Rebecca Helm-Ropelato
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Thursday, April 26, 2007
St. Michael in the Rain
Piazza at the Pantheon
Piazza at the Pantheon
“Do you believe in angels?”
“Why not?” Franco replied, with the curious way he has sometimes of referring to his beliefs.
“What are they,” I asked. “What do the Roman Catholics say they are?”
“Spirits of God. Emanations. Messengers,” he said following a thread of thought.
“What are the messages?”
“Information, or sometimes just strength for a situation.” He paused, recollecting. “Immanuel is somehow God's presence itself.”
“I thought St. Michael was the greatest angel?”
“Immanuel isn't an angel...”
Castel Sant'Angelo's St. Michael (Pieter van Verschaffelt,1752)
Castel Sant'Angelo's St. Michael
(Pieter van Verschaffelt, 1752)
And so the conversation continued as we were sitting at a table yesterday on the narrow, covered terrace of a Rome cafe bar. We had stopped there to take shelter from a surprise rainstorm. Except for two British women who were paying their check, all the other tables were empty.
The owner was standing nearby, frowning up at the dark sky. Franco commented to him about the storm.
“It drove everyone away,” the man said resentfully, waving toward the empty streets. “They've all gone back to their hotels now.”
Shortly before, the streets had been crowded with tourists and shoppers. The skies had been clear, the sun bright. On one of the first warm days of spring, many bars and restaurants had their sidewalk tables and canopies set up. But the rain and a chilling breeze were disappointing merchants' hopes.
Yesterday was a national holiday in Italy, the celebration of the liberation at the end of World War II. We decided to go into Rome for the afternoon and see an exhibition at Castel Sant'Angelo. The huge, circular castle, also known as Hadrian's Tomb, is within view of St. Peter's Square.
Anyone who has ever seen or toured the castle will now understand the genesis of my angel conversation with Franco. Towering over Castel Sant'Angelo's broad rooftop
St. Michael the Archangel (Guido Reni,1635)
St. Michael the Archangel
(Guido Reni, 1635)
terrace is a gigantic bronze sculpture of the archangel Michael. In a courtyard inside the castle, another sculpture of the avenging angel, eleven feet high, stands on a pedestal.
In addition to these two representations, the exhibition we had seen there featured a striking 1600s painting of St. Michael the Archangel by Guido Reni.
So my mind had drifted into contemplation of the subject of angels.
For me, this kind of mind flow is one of the best rewards of spending time in Rome. The city is a deluge of imagery. Antiquity peeks out at you from every possible nook and cranny. And the inextricable mix of modern day living, and icons and architecture of pagan mythology and Christian religion spin the mind and whirl it out of its usual familiar habitat. Thinking can be set free.
Yesterday, mine escaped its reality-bound world awhile to think about angels. Angels as possibilities.
Why not.
by Rebecca Helm-Ropelato
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