A Missive (Letter from Rome)

by Friar Thomas Bacon (David Moreno)
Orignally published in the August 1994, A.S. XXIX issue of the Dragonflyre, a publication of the Barony of Vatavia.

I greet you well and send you God's blessing and mine.

I write this from the monastery of Saint Maria d'Aracoeli in the holy city of Rome. It is a new establishment having been built just two score years ago. The church is in the form of the traditional basilica, though the windows are in the new style now favored in France. I'm told the hill it sits on, Capitoline, was the center of Imperial Rome, from which Roman power emanated. But looking about, I have my doubts. A family fortress sits to the east, Saint Maria to the north, shops and a market the rest. The land is filled with hillocks and holes. There is no grandeur here. "But the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another."

I feel fortunate just to have a place to sleep here as the city is packed with pilgrims for the Jubilee, and places to stay are hard to find and cost dearly. And yet food is plentiful and the prices reasonable. "And they did eat, and were all filled."

It is said that there are some two hundred thousand pilgrims in the city and I well believe it. They are everywhere and one must be nimble of foot least one is trampled. This leads to some dolorous news. A brother of mutual acquaintance has come to a perilous state. William of Derby from Saint Mary's was caught in the crowd while looking upon the relic of the Veronica (all trying to see the Lord's face imprinted there), and his leg was crushed. He is not doing well, may you add your prayers to his recovery. "The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much."

There is no lack of places to pray here. One could go to Mass each day at a different church and not go to the same one twice in a year. The Lord must surly grace this city where his name is so often praised.

What is most surprising is that the great basilica of Saint Peter's is not in the city of Rome, but across the river in Leonine City, so named after Leo IV who built the walls that surround it. Into this city is packed numbers of churches, hostels, houses, workshops, and merchants of all things religious: books, icons, rosaries, and pilgrim badges. Alas, moneychangers can also be found there. Nor does such trade stop at the church doors, but inside as well: "My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves." Such is the amount of coin left there that two clerks stand by the altar of St Peter day and night raking them in.

The basilica of Saint Peter's is twice as big as the York Minister and lined with many chapels and shrines. One does not enter directly from market square, but through a gatehouse to an enclosed courtyard. From there you can enter the basilica. St Peter himself built the altar.

While the Holy Father maintains a palace near Saint Peter's called the Vatican, his official residence is on the other side of Rome called the Lateran. Its basilica is as grand as Saint Peter's and is dedicated to St John. The canons of the two parishes debate who has precedence, but Innocent III has given it to Saint Peter's. His Holiness is not there now. I am told he is at his palace in Anagni. There are many scandalous rumors being spread about him and I have no way of judging their truth. He is heartily disliked by the French, so he must have some redeeming values.

I wish I could tell you all the sites, shrines, and relics I have seen, but I have not the paper, so you must wait till I return. Which might be later then originally thought. My stay here in Rome has inspired to think upon traveling on to the holy city of Jerusalem. I'm praying for guidance on this.

Weighing how much you are already busied, and not willing to keep you further occupied, I end my (long and tedious) discourse, being nothing exempted from the usual well-wishings and farewells.



Boase, T.S.R. Boniface VIII. London: Constable & Co., 1933

Brentano, Robert. Rome before Avignon: A Social History of Thirteenth-Century Rome. New York: Basic Books, 1974.

The Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version. Cleveland: World Publishing Co., 1962.

Kendall, Alan.  Medieval Pilgrims. London: Wayland Publishing, 1970.

Krautheimer, Richard. Rome: Profile of a City, 312-1308. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1980.


Copyright © 1997 - present His Lordship Friar Thomas Bacon (David Moreno). All rights reserved.

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