The Organs of Rome: Fourth Movement, John and Paul, Finale

My friend Steve sent me the last installment of his Rome pilgrimage travelogue. I share it with you. No organists have commented on the isntruments or the playing conditions. What do you think?

Wednesday was the day that our group was to participate in the Papal audience on St. Peter Square.  We had been there on Sunday with thousands of others for the Pope’s noontime address.  The audience was scheduled for 11, and we were to arrive before 8.  I was not so sure that my very light-sensitive eyes could handle 3 hours of brightness, even with sunglasses, so I chose to remain in the hotel while Alice went to the audience.  I was afraid to risk a headache knowing that I’d have to play for Mass later in the day.

About 20,000 chairs were set in place on St. Peter’s square, including some on both sides of the canopy where the Pope sat.  Wouldn’t you know that Alice got to sit in the SECOND ROW of the seats to one side of the Papal chair.  When the Holy Father made his round of the platform to shake hands , he shook the hand of the people right in front of her.  Pretty memorable . . . . .

Mass that afternoon was in the choir chapel at the Basilica of St. John Lateran, which is the Cathedral Church for the City of Rome.   It happened that were were in the Lateran on the eve of the annual feast of the Dedication of this Cathedral.


The Seating in the choir chapel is monastic seating, like in St. Regis in Kansas City, except each seat was an ornately carved choir-stall.  The organ was, well, a harmonium.  I have never played one of these (and once in this lifetime is enough).  I had to pump it with my feet to get air in the bellows before starting to play.  It sounded a bit like an accordion.  As an additional treat, it had three keys that stuck, so not only did I have to press the keys, in some instances, I had to lift them, too.  The folks sang beautifully in spite of the sounds accompanying them.


Our mass the next day was in the fourth major Basilica, St. Paul Outside the Walls.  It was built over the tomb of St. Paul, which as custom at the time of his martyrdom dictated, was (like the catacombs) outside the walls of the city.  There were centuries when no graves or tombs were permitted within the walls of Rome.


One of the features of this church are the mosaic portraits of ALL the popes that surround the entire church.  A pious superstition holds that when there is no  room for any more papal portraits, Christ will return in glory to judge the world.

There seems to be room for about eight more papal portraits . . .  . . .

The organ here was about half the size of the one in St. Peter’s, but ever so elegantly voiced.   It was to organs what Alice is to singers.


It is the work of a Roman builder.  The instrument in our KC Cathedral was voiced by an Italian builder from Padua . . .I found myself wishing as I was playing this instrument, that we had had this Roman builder instead.  Oh well … it was the finest instrument I got to play during our time in Rome.


We went to one of the catacombs after that.  Since Alice and I had toured one of the other catacombs in 1993, we chose to walk the surface area instead.  Here we are for pictures of the Via Appia, and the lemon and olive trees in someone’s garden in the neighborhood.  We appreciated the chance to get some “suburban” walking in, since most of our walking had been within the city.


In our experience, there is no such thing as a bad meal in Rome.  We got to enjoy some wonderful food in good restaurants, neighborhood restaurants,  and bars.   My time living in Little Italy in the Bronx  taught me how to pronounce at least the names of food and pastries convincingly. 

I am ready for our next trip to Italy to be without tour group, so that I’d get a chance to do some driving there.

I appreciate my friend’s willingness to let me share his experiences and images from his pilgrimage.


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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2 Responses to The Organs of Rome: Fourth Movement, John and Paul, Finale

  1. KiwiNomad06 says:

    I must admit I never even gave the organs a second glance when I was in Rome! But I also walked down the Appian Way to see some catacombs, and have posted a photo too.

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