Postcard from Rome, Italy: Restricted ourselves to window-shopping

We’re not big on shopping, so, as usual, gazing at shop windows was about as close as we came to reaching for credit cards to make any actual purchases. Aside from edibles.

But, in case you are wondering how much that complete little tutu-type outfit above costs, the price in Euros totals 5,340, or, in dollars, $6,245.03. Maybe, if you spring for the whole combo, the store throws in those fishnet stockings, open-weave enough to let sardines and anchovies escape entanglement.

No tri-tone shoes, Cannabis Energy Drinks, priestly calendar boys, cardinal beanies or Trump bobbleheads found their way into our luggage.

Postcard from Rome, Italy: Rome’s first church and papal palace

With rumors spreading that the great fire that burned for six days in Rome in the year 64 was ignited to clear away existing structures for construction of his grand palace on the Palatine Hill, Emperor Nero (37-68) found a scapegoat. Christians must have started the fire. So Christians were hunted down and persecuted, with the gruesome brutality one might expect from an emperor who deemed even the lives of his mother and a wife or two disposable.

For the sake of explaining the featured photo of the top of the ciborium erected over the papal altar in the Archbasilica of San Giovanni in Laterano, we will mention only two of the emperor’s victims. Under the orders of the emperor, Saint Peter (30-64 or so) was crucified upside down, the position the martyr requested to demonstrate his humble position in relation to Jesus. Most of the remains of Saint Peter are believed to rest under the Basilica bearing his name. As a Roman citizen, Saint Paul the Apostle (5-64 or so) was afforded a “more humane” death sentence, beheading. Legend has it that his head bounced high three times after its separation from his body, with fountains of water spraying up for the ground at each bounce. His body was buried outside the walls, under what is named, appropriately, the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls. The head might have been retrieved later from amongst a pit of severed heads.

According to tradition, the golden reliquaries encasing the heads of Saints Peter and Paul peer out from that deep-blue golden cage at the top of the ciborium. There is no question that two skulls reside there side by side on high, but some wonder whether they are the actual ones that once rested on the shoulders of Peter and Paul. But that is just being nitpicky. The importance of these relics to the church is illustrated by the fact that only the Pope is permitted to say mass from this altar.

This Gothic-style feature was not added inside Saint John Lateran until the 14th century, the origins of the archbasilica, dedicated to both Saint John the Baptist (BC-28 or so) and Saint John the Evangelist (15-100), are much earlier. Much of the site belonged at one time to the Lateranus family, but a family member was accused of conspiracy by Nero, who used that as an excuse to confiscate the property. Later, Emperor Constantine I (272-337) donated it to the Bishop of Rome, the Pope. In 318, the site became the home of the first church built in Rome and the papal home under Pope Silvester I (?-335).

While the Baptistry dates from the early years, an earthquake in 896 destroyed much of the church. Strangely, this destruction coincided with the one-year reign of Pope Stephen VI. The pope was not fond of his predecessor, Pope Formosus (816-896). Not content to leave final judgment in the hands of Saint Peter at the gates of heaven, Pope Stephen VI had the body of Pope Formosus exhumed and propped up in the Lateran Palace. The corpse was put on trial on numerous charges of prior papal intrigue. Unable to mount much of a defense, Pope Formosus was deemed guilty. His papal robes were removed and replaced with those of a common man, and, before he was reburied, his three “blessing fingers” were chopped off and thrown into the Tiber.

The church was rebuilt after the earthquake, but a series of fires resulted in it having to be resurrected from ashes several times in the 1300s. The fires spared the 13th-century cloisters.

When the papacy returned from Avignon in 1377, the church again was restored but the papal residence was moved to Santa Maria in Trastevere. Pope Sixtus V (1521-1590) hired architect Domenico Fontana (1543-1607) for work on the church, and Pope Innocent X (1574-1655) hired Francesco Borromini (1599-1667) for more interior remodeling. Pope Clement XII (1652-1740) then commissioned Allessandro Galilei (1691-1737) to add the unusual façade fronting an enormous plaza anchored by a 455-ton obelisk.

The ancient obelisk, commissioned by Pharaoh Thutmose III (1481-1425 B.C.) for Thebes, attracted the interest of Emperor Constantine I. He ordered it shipped to Constantinople, but it was waylaid in Rome and erected in the Circus Maximus in 357 instead. Toppled and buried at some point, it was rediscovered, excavated and moved to the plaza by Sixtus V in 1588.

Biannual list of top posts always diverse

You need hold your breath no longer. That much anticipated list revealing most-read blog posts over the past year is here.

While the brutally murdered Helen Madarasz was a real person, at one time I believed I invented her ghost refusing to leave the site of her former home in Brackenridge Park. So many keep reading the post six years later, even I am starting to think she might really be haunting the park.

My readers seem to be as Alamobsessive as I am, fretting over proposed plans for Alamo Plaza. Every time I think the plaza will remain fence-free and historic gems on the west side of the plaza will be spared, renewed threats arise. That barely watercolored-in white rail in the background of the image above is a fence. Just to be safe, please consider signing the San Antonio Conservation’s Society petition at change. org.

venison at Fricska Gastropub in Budapest

Thanks for taking trips with me; you seem particularly drawn to food. We fell hard for Fricska Gastropub in Budapest, and our taste buds feel vindicated with its recent receipt of Bib Gourmand recognition from Michelin. (And, yes, sister Susan, I promise to get to food posts from Italy soon. She has been whining about being sent into so many churches first. But it takes a long time for postcards to arrive from Italy, and the Alamo keeps interrupting.)

Margarita Cabrera

Like many of you, cannot wait to see Margarita Cabrera’s ‘Tree of Life’ take root on the Mission Reach of the San Antonio River near Mission Espada.

So here’s your top 12, with the numbers in parentheses representing the rankings six months ago:

  1. The Madarasz Murder Mystery: Might Helen Haunt Brackenridge Park?, 2012 (2)
  2. Forging consensus for the Alamo Comprehensive Plan: Don’t fence us out, 2018
  3. Postcard from Budapest, Hungary: Currently suffering from case of miss-you-Fricska blues, 2017 (3)
  4. ‘Tree of Life’ bears bountiful crop of tales from the past, 2018
  5. Please put this song on Tony’s pony and make it ride away, 2010 (4)
  6. ‘Just the Facts:’ A fence by any other name still smells the same, 2018
  7. Postcard from Guanajuato, Mexico: Wishing these dining spots were not 600 miles away, 2016 (8)
  8. Morning walk turns into thematic parade through San Antonio’s heritage, 2018

    San Antonio Livestock Show & Rodeo’s Western Heritage Parade

  9. How would you feel about the Alamo with a crewcut?, 2011 (10)
  10. The Curse of Madarasz Park: Another Ghost Wandering in Brackenridge Park, 2014
  11. Postcard from Mexico City: Pausing for a playful food break at Mercado Roma, 2017

    fried charl taquito amuse bouche at Seneri in Mercado Roma in Mexico City

  12. Postcard from Oaxaca, Mexico: Where fiestas erupt all the time, 2017

Thanks for stopping by, and feel free to chat back. We’ll wind up this round-up with a fiesta in Oaxaca.