Here’s yet another passage that struck me, especially from Calvary‘s perspective, the standpoint of a church with a long, long history . . . from pages 74-75:
“On my way back home I take a little detour and stop at the address in Rome I find most strangely affecting–the Augusteum. This big, round, ruined pile of brick started life as a glorious mausoleum, built by Octavian Augustus to house his remains and the remains of his family for all eternity. It must have been impossible for the emperor to have imagined at the time that Rome would ever be anything but a mighty Augustus-worshipping empire. How could he possibly have foreseen the collapse of the realm? Or, known that, with all the aqueducts destroyed by barbarians and with the great roads left in ruin, the city would empty of citizens, and it would take almost twenty centuries before Rome ever recovered the population she had boasted during her height of glory?
Augustus’s mausoleum fell to ruins and thieves during the Dark Ages. Somebody stole the emperor’s ashes–no telling who. By the twelfth century, though, the monument had been relocated into a fortress for the powerful Colonna family, to protect them from Assaults by vaious warring princes. Then the Augusteum was transformed somehow into a vineyard, then a Renaissance garden, then a bullring (we’re in the eighteenth century now), then a fireworks depository, then a concert hall. In the 1930s, Mussolini seized the property and restored it down to its classical foundations, so that it could someday be the final resting place for his remains. (Again, it must have been impossible back then to imagine that Rome could ever be anything but a Mussolini-worshipping empire.) Of course, Mussolini’s facist dream did not last, nor did he get the imperial burial he’d anticipated.
Today the Augusteum is one of the quietest and loneliest places in Rome, buried deep in the ground. The city has grown up around it over the centuries (one inch a year is the general rule of thumb for the accumulation of time’s debris). Traffic above the monument spins in a hectic circle, and nobody ever goes down there–from what I can tell–except to use the place as a public bathroom. But the building still exists, holding its Roman ground with dignity, waiting for its next incarnation.
I find the endurance of Augusteum so reassuring, that this structure has had such an erratic career, yet always adjusted to the particular wildness of the times. To me, the Augusteum is like a person who’s led a totally crazy life–who maybe started out as a housewife, the unexpectedly became a widow, then took up fan-dancing to make money, ended up somehow as the first female dentist in outer space, and then tried her hand at national politics–yet who has managed to hold an intact sense of herslef throughout every upheaval.
I look at the Augusteum, and I think that perhaps my life has not actually been so chaotic, after all. It is merely this world that is chaotic, bring changes to us all that nobody could have anticipated. The Augusteum warns me not to get attached to any obsolete ideas about who I am, what I represent, whom I belong to, or what function I may once have intended to serve. Yesterday I might have been a glorious monument to somebody, true enough–but tomorrow I could be a fireworks depository. Even in the Eternal City, says the silent Augusteum, one must always be prepared for riotous and endless waves of transformation.”