster holders carry. If possible, looking at the which posters cover which might lend some insight into the rhetoric of political advertisement in Rome.

More Capitoline

Our trip to the Capitoline produced a host of images worth putting on the blog and so I selected some the highlights for the folks back home.

This is the famous sculpture of Marcus Aurelius on horseback. It was originally located outside of the two Capitoline Museums in the Piazza del Campidoglio, but in the 1990s a replica was erected and it was moved inside the Palazza dei Conservatori.

The emblematic sculpture of Medusa is also located in the Palazza dei Consrevatori.

I found this bronze horse striking. The plaque at its feet explains that it is roughly five hundred years older than Jesus.

And, of course, I must, as a rhetorician, include the bust of Cicero. Socrates, Plato, and some other rhetorically interesting figures also have busts at the Palazza Nuovo, but none are quite as interesting to me.

Bassoonists in the Capitoline

Today, we visited both of the Capitoline Museums. They are on the Monte Capitolini and were designed by Michelangelo. Both the Palazzo dei Conservatori and Palazza Nuovo contain countless pieces of priceless art. There are rooms literally filled with paintings, sculptures, busts, and other works. Among the important works they contain, and it is difficult to keep track of all of it, I found these porcelain figures of both male and female bassoonists.

Both of the figures were being kept behind glass which made them difficult to photograph. This was actually odd as most of the art in the Capitoline Museums is kept out in the open without the protection of glass or even a velvet rope. I had to remind myself over and over again that these pieces of art (some of which are furniture) are not supposed to be touched. The lack of physical barriers, something most US museums employ ad nauseam, and the attractiveness of much of the art made proper museum behavior difficult.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Divine Providence

It turns out that our apartment building is directly across the street from a Roman middle school. The name of the school is the Istituto Figlie Della Divina Provvidenza which roughly translates to the Institute of the Daughters of Divine Providence. Despite the name of the school, it appears that it is a coeducational middle school. The Istituto is not as large as the Collegio Romano, but it is, like the Collegio, connected with the Catholic church. The Daughters of Divine Providence, for which the school is named, is an institute of religious sisters. Religious sisters are similar to nuns, but their vows are simple, not solemn. They were founded by Elena Bettini 1832, when she was only eighteen years old. According to their website, the sisters' mission is to extend the tenderness of God to all people by: educating children, reaching the elderly, and reaching families. In the late 1830s, Mother Bettini moved the institute of sisters to Testaccio (our neighborhood). I am not yet sure when the school was built and if its founding is directly connected with the sisterhood or simply named in honor of it, but these are questions that I hope that I will be able to answer in later posts.

Thursday, May 15, 2008


For my place theme, I plan to investigate a confessional. So far, all of the active churches that we have visited have had confessionals in them. All of the confessionals have been large, wooden boxes. The image above is from San Pietro in Vincoli (Saint Peter in Chains). It is a church in the Esquiline neighborhood in Rome. The church has chains on display that are said to be those that held Saint Peter in the Mamertine Prison before his execution (2). The confessional in San Pietro in Vincoli has an enclosed space in the middle where the priest would sit to hear confessions. Those who confess are to kneel at the side of the confessional box and tell the priest of their sins.

On Tuesday of this week, we visited Sant'Ignazio di Loyola (the Church of Saint Ignatius of Loyola). It is a Jesuit church of an impressive scale. It contains several large marble reliefs and a magnificently painted ceiling (3). The confessionals at Saint Ignatius were positioned in the front portion of the church, near the altar. At Saint Peter in Chains, the confessional boxes were located in the back of the church near the doors. I am curious if there is a reason for this positioning. It could be a coincidence or a simple spatial necessity, but it could also be related to the philosophical bents of the sects who run each church. Saint Ignatius is still in use and while we were visiting there was a ceremony occurring in one of the alcoves on the side of the church. The confessional at Saint Ignatius was a bit more elaborate than those at Saint Peter in Chains. One would enter entirely into the box to ask for forgiveness at Saint Ignatius. The priest, sits in a separate room inside the box and hears the confessions of the faithful.

I am making it a goal to find a church with an active confessional that I can visit on a regular basis to get an idea of how the sacrament of confession is practiced in Rome, and if possible, how its practice influences or is influenced by the confessional boxes and the spaces they inhabit.

1. Fiona Wild, ed., Eye Witness Travel Rome (London: Dorling Kindersley Limited, 1993), 2007 edition, 170.
2. Wild, 91.
3. Wild, 106.

Anarchy in Italy

Link most large cities, there is a lot of graffiti in Rome. A surprising amount of it seems to have political messages. The picture above is of an anarchy symbol spray-painted on building along the Via dei Cavour. Just down the street, entering the intersection of the V. Cavour and the Via del Colosseo, there was another anarchy sign painted on a street sign at the end of a small parking area. The amount of graffiti on the sign made it difficult to make out its original meaning. Here, the "A" was faded, but it looked to be faded by weather, not by any attempts at removal.

We visited the Forum for the first time today and learned that Rome has a long history of struggle over politics in public places. The giant monuments around Rome are physical manifestations of the use of place to generate political commentary. Just as one engages in political speech through verbal communication, the monuments that inhabit Rome engage in political speech through the creation of places with specified political histories. Grafitti has the power to manipulate those place, adding meaning, changing meaning, and even rejecting or ridiculing meaning.

Entering the Piazza Venezia from behind, Hillary, Jessica, Mia, and I walked along the side of the giant Victor Emanuel Monument (more on that to come). I noticed that graffiti had been removed from the side of the megalithic fascist memorial to Italy's first king. It appears that there are places where graffiti is more an less acceptable in Rome (again, more to come). Thus, the battle for the control of the politics of space continues.

Finally, to highlight the importance of location in tagging Rome, I photographed this vulgar statement in opposition to fascism. Jessica pointed it out as passed it on the Via dei Cavour. It likens fascism to defecation, a declaration of judgment clear in any language. It had not been removed despite having a slightly worn appearance that seems to suggest that it was not too recently written.