Monday, October 13, 2008

Horror of Horrors

As a "studentessa" of Thomas More College in 1995, I stayed in a 17th century convent, run by retired Augustinian nuns. The girls stayed in small bare rooms that had two beds, a sink, and a wardrobe. Most rooms had a small balcony, although mine did not.

Our beds were made with stiff cotton sheets, and rough, heavy wool blankets. My Mom sent me a teddy bear for Valentine's day, and I would put it next to my cheek to sleep as everything else in the bed felt too harsh.

There was little heat, and the showers frequently overflowed. The toilets lacked seat covers, and the dinner served nightly was pasta and "siempre vitello" - veal being the cheapest meat in Rome at the time. All of the bedrooms overlooked a small courtyard with a fountain off in one corner. There were giant goldfish in this fountain, and I remember watching one of the workmen clean his brushes in the fountain. It apparently, did not bother the fish.

We loved the austerity of the place, the old nuns "keeping their difficult balance" as Wilber says, the cold marble floors, and the beautiful chapel - the last to be built by Boromini before his death. Actually, it was never finished as the patrons ran out of money.

And now, the nuns have passed away, many who had carried marks of starvation from WWII when they hid Jews in this convent. The "suori" fed us both breakfast and dinner, reprimanded us for our antics, and lovingly though harshly sometimes slapped our cheeks.

The Santa Maria dei Sette Dolori convent has been sold to a hotelier. The luxury and magnificence of the building belies the true love and growth that occurred there. Students would never be allowed to roll their oranges down the hall after dinner, or take their shoes off and skid down the carefully cleaned and swept floor, furtively watching out for the "suori" the whole time. The sinks in each room are now gone where every student dutifully washed their laundry, hanging it out on the balconies to dry. The metal beds that held studying students during the day, and sleeping students are night are replaced by velvet and silk monstrosities.

It is as if the convent has lost all character and personality. And so, this post is a requiem, perhaps, of that beautiful building and the nuns who were so long protectors of it.

Below are the pictures of what it is now. I will search around for pictures what it once was.


Leila said...

What an amazingly beautiful building. The building is like Our Lord, who died for people who don't appreciate Him. For THOSE people!
I guess we can only realize that our challenge is to come up with something as amazingly beautiful -- so much so that people who don't understand what it is that we are doing will yet feast on our flesh.
That's the mystery of this life, don't mourn it!
And thanks for your comment on my blog! Thanks for stopping by!

Stephen Heiner said...

I have pictures of what it once looked like, but on fb. Are you on fb?