When you explore Rome, you are immediately struck by the marvelous presence of its saints. St. Bridget of Sweden, for example, whose feast was celebrated this week, lived and died in a building just off the Piazza Farnese, a block from where I'm staying. St. Philip Neri, the Renaissance-era apostle of Rome, is buried under a side-altar at the Church of St. Mary in Vallicella, the Chiesa Nuova (It was a "New Church" in the sixteenth century. In the U.S., of course, such a church would be our oldest.) St. Catherine of Siena, who in the fourteenth century convinced the pope to return to Rome from exile in Avignon, France, is under the main altar of the Church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva (St. Mary above Minerva, since the Gothic church is built on the site of an ancient Roman temple to the goddess Minerva.)
At the Capitoline Museum, which sits atop the Capitoline Hill, I visited the spectacular exhibit Lux in Arcana ("Light in Hiding"), a collection of a hundred documents like the sixteenth-century excommunication of Martin Luther or the thirteenth-century papal recognition of the Franciscans, which occurred during St. Francis' life. Church history contains everything, good and bad, but it's marvelous to see the leavening effect that the saints continue to exercise throughout history, in spite of everything. Wars and politicians come and go, but the saints, like the Eternal City, remain.
Dwight G. Duncan is professor at UMass School of Law Dartmouth. He holds degrees in both civil and canon law.
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