As part of my Lenten discipline I intend to concelebrate the Holy Mass in each of the station churches in Rome, an ancient daily pilgrimage that has been recently revived. This morning we gathered in the church of San Giorgio [Saint George] in Valebro, one of my favorite churches in Rome because it hasn't been touched by the Baroque.
The church is also one of my favorites because of its patron, who skull is enshrined beneath the altar. My father was George William; his father was George Arthur; his father was George; his father was Ambrose; I should have been George Something-or-other.
Pope Leo II dedicated the church in 683 to St. George and St. Sebastian. The interior, once covered with frescoes is now rather sparse:
As I sat in the pews to prepare for Mass, I was captivated by fresco in the apse, Christ Flanked By Mary and Sts. Peter, George, and Sebastian, by Pietro Cavallini (d. c. 1330):
Mary and Peter seem a bit surprised to see us and seem to give a subtle wave as if to say, "Hi," much as Pope Francis stood and finally waved when he was elected to See of Peter. The wave of Jesus, though, seems to beckons us, as if he were saying the words we hear in the Gospel today: "If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me" (Luke 9:23). In the lives of his companions, we can learn some of the ways of taking up the cross.
What struck me most, however, were the faces of Mary and Jesus, faces that I knew I had seen before. Mary's face closely resembles that of the first century icon house on Monte Mario. First, a detail of the above freso, though, unfortunately, a bit blurry:
Here is the icon in the convent of Our Lady of the Rosary:
Second, a detail of the face of Christ from the above image:
And the veil housed in Manoppello:
Father Eric and I are certain that these two images, the one of Monte Mario and the one at Manoppello, will be at the heart of the New Evangelization.