Last year, Franco took me on two tours of Rome, whizzing around and telling me unusual facts about his beloved city. This time around, I’ve missed Franco because he’s in London – doing what I’m not sure as he’s retired. But Lalida and her father arrived in Rome last weekend from Bangkok and I was showing them around and was reminded of something Franco told me.
Of course, one of my stops was The Pantheon, which is my most favoured of spots in Rome. And just near The Pantheon is a wonderful church – Santa Maria sopra Minerva – so I whizzed them both in here. I think this was the fourth church I’d taken them to during the day and, by this stage, Lalida’s dad (who speaks no English) was getting a bit tired of churches. I never tire of them but I could almost hear him thinking not another church, please!
Santa Maria sopra Minerva is considered to be the only Gothic church in Rome and is where Galileo Galilei repudiated his thesis that the Earth revolved around the Sun. He was actually grilled by the Spanish Inquisition in the monastery adjoining the church and was forced to recant.
The interesting tidbit that Franco told me has to do with the baby elephant sculpture outside the Church. It was sculpted by Bernini in 1667 (frankly, everything he pointed out to me in Rome was by Bernini!) and serves as the pedestal for a small Egyptian obelisk. Franco told me there are 22 obelisks in Rome but I read recently that there are 11. Maybe Franco was confused and doubled the number of obelisks.
So what Franco told me was this – the baby elephant has its face turned away from the Church. Why? Well, according to Franco, Bernini was Galileo’s friend and did not approve of his grilling by the Inquisition dudes. So when he was commissioned to do the sculpture, he decided to have the elephant face away from the Church as a way of saying he did not condone what was happening to his friend.
Bernini was born in 1598 and died in 1680; whilst Galileo was born in 1564 and died in 1642. So Galileo was 34 years older than Bernini – really a generation older – so I do wonder if in reality they would have been friends. But then again, why not.
As I was whizzing Lalida and her dad out of the Church, I was reminded of this story Franco told me and took a quick iPhone snap so I could tell you the tale.