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Issue 17 – Trinity 2023

The Jungle

Given Over to Dreaming

On Pope Francis's general audiences.


There is a passage midway through Lord of the World in which Robert Hugh Benson gleefully describes a pre-apocalyptic Rome as the last backward city in Europe. In that Rome, “cardinals drove again in gilt coaches; the Pope rode on his white mule; the Blessed Sacrament went through the ill-smelling streets with the sound of bells and the light of lanterns.” There the Church has no care for speed, cleanliness, or precision. While the rest of Europe hurtles toward self-destruction, Rome remains as it always was. It is the incarnation of a world given over to dreaming.

The city does often seem to unfold at a dreamlike pace, at least for the pilgrim. This is in part because Rome, already densely built up on top of its own ruins, is also rather small; twenty centuries can be covered in the space of an hour. (The walk from the steps of the Ara Pacis, where Augustus established the empire in stone, to the Ara Coeli, where Gibbon conceived of his Decline and Fall, is less than twenty minutes.) But it is mainly because when in Rome, as is the case on all pilgrimages, time actually does move differently. What is important in daily life no longer applies, and the things that have taken its place are often confusing, physically taxing, and, for the more reluctant pilgrim, a bit annoying.

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About the author

Nic Rowan

Nic Rowan is managing editor of The Lamp.