Rome, August 8, 2019
Feast of St. Dominic.
At the Piazza of San Martino ai Monti where the medieval Capocci tower stands, beyond the tower is the monastery of the cloistered Dominican nuns of the Annunciation. The nuns moved to the San Martino location in the 1930s when Mussolini’s government acquired the Alessandrino district for excavation purposes and the construction of the Via dei Fori Imperiali. At the earlier location, a mural of the Annunciation remains visible on ‘Tor dei Conti.
A painting inside the sanctuary depicts Pope Pius V, a Dominican Saint associated with the Council of Trent, inviting another foundation of Dominican nuns to Rome September 7, 1562. In fact, the same Saint also called the Dominican Fathers to be Confessors at Santa Maria Maggiore and who remain the Confessors of the Papal Basilica to this day. The Counter-Reformation pontiff, St. Pius V, strengthened Rome’s spiritual life with the Dominican presence.
The nuns remain cloistered so that the monastic enclosure separates the nuns from the sanctuary with a grille -- only during Mass the gate is opened so the nuns can receive the Body and Blood of Christ from the Priest at Communion time.
In the sanctuary are frescoes with the theme of the Annunciation: over the altar the Angel Gabriel announces the news to Mary that she has been chosen to give birth to the Son of God; two side frescoes, et verbo caro factum est, “And the word was made flesh,” et habitavit in nobis, “and lived amongst us” serve to visibly enflesh the annunciation message.
The Dominicans preached an incarnational spirituality since the Medieval period due to the manichean-derived heresies associating the material world with evil. The Dominicans combated against these errors which had theological implications for the Sacraments extending to the material world of sacramentals, and were rejected by the different heretical movements due to the material content that cannot be good. The risk of the heresy is denying the humanity of Christ and thereby his salvific suffering.
The moral problem rejecting the material world as evil is to treat the body as matter, and therefore, evil, which leads to the moral degradation of the body; an instrument to be used. The moral disaster seems to have presently reached its apex -- or can it get worse?
And so the Dominican nuns the Annunciation give a fitting dedication of their monastery: the Annunciation where the sacredness of the body, Mary’s and Jesus’. But also all those who follow Christ and who are called to sanctity attained by the Grace of God.
The monastic choir contains a painting of the three great female Dominican Saints: Saint Catherine of Ricci, a Crucifix at her side, Saint Agnes of Montepulciano with the lamb, and Saint Catherine of Siena holding her diary.
After Mass as I walk into the square, Piazza di San Martino ai Monti, the sun appears to splash down the cobblestone road as I face east -- a foretaste of the Resurrection.
Fr. David Bellusci, O.P.
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