Notebook

The Place to Be

Professor Kristin Aavitsland has permitted me to share her impressions from a visit to Santa Maria della Pace in Rome last Friday: ‘It was the place to be on the first Friday of Lent, a week after the invasion of Ukraine, even if we’d turned up on a scholarly errand. A fervent, protracted rosary for prayer was going on, suitably enough in just this church. In a strange way it was as if the people praying, women almost all, were united to the saints who are depicted there so wonderfully. They too are predominantly women, women of prophecy and action, who by words, writings, and deeds stood up to tyrants, reproved the mighty, and risked their lives for the sake of justice and peace: Catherine of Siena and her namesake from Alexandria, Birgitta of Sweden. Within the spatial whole of the church they enter into a kind of dialogue with Raphael’s sibyls, likewise prophetic presences. At the heart of it all, of course, is Our Lady of peace. Above the entrance to the choir there’s an inscription: In terra pax. All this, the inscription invoking peace, the frescoes, the intense prayer for Mary’s help, brought the choir together in a single tonality. It was beautiful and soul-stirring. I think the students of the history of art were also touched. God help us for what is going on in Ukraine.’