Saturday, October 13, 2012

From Trastevere to California: St. Dorothy

Today's photos:


1. The slightly concave façade of the church of Santa Dorotea in Trastevere.

2. The painting presented by the American church to the Trastevere church.

3. Porta Settimiana. This ancient gate is near the church and was used in the original name to help identify the church's location.

4. The façade inscription and Franciscan symbol of the "Tau".

5. An overall view of the interior, composed of a single aisle.

6. The modern main altar. In the background is the pre-Vatican II altar against the wall, beneath which are the remains of St. Dorothy.

7. A close-up of the low relief below the modern altar; it attests to the presence of the remains of the saint.

8. The street takes its name from the church. The "R" stands for Rione (neighborhood). "XIII" is because Trastevere is neighborhood #13.


From Trastevere to California: St. Dorothy


In the 1960's an American priest, during a short stay in Rome, visited the little church of Santa Dorotea in Trastevere (photo #1).  This gave him the idea of building a church in honor of this saint in his city of Glendora, California, a town of 50 thousand inhabitants about 25 miles from Los Angeles.  The church was built and in time became a thriving parish. Years later, in 2010, a young catechism teacher from the parish was in Rome and of course he wanted to visit his parish's namesake church in the Eternal City. It is not always easy to find your way around in the tangled maze of tiny streets in the Trastevere neighborhood, but eventually the young man located the church of Santa Dorotea on the street named after the saint. (photo #8)


The American visitor met the pastor, Father Umberto Fanfarillo of the Conventual Friars Minor (Franciscans), the religious order to which the church had been entrusted in 1738 by Clement XII (1730-1740).


The young catechism teacher made a startling request of the pastor. He asked him for a relic of St. Dorothy which he could take back with him to his church in Glendora. The Italian pastor was somewhat taken aback by this unusual request. After all, one just does not go around giving away relics of saints to anyone who asks for them, even if the request is legitimate and honest, as this one was. The pastor's response to the young man was not an absolute NO, but it wasn't very encouraging, either. "Ci vorrebbe un miracolo"! (It would take a miracle!).


Two years later, in 2012, the "miracle" took place when the remains of  St. Dorothy were officially authenticated. On that occasion, the church authorities decided to honor the request of the American church for a relic of their saint. The catechism teacher, by this time himself a monk of the Friars Minor, Fra Marco, stationed in the Holy Land, was called to Rome to be given the good news. He was then invited to accompany the Italian pastor, Father Fanfarillo who had decided to personally deliver the relic to the church in Glendora.


After a long flight of eleven hours, the precious relic was formally handed over to the American pastor, Father John Vogel on September 15, 2012, during a solemn celebration in the Glendora church of St. Dorothy, packed with proud parishioners and equally proud civic and religious authorities. Father Fanfarillo, however, did not return to Rome empty handed. In return for his gift of the relic, he was presented with a beautiful painting of St. Dorothy (photo #2), the work of an artist of the parish, which he brought back with him to Trastevere. On my visit to the parish, Father Fanfarillo graciously brought the painting into his office so that I could get a good close-up picture of it.



The Trastevere church of Santa Dorotea


In addition to being far apart in space, the two churches of St. Dorothy are also far apart in time, as the little Trastevere church was built during the Holy Year of 1475, 17 years before Columbus discovered America! It would be more accurate to say "re-built" because that fifteenth-century church was constructed over an earlier church dating to the twelfth century, San Silvestro a Porta Settimiana (St. Sylvester at the Septimian Gate). In fact, the official name of the church is Saints Dorothy and Sylvester in Trastevere, but it is generally known today only as St. Dorothy.


A curiosity


The Porta Settimiana (photo #3) which was used in the title of the previous church to help identify its location, is the ancient Roman gate which provided access to the baths of the emperor Septimius Severus (193-211). The third-century walls of the emperor Aurelian (270-275) later made use of the gate, incorporating it into the walls. The gate was restored by Pope Alexander VI Borgia (1492-1503). It is located just around the corner from the church of St. Dorothy.


After the church was entrusted to the Friars Minor in 1738, it was decided to build a monastery adjacent to it and to begin a major reconstruction of the church itself. The reconstruction was finally finished in 1750, and this is essentially the church we see today. It has an interesting slightly concave façade separated by four tall, square pilasters. Above the door is an inscription (photo #4) which recalls both Pope St. Sylvester, and St. Dorothy.










To Almighty God in honor of St. Sylvester, pope and St. Dorothy, virgin and martyr.


In the same photo #4, just below the inscription you see the well-known symbol of the Franciscan order. 


A curiosity


Because of its long association with the Franciscans, the church has many decorations which relate to Franciscan traditions. Chief of these is the "Tau" symbol: the arm of Christ crossed over the arm of St. Francis of Assisi, both arms superimposed over a cross. The arm of Christ is bare as it was on the cross, while the arm of St. Francis is clothed in the sleeve of his Franciscan habit. Often you can see the wounds of the crucifixion nails on both hands. Remember that St. Francis bore the Stigmata, the wounds of the crucified Christ.



The interior (photo #5)  is of a single aisle, as opposed to the basilica-style churches of three aisles. Suspended below the modern main altar (photo #6) is a circular low relief carving (photo #7) which attests to the presence of the remains of St. Dorothy.





The body of Dorothy, virgin and martyr, rests here.


The remains of St. Dorothy are actually buried beneath the pre-Vatican II altar which is against the back wall immediately behind the modern altar.


A curiosity


Two times in its history, the church was the victim of an appropriation by the State. It was first confiscated during the Napoleonic occupation in 1811, but later restored to the monks in 1849. A second appropriation took place when the monastery attached to the church was temporarily taken over by the new Italian State in 1870 after the seizure of Rome that year by the Italian forces of unification.


As is the case with many saints of the early Church, we have little solid information about the life of St. Dorothy. It is believed that she was martyred during the persecution of the emperor Diocletian in about 304 at Caesarea in Cappadocia.


A curiosity


According to a legendary story, a young lawyer was mocking Dorothy as she was being led away to be executed. He jeeringly challenged her to send back to him some fruits from the Garden of Eden in paradise. Later an angel is said to have appeared to the man and presented him with a basket containing three apples and three roses. The lawyer was converted to Christianity and was himself martyred for the Faith.


As a result of this story, Dorothy is considered the patron saint of gardeners and florists. She is often depicted with a crown of flowers in her hair and/or carrying picked flowers in the folds of her dress or in a basket. In the carving below the main altar (photo #7) you can see, standing in front of Dorothy, a baby angel who holds a basket with the apples and the roses. He is being instructed by the saint to deliver the basket to the mocking lawyer back on earth.









Post a Comment