I had dinner Saturday night at one of my new favorite places in Rome, “Terrazza Borromini” (entrance Via Santa Maria dell’Anima, 30). The chef is Francesco Grasso whom many of you met on visits to Rome when he was the chef at La Scaletta, right across the street from the entrance to Terrazza Borromini (he is the Bill Murray lookalike – when Murray was about 45). He was hired away from La Scaletta about a year ago and now works his kitchen magic at the Borromini.

I walked through Piazza Navona after dinner on my way to Corso Vittorio Emanuele to get a bus home. And this is what greeted me on the east side of the square as soon as I entered –

The ad says: LET’S BRING FRANCESCO TO THE WORLD – So Many Languages – Every Day – Just One Story

This Vatican News ad is on a canvas that covers Our Lady of Sacred Heart church as its façade is being restored. Many buildings that undergo cleaning and/or restoration are covered by similar canvases, and often the facade of the building or church is painted on the canvas.

Also quite often, as you can see here, publicity adorns the canvas. The usual practice is for the company that is advertising to pay a fee to the owners of the building (in this case, a church). Over time, I have seen buildings covered by canvas ads for as long as a couple of years! Samsung is quite big on doing this and its canvas publicity covers some Vatican buildings at the end of Via della Conciliazione and on Pza. Pio.

I was curious about this ad – and doubly so when I saw the identical ad Sunday from a bus as I was retuning home from Mass at St. Patrick’s. It covered a huge canvas on the building known as the Palazzo della Cancelleria, a Vatican building on Corso Vittorio Emanuele that houses the tribunals of the Vatican. The basilica of San Lorenzo in Damaso is also encompassed by this building.

I’ve now seen this ad two times, and both times on a church or church-owned building so I am guessing (hoping) there is no revenue involved.

In any case, I find it fascinating that the Vatican has chosen this method to advertise (in Italian) its (beta version) news site.

Makes me think of the EWTN publicity, “EWTN is everywhere!”



It is time once again to tell you the marvelous story of how a sailor from Liguria saved an obelisk from falling and extracted a papal promise for an honor for his native city. This is a story I tell all my family and friends when they come to Rome and we are in the very magical St. Peter’s Square.

In 1586, Pope Sixtus V, wanting to complete the design of St. Peter’s Square, ordered architect Domenico Fontana to place in the center of the square a giant Egyptian obelisk that had been brought to Rome in 39 A.D. by Emperor Caligula. For centuries it has been in the emperor’s circus in what today is Vatican City, and moving the obelisk from that point to the center of St. Peter’s Square would be a Herculean task.

The obelisk had been in the Vatican gardens, near the first Constantinian basilica (dedicated in 326), and had lain there, forgotten, for many years under layers of mud and stagnant water. Giacomo della Porta was asked by Sixtus V to recover the obelisk and, struck by its majestic beauty, the Pope asked that engineers study a project to raise the obelisk in St. Peter’s Square.

On September 10, the 85-foot high, 350-ton obelisk was transported to the square by 900 workers, 140 horses and 44 winches. Benedetto Bresca, a ship’s captain from the Italian Riviera area of San Remo-Bordighera, was present in the large crowd who had gathered to watch the raising of the obelisk.

The head engineer had told Pope Sixtus that total silence was needed to raise the obelisk, once it was in the square. Thus, the Pope announced to the huge crowd that had assembled to watch the manoeuver that anyone who spoke during the delicate and risky operation would face very severe penalties.

As work was underway, the ropes used to raise the obelisk gave signs of fraying and weakening and the obelisk itself began to sway. However, Benedetto, as a sailor, knew what the problem was  and how to solve it and so, notwithstanding the pontiff’s ultimatum, he shouted, “acqua alle corde, acqua alle corde (water on the cords, water on the cords).” The head engineer realized the sailor was right, the cords were watered, they became taut and strong and the obelisk was raised, without further danger to anyone.

Instead of punishing the audacious sailor, Pope Sixtus rewarded him by giving Benedetto and his descendants the privilege of providing the Vatican with the famous Ligurian palms used for Holy Week ceremonies in the Vatican. And so it has been for over four centuries, with only a few brief interruptions.

Known as parmureli, the leaves from date palm trees in San Remo and Bordighera are woven and braided into intricate sculptures, some only inches high, while others are perhaps two meters high. Some years, more than 200 of the six-foot high parmureli are sent to the Vatican from Liguria for Palm Sunday – for the Pope, cardinals, archbishops, etc.