St Pauls within the Walls, Rome (Exterior)

St Paul's Within the Walls, Via Napoli, Rome


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: St Paul's Within the Walls
Location: Via Napoli, Rome
Date of visit: Thursday, 15 August 2013, 7:00pm

The building

Dating from 1873, the building is the first non-Roman Catholic church to be erected in Rome after freedom of worship became possible under Italy's constitution in 1871. It is a neo-Romanesque building, designed by the English architect George Edmund Street. The tower and its unique bells can be heard by the Pope in the Vatican! The inside is glorious, with beautiful mosaics and stained glass all lovingly described on the church's website. The first rector collected Roman and medieval art, and so many Roman statues and sarcophagi can be found in the church garden and in the nave. The sculptor Peter Rockwell, son of noted American illustrator Norman Rockwell, crafted a number of grotesque statues for the church garden.

The church

Although this church was built for the moneyed class of America's Gilded Age, today St Paul's is a very diverse Christian community with members from every side of the world. The American, African, and Italian communities are prominent in the life of the church. They also host a Latin-American Anglican community.

The neighborhood

St Paul's neighbors are the Colosseum and ancient Roman baths, the Papal Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore (that inspired the tower and apse), the Quirinale (the presidential residence), and many luxury hotels. There is a lovely Irish pub and bar just across the street that also offers a good American breakfast.

The cast

The celebrant was the Revd Canon John W. Kilgore, canon minor at Christ Church Cathedral, St Louis, Missouri, USA. He was assisted by a lone altar server.

What was the name of the service?

Sung Eucharist

How full was the building?

The service was in the lovely chapel of St Augustine of Canterbury, which was half full with 20 people. Actually not bad considering that no one is in Rome on Ferragosto, the mid-August holiday dating back to the time of the emperor Augustus.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

A dapper young preppy gentleman with a bow tie warmly welcomed me, asked where I was from, and accompanied me to my pew.

Was your pew comfortable?

The pew was very comfortable.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Quite reverential. The organist played an uplifting Bach prelude. The whole huge church was dark except for the chancel of the chapel. This was rather uplifting as well, considering that most of the light came from the six candles on the altar and the stained glass window from which moonlight and a feeble street light could come in. On the high altar beneath the ninth century cross, an icon of Mary was standing on the tabernacle. I thought that this was very powerful theology: Mary standing beneath the cross.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"Blessed be God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

Service leaflet and the Hymnal 1982.

What musical instruments were played?

Pipe organ, in the most reverent and exquisite way. The psalm was sung to Gregorian chant and the hymns were very traditional.

Did anything distract you?

Being in Rome, and it being August, and being in a church without air conditioning ... you can imagine what the distraction was! Also, there was a young man in the first pew who kept staring at me – more weird than distracting.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?

The service was definitely Anglo-Catholic, the purpose for which this church was built! Incense was used, Gregorian chant was sung, and I heard some bells.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

10 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?

9 – Canon Kilgore's style was amiable and congenial. He dealt with some profound matters of theology in a simple, down to earth, but at the same time very refined and complete way.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

Canon Kilgore explained the doctrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary from a Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and Anglican point of view, the Anglicans being in the middle of the other two.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

Gregorian chant, hymns – well, I'd like to say "Everything." But I think the best part was kneeling at the altar rail receiving communion, listening to wonderful organ music, and taking in the splendid setup of the altar: a crescendo of candles beginning at the icon and the medieval cross and ending at the beautiful stained glass, which in the moonlight and street light was rendered even more magical.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?

Unfortunately no one had been assigned the task of keeping tourists at bay during the service.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?

I was soon greeted by Canon Kilgore and several members of the congregation. Everyone seemed very nice.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

There was none since it was dinner time. But some members of the congregation invited us to go with them to a Roman trattoria.

How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?

8 – I don't know, since this was a special feast day, it was summer, and there was a visiting priest. We'll see what an average Sunday is like at another time.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?


What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?

The uplifting setting of the sanctuary with the wonderful music as its frame.

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