If “the rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain,” as Professor Henry Higgins and Eliza Doolittle chanted in “My Fair Lady,” then the rain in Rome stays “mainly on me.” At least that is how it felt on Monday, March 12th when another monk, who studies in Rome, and I went for his airline ticket at a travel agency near the Basilica of Saint Mary Major (Santa Maria Maggiore), usually a twenty minute walk from the curia Sant’Ambrogio where I live. The monk will be visiting his monastery in India this summer and already it is time to get travel arrangements in order.
On March 12th we left Sant’Ambrogio on foot at about 9:15 and it was raining some. By the time we reached Piazza Venezia, just a few blocks away, it was raining so hard that within a minute or so we were completely drenched, even with umbrellas in hand. The wind accompanying the rain blew the umbrellas inside out and there was nothing we could do. As a Motown song of the 1960s by Martha and the Vandellas put it, there was “Nowhere to run to, baby, nowhere to hide.” On some streets in Rome one can duck into a doorway of a shop or an apartment building when rain is falling. Where we were at that moment there was nothing to do but keep walking to the bus stop for the number 51 bus that would take us near Santa Maria Maggiore, since going on foot seemed ludicrous at that point.
Fortunately a bus came within minutes of our arriving at the bus stop and was at least comic relief to our waterlogged selves. The bus was nearly empty and the ride itself took only a few minutes. We were soon back on the street and on our way to the travel agency. The rain let up a little but it was still pouring. Ironically, we found the agency closed when we arrived! All that work for nothing. Maybe they were closed on Monday? Then we realized it was still a bit before 10:00 am, the likely opening hour, so we retreated to a nearby covered sidewalk (galleria), containing tables where venders sell clothing, books, and various other goods. Maybe out of a hope of doing something productive that soggy morning, the other monk bought a pair of socks for two Euro and then we returned to the travel agency. They were open by then and we did the transaction. The rain had stopped, the sun was out and we decided to return on foot. Within fifteen minutes or so of walking we were pretty much “dried out” and grateful the sun was finally shining. That is Rome on its best behavior, as much as sister rain is also useful, as Saint Francis might express it. In his case, he praised God for “Sister Water, which is very useful and humble and precious and chaste,” in the famous Canticle of his in praise of God’s creation.
Last year it was very dry in Rome, so this winter the rain we are getting is a welcome sight and one can already see the occasional patches of grass in the city coming to life. Some trees are beginning to bloom and daffodils have already budded. Unfortunately I noticed on the return walk that the torrential rain of the day had done serious damage to the daffodils in the garden of Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity sisters next to the church of San Gregorio Magno (Saint Gregory the Great) on the Caelian Hill near the Coliseum.
What is now San Gregorio Magno Camaldolese monastery and its church, and next door the home of the Missionaries of Charity, was once the property of Pope Saint Gregory, the suburban villa of his family on the Caelian Hill. Saint Gregory is especially remembered by Benedictines as the author of the first life of Saint Benedict. The “Second Book of the Dialogues” of Saint Gregory is dedicated to the life and deeds of Saint Benedict and was instrumental in the spread of the Rule of Saint Benedict and eventually the arrival of Benedictines to every inhabited continent of the world.
The community that Saint Gregory founded on his family property around 575 was dedicated to Saint Andrew the Apostle. Though elected pope in 590, Gregory’s monastery continued to exist and a few years after his becoming pope he sent monks of his former monastery to evangelize the Anglo-Saxons, in 597. The leader of the group of monks for the mission to Britain was Saint Augustine, later becoming the first Archbishop of Canterbury.
The Caelian Hill is one of the famous Seven Hills of Rome. Today the Passionist Order of priests has its Generalate there and they staff the basilica church of Saints John and Paul (Santi Giovanni e Paolo) next door. The ancient and unusual circular basilica church of Saint Stephan (Santo Stefano Rotondo) is also on the Caelian Hill.
The church and monastery of Saint Gregory passed to the Camaldolese Benedictine monks in 1573, where a group of them have been ever since. In the 1970s some of the property and buildings of the Camaldolese monks at San Gregorio was offered for the use of the Missionaries of Charity sisters to live in and for their work with the poor in the Eternal City. They continue to serve there, running a food pantry and a shelter for the homeless.
The one thousand one hundredth anniversary of the founding of the Camaldolese branch of Benedictines by Saint Romuald was celebrated on March 10, 2012, with a special Vespers at the monastery of Saint Gregory. It was attended by then Pope Benedict XVI and Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury at that time.
Ironically, the monks at Saint Gregory were keeping the one thousand one hundred and sixth(!) anniversary of the founding of their Congregation on the night of the horrific rain described above, but I had already had enough adventure for one day and took a rain check.