After two busy weekends of travel – to Cairo and Fatima – this week is projected to be a relatively quiet one for Pope Francis, it seems, with his principal public outings being the Wednesday general audience and the Sunday Regina Coeli. He did meet this morning with the Vatican’s nuncio to Malta and with Cardinal Juan Luis Cipriani Thorne, archbishop of Lima, and 40 prelates from Peru who are in Rome on their ad limina visit.  The Vatican also published the schedule for his day-long visit to Genoa, Italy on Saturday, May 27.


I had a fascinating morning that included a lovely meeting with Dina Gorni, an archeologist from the Israeli Antiquities Authority who has been in Rome as part of the team that has put together the exhibit on the Menorah that is running simltaneously in the Braccio di Carlo Magno (the Charlemagne wing), just off St. Peter’s Square and in Rome’s Jewish Museum next to the synagogue. Dina specializes in Lower Galilee and the Valleys District of the IAA.

I interviewed Dina for “Vatican Insider” and Vatican Radio and it was a look at a world premiere, I think you could say, because the Vatican and Rome’s Jewish community have teamed up for the first-ever joint exhibit by their respective museums. The centerpiece is, of course, the menorah, the seven-armed candelabrum that we read about in the Jewish Torah and literature and is also depicted in both Jewish and Christian art over many centuries.

This just-opened exhibit, entitled “The Menorah: Worship, History and Myth,” is on my agenda in coming days. Some of the pieces are from the Louvre and London’s National Gallery.

What so excited me in preparing this interview was the fact that Dina was one of three people present when the celebrated Magdala Stone was uncovered! You know Mary Magdalen – Mary of Magdala. If you’ve been to the Holy Land, you surely have been to Magdala. You’ll hear Dina talk about that discovery just about 20 inches below ground that had been walked on and built on and gardens planted over for two millennia without anyone knowing of the temple that lay just under their feet!

From the IAA website: A synagogue from the Second Temple period (50 BCE-100 CE) was exposed in archaeological excavations the Israel Antiquities Authority is conducting at a site slated for the construction of a hotel on Migdal beach, in an area owned by the Ark New Gate Company. In the middle of the synagogue is a stone that is engraved with a seven-branched menorah (candelabrum), the likes of which have never been seen. The excavations were directed by archaeologists Dina Avshalom-Gorni and Arfan Najar of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

Read more here:

Then there is the great mystery of the whereabouts of the famed Golden Menorah from the first Temple of Jerusalem that was taken to Rome by troops of the Roman emperor Titus who had destroyed the temple. You can see a depiction on the Arch of Titus, near the Colosseum, of the menorah being carried into Rome. All traces were lost when Vandals sacked Rome in the 5th century and apparently carried off that menorah.

Why have I found this all so exciting?

I have always loved libraries. When we were little, Mom frequently brought us to the Oak Park Public Library where we enjoyed the children’s section – small tables and chairs, colorful books, etc. When I was old enough to walk the 6 or 7 blocks to the library by myself I remember always looking for books that would bring new adventures into my life, especially travel.

Among the first books I took home were great reads for a young mind on ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome. Some were interesting historical accounts and others were novels – but both instilled in me the desire to travel and especially to know these countries and their history.

I became fascinated by these cultures, so very old, so very different from where I lived – different people and dress and unusual names and traditions. I read stories about people called archeologists who sought out and excavated and discovered ancient ruins and tombs and paved roads and baths and amphorea with preserved olive oil or wine or honey.

That was it for me! I’d become an archeologist and have similar adventures and discover sonething the world had never seen – like Dina did at Magdala.

Years changed things and, of course, I’m a writer and reporter and still have a lot of wonderful adventures – like meeting a real archeologist!

If you are in Rome, seriously think of going to this exhibit. Hopefully I’l have more later – photos, etc. And I’ll let you known when you can hear our interview.