Posted by: Philip Carr-Gomm | October 9, 2008

Italian Diary 3 – Opus Dei & Deep-fried Artichokes

After two days we reluctantly left the magical Damanhur Federation and headed south for Rome to stay with an old friend, the gifted photographer and Times correspondent Paul Bompard. Paul and I learnt photography together when we were school friends and traipsed around Rome 30 years ago trying to learn as little as possible about its history. Here is an unfortunately out of focus photo of Paul and Stephanie investigating the remains of a magical ritual discovered in an abandoned village outside Rome. You can make out a half-circle traced in flour, inside which were traces of 13 candles.

Paul suggested we visit the catacombs of St.Priscilla – one of 61 catacomb systems beneath the city. During our tour of the subterranean tunnels and burial places a bright-eyed young American leading a group of students with a French beret and moustache responded to our questions about the assumption that all the frescoes were Christian, once the official guide had delivered the stock response. As we left there was a twinkle of recognition in his eyes as we waved goodbye and I thought of the Da Vinci code – with its theme of an art historian who is able to interpret the ‘real history’ of famous works of Christian art.

Our next stop was the headquarters of Opus Dei. We happened to arrive on the 80th anniversary of the movement and a Mass was about to be performed, but they received us very graciously and a charming man showed us around ‘The Prelatic church of Opus Dei’ which is housed in the basement of the very large and anonymous building you see here:

There is a lot more to say about Rome, of course, but let me just mention the deep-fried artichokes we ate in a Kosher Restaurant in the old Ghetto near the Coliseum: a speciality of Roman Jewish cooking. The leaves which with boiling are hard and inedible, are turned into crispy flakes when deep fried and the result is that you can eat them like potato crisps.

The top photo was snapped in a shop window in Rome and was titled ‘Pastor Angelicus’. It was an artwork rather than a clerical vestment that you could buy, but how wonderful it would have been to have seen a priest walking through St.Peter’s Square in it!


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