In Rome, Academy Fellows Visit, Contrast the Two St. Pauls

At St. Paul’s Within the Walls, Bill Franklin (left) and Richard Wittman

On the morning of Friday 14 May a group of Academy Fellows visited the two most important Roman churches of the 19th century: Saint Paul’s Within the Walls, the American Episcopal Church in Rome (1873-1876), and the Basilica of San Paolo fuori le Mura (1825-1929, with a medieval cloister), an early Christian church reconstructed after a fire in 1823.

Guiding the first part of the tour—within the walls—was the Rev. Dr. R. William Franklin, Associate Director of External Affairs at the American Academy. Leading the group “fuori le mura” was current AAR Fellow Richard Wittman, an associate professor of History of Art and Architecture at University of California Santa Barbara, who is the 2009/10 recipient of the Millicent Mercer Johnsen Post-Doctoral Rome Prize in Modern Italian Studies. Richard’s project at the Academy has been focused on the 19th century reconstruction of San Paolo, described in detail here.

These churches inside and outside the walls are both dedicated to the Apostle Paul, but the similarities end there. The reconstruction of San Paolo, one of the major basilicas in Rome, expressed the Catholic Church’s epic resistance to the challenges of progressivism, religious tolerance, and modernity in general.

Richard Wittman in his book-length project ambitiously studies “public discourse about the church as represented in newspaper articles, architectural histories, engraved prints, popular culture, and official ceremonies”, in which he aims to read “the neglected saga of S. Paolo as a suggestive chapter in the history of the genesis of modernity, raising new questions about the history of architectural historicism, the history of the modern Church and of modern Italy, and the genesis of the modern public sphere.”

The Episcopalian Saint Paul’s, built by major English and American artists in the years immediately after the Papacy lost Rome to the Italian state, expressed exactly such a challenge: the arrival in the Eternal City of a modern, progressive, even democratic brand of Protestantism. Today, for instance, the church houses the Joel Nafuma Refugee Center—the only day center in Rome available to political refugees—which the Academy group included in its visit.

Viewing the facade of St. Paul’s. From left, Richard Wittman, Bill Franklin, and AAR Director-Designate Christopher Celenza FAAR’94

Facade mosaic by George Breck, FAAR 1899, Director of the AAR 1904-1909

Franklin’s on-site talk at the church went beyond architecture to cover his work on the contributions of the Oxford Movement, especially to questions of social justice. An ordained Episcopalian minister, Franklin is Associate Priest at St. Paul’s Within the Walls, at All Saints’ Anglican Church, and at the Anglican Centre in Rome (where he is also Academic Fellow), plus Visiting Professor of Theology at the Pontifical Angelicum University. Bill had been Dean of the Berkeley Divinity School at Yale and Professor of Church History at the General Theological Seminary before taking up his position as Associate Director at the Academy (2005-2010). Bill is much sought-after media commentator on church affairs, and has written extensively on subjects such as the current controversies of the Anglican Communion, as well as about relations with the Roman Church, particularly after the Apostolic constitution crisis of this past fall.

Mosaics at St. Paul’s by Edward Coley Burne-Jones (1833-1898). Among Christian warriors is depicted Abraham Lincoln (directly above, fourth from left)

Gargoyle-fountain from the Peter Rockwell Sculpture Garden at St. Paul’s

The tour continued in the early afternoon with a walk led by Richard Wittman through Garbatella, a picturesque, architecturally significant development of low-density working class housing from the early Fascist era (1920s), located near San Paolo.

Garbatella photo credits: Annie Schlechter


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