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Late Night in Roma

Via Della Concilazione

Via Della Concilazione

St Peter's

St Peter’s

The wall around St Peters Square

The Wall Around St Peters Square

The front and main entrance to the church at Santa Brigida faces the square of the Piazza Farnese. Looking out from Santa Brigida to the right on the piazza is the Farnese Palazzo, now the French Embassy.  There is a guard house for the armed soldiers, who carry angry looking machine guns.  A utility vehicle painted in camouflage  looks well equipped with anything needed in a crisis.   Armed guards constantly patrol the grounds of the embassy. Two armed soldiers are posted at the vehicle at all times. The piazza is small and quiet with no markets set up during the day and no hawkers shooting off the plastic rockets that glow like firecrackers when propelled into the night sky. During the day tourists sit on the long marble bench in front of the embassy to rest.

Our room at the convent faced the small cobbled side street and as we looked out our tall narrow window of the room we could see the embassy to the left and a small bar in the next block to the right.  We could hear people walking and talking in the street below despite the fact we were up four floors from the ground level of the street.  Sound travels. The serenading began at 1am.  A group of boys, either drunk or just happy sat on the steps of the building across from the convent and sang loudly and with gusto until 3 AM.  Evidently the guards at the embassy like singing and are trained to stay at their posts and keep a look out, never interfering unless there is a disturbance in the piazza or a run on the building. They are not diverted to singing groups on the side street. The side street is off limits. It’s a good thing we got sleep on the flight over.

The next morning broke clear, sunny and very warm. We went to the breakfast room and were greeted by a nun who was serving two priests an early breakfast. We had the choice of frutta, yoghurt, cereali, salami, fromaggio, caffe e spramuta d’ rancia. (I am practicing my Italian) We decided to walk early in the day, while it was cooler, to the Vatican and I am so glad we did. Staying at the convent is so convenient, despite the outdoor noises, because you can walk to all the main attractions. We walked to the Tiber River and crossing a different bridge than yesterday passed Castel Sant’ Angelo and walked on to St Peter’s Square, which is really round.  At this early hour there were few tourists so we could get some good pictures without heads or bodies in the way. The shops and cafes along Via Della Conciliazione were open at this hour too.  The street cleaners were out with witches brooms sweeping away the last bits of dirt on the sidewalks.  The street cleaning machines started up right after the serenading died down. Hey, maybe the singers ARE the street cleaning machine operators!  The Italians clean the streets early every morning with the same gusto as the singers! Cleaning starts in around 4AM.  We walked on to the square and were greeted by hawkers who could get us in the Vatican, no line. I don’t think so.  I know there is always a long line. There is a great deal of construction going on near the Vatican now so there are many detours to get around the  square and up to the museum. When we finally arrived at the museum that entrance was closed off so we retraced our steps back to St Peters Square. When we got there, there were  hundreds of people winding in a line to get into the Vatican.  We passed around the wrought iron fence designating we were now in Vatican City, a country all it’s own.  We stopped to look at the wares of a man selling Vatican novelties.  He told us he was the only merchant allowed to sell inside Vatican City, on church and state property. His family had sold here from 1945 and the license was passed down through the generations.  He was very nice and telling the truth.  We circled St Peters and never saw another vender inside the fencing.  We went back to him and bought rosaries and tiny, tiny bottles of holy water.  He gave us St Francis medals to wear.  He told us business would not be good today since the crowd was expected to be over 200,000 for the dedications of the Confraternity.  There were a bazillion metal chairs set in the square and that is where the lines were winding as they waited to get into the Vatican.  We hi-tailed out of there before the crowds became worse and stopped at more shops along the way.  I was looking for a Nativity scene.  I have a large set with many shepherds, cows and donkeys and of course the Holy Family.  I wanted a little itsy bitsy one and found it.  Made of hand carved wood it is Joseph, Mary, and baby Jesus about one inch tall, all in one tiny piece. Perfetto!  We also bought post cards and posted them in the Vatican City post office.  We then found the stop for the red open air double decker buses, thanks to two Italian girls who overheard us talking and gave us directions. We decided to take a tour of the city.  It was beginning to get HOT so we bought gelato and boarded the bus, climbing to the top.  It is a good way to rest and get a suntan at the same time. After the bus tour we walked back to the Convent passing large groups of people dressed in colorful robes and carrying large banners while praying and walking to the Vatican.  These were the Confraternities.  They were being honored with a mass with the Holy Papa.  Time for a nap to rest up for the evening passegiatta!

The Colosseum

The Colosseum

From the Tour Bus in Roma

From the Tour Bus in Roma



Our Room at Santa Brigida

Our Room at Santa Brigida

Day one. Off to Rome. My daughter surprised me with an early Mother’s Day present and updated my ticket to first class!  I WAS IN HEAVEN!!!!!!! Everything is so much nicer in first class.  I could select meals from a menu with several choices and eat delicious food with real forks and spoons.  I ate steak. To sleep I just pushed the button for the seat to maneuver into whatever position was comfortable for me.  I slept great! In no time we were landing in Rome.
We took a cab from the airport to St Brigida Convent in the heart of historic Rome.  The cabbie didn’t fail my expectations by stopping or even slowing down at stop signs.  The signs are only suggestions in Italy. Sister Gertrude met us at the huge oak doors and let us into the convent/hotel located in the Farnese Piazza next door to the Palazzo Farnese, which is now the French Embassy.  In the meeting room we were greeted by an older nun who could not have been over four foot eight and spoke only Italian. Sister Gertrude is the only fluent English speaking nun here at the convent.  Most of the nuns are Indian or Italian. Showing us to our room on the third floor we managed to get our luggage and three people in the elevator meant for one. I was so thankful for that elevator though!  Our room was spotless and the size of most Italian hotel rooms. To get there we passed a small television room and chapel. My daughter and I unpacked and quickly headed out to explore Trastevere, an old neighborhood where the locals live just across the Tiber River. The streets are narrow and the crowds are not here so it is great to explore.  We stopped at a small restaurant with outdoor seating called Gabriels and Gabriella’s right next door to the Church of Santa Maria.  With the bells tolling we dined on fresh pasta and homemade foccaccia with rosemary served in a paper bag.  As it was getting hot we went back to the Convent to rest before going out into the piazza at night.

The Main Entrance Santa Brigida

The Main Entrance Santa Brigida

Flowers in Trastevere

Flowers in Trastevere



Santa Brigida

Santa Brigida

Off To Roma



Off to Italy!  First stop Rome and Santa Brigida Church and convent where I will be staying while in Rome. Santa Brigida Church is dedicated to Saint Brigida of Sweden and the Swedish National Church (Lutheran) in Rome. The order of St Brigida is found in many countries and their convents serve as a rest, retreat and educational facility for  people of different faiths.   Birgitta Birgirsdotter was born in 1303 in Vadstena, Sweden into a well-to-do family and married Ulf Gudmarrson, a knight, at the age of 14.  They had eight children and one of the girls Karin, also became a saint, Saint Catherina of Sweden.  Ulf died following a pilgrimage taken by both Brigida and Ulf to Santiago di Compostela in Spain. Following Ulf’s death Brigida joined the Order of St Francis and started a community of both men and women in Vadstena.  The idea of men and women serving and working together in the church was unheard of.  In 1350 she and her daughter traveled to Rome, a strenuous trip during the plague, to seek permission for an official order of Bridgettine Sisters and stayed in the Palatium Magnum, the grand palace. Here she remained and served the poor until her death nineteen years later while waiting for permission to start the order, which was granted in 1370, after her death. St Brigida is also know for her visions that started as a child. Some believe she was epileptic, though I am skeptical of this idea.  To survive in the 1300’ s, have eight living children and live well into middle age, in addition to having epilepsy would be a miracle itself.  She wrote down her visions in her book of revelations, especially of the Nativity of Jesus which influenced the scene to be painted as art. In another vision, she was given a prayer later known as the Fifteen “O’s” because in the original Latin verse each prayer started with the letter “O”.  This prayer honored the wounds of Christ and were prayed over the course of one year. This prayer was later recited throughout Europe.  She also wrote many letters to the Pope, who lived in Avignon, France, encouraging him to bring the Papacy back to Rome.  He did.  Under Catherina and later her granddaughter, Casa di Santa Brigida in Rome served as a pilgrimage stop in Campo di Fiori (Field of Flowers) for Swedes coming to Rome on pilgrimage and then as a refuge for Swedish Catholics fleeing the Reformation in Sweden. The convent in Rome changed hands among many different orders of nuns over the years, including the Sisters in Santa Maria in Trastevere, then to the Congregation of the Holy Cross, a French congregation that restored the rooms of St Brigida and her daughter St Catherina.  Next the convent was given to the Polish branch of the Carmelite Order until 1930 when it was restored to the Brigidine Order and Mother Mary Hasselblad.  Mother M. Hasselblad was a Swedish girl who immigrated to the United States for work to help support her family in the early 1900’ s.  She converted to Catholicism, became a nun, and was sent to Casa di Santa Brigida and worked relentlessly to restore the Brigidine Order in Rome.  Later she returned to Sweden and opened a convent in Vadstena  with a group of Brigidine sisters who were now thriving in Rome under her leadership.  It was the first Catholic Order to be restored to the Lutheran country in 400 years. Later the order would expand into Mexico and India, where many of the nuns living at Casa di Santa Brigida are from.  The relics of St Brigida and St Catherina are here in the church. The rest of St Brigida is buried in Sweden at the convent of Vadstena.
Italy Sep _ Oct 2009 832
Italy Sep _ Oct 2009 683I have never stayed in a convent before or a hotel operated by nuns. This will be a new experience and the location is fantastic. On our previous trip to Rome we stayed in a newly remodeled villa near the US Embassy that had been converted into lovely big rooms with posh furnishings and marble fixtures. It was a bit further out from the major sites and the Vatican. Our room was situated on the top floor with a great view but also up four flights of stairs.  Believe me when I say at the end of the day and after walking miles, I did not look forward to the stairs. Santa Brigida has an elevator, a treasure in any hotel in Europe. The rooms will be smaller, and with no TV. Since I don’t go on vacation to watch TV this is perfect for me. The description given by guests is, “the casa is spotless, a safe refuge in the heart of Rome and the nuns very friendly and helpful to everyone.”  Located in the Farnese Piazza, near Campo di Fiori, it will be close to restaurants, shopping and the sites.  I want to do two things in Rome, besides dwelling in Casa St Brigida.  One, is to walk and explore the Trastevere neighborhood.  This neighborhood is what most Americans think of when they think of Italy.  The walk includes twisting cobblestone streets, local cafes, gift boutiques, and wine, cheese and coffee shops. I’m sure there will be a gelato stop or two. People watching should be ideal. The second item to do is Rick Steves, Heart of Rome Walk.  This walk starts in Campo di Fiori and ambles through narrow lanes to the most colorful neighborhoods of fountains, piazzas and shopping, ending at the Spanish Steps.  This walk passes by the Pantheon, the Parliament, and the Trevi Fountain but since I have seen these sights before I will be focusing on the walk and the people.  I want to get a glimpse of the lifestyle and stroll among the rich and Roman before I move on to Montepulciano and Il Sasso, the Italian Language school.

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