CLAY JENKINSON: Rome Journal — Bruno, Pantheon And More

A good night of sleep. Now I feel equal to it.

After class yesterday, I ventured into the heart of Rome. There, I found my way to the statue of Bruno in the Campo di Fiori. He, a Renaissance humanist, heretic and memorization master, was burned at the stake in 1600 for a range of unacceptable views, including that Jesus may have been a magician, that some doctrines of Catholicism are uncredible and that we may live in a plurality of worlds.

Whether he is a martyr to free thought or someone who had to be silenced (or both at the same time) is a question that cannot easily be answered, but my view is that a man of his temperament and eccentric views today would surely not be tried, tortured, and incinerated, and that should be the standard, period. The Catholic Church continues to make the case that he had to be silenced, that the church had a right to silence him.

Then to the Pantheon, where I drank a glass of red wine at my favorite cafe just to the northwest of the portico. If you make a list of the greatest buildings humans have ever constructed, the Pantheon must always be in the top 10. For Thomas Jefferson, top two or three.

I never come to Rome without spending as much time as I can gazing at the Pantheon inside and out. It is a noble ruin. I wonder if I would like it as much if it were perfectly preserved or restored? My fear is that an authentic Rome would be a strange cross between Washington, D.C., and Las Vegas: pompous, grand, garish, gaudy, in slightly bad taste.

A plain plate of cace e pepe. A second glass of wine.

The light was exquisite. It was just this side of chilly. I ate at a restaurant in the shadow of the great statue of Bruno, glaring over at the Vatican. The statue could not be created until after the Kingdom of Italy gained sovereignty over the Catholic Church. Even then, the papacy did what it could to prevent it from being erected, and at least one time thereafter has sought to have it removed.

To cap the evening, for I was exceedingly tired, I went into the French national church to look at three of the greatest paintings of Caravaggio: the “Calling of St. Mathew,” the “Inspiration of St. Mathew” and the “Martyrdom of St. Mathew.”

For once, only a handful of people were gazing at the magnificent panels, which are large enough to make one wonder how they were transported by the peripatetic Caravaggio, who was always on the run from something or some body. It’s lovely to hear the Euro coin cling down in the meter that permits light to illuminate the paintings, which otherwise would be impossible to view.

Today, the non-Catholic cemetery and the mountain of pottery shards, the Testaccio. Plus the pyramid of Cestius (dating to ca. 12 BCE). I read in a 19th-century guidebook that the Pyramid of Cestius may have been one of the last things St. Paul ever saw — on his way to be beheaded outside the city walls. Thus, “Paul Outside the Walls.”

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