1852. It is true that we could print up a little brochure and claim, which is true, that our foundation is that of a small Roman Temple. We could also say that a wooden church was standing on this site in Medieval times, and that it burned down and was rebuilt several times. We could claim that the present structure dates from the renaissance, and the facade was remodeled by an unknown Baroque architect, but what would be the point of all that.
1853. Almost every structure in Rome can make the same claims to have illustrious ancestors in the ground under the floors of their cellars. One block from here you can buy a pizza in a little shop, and on the walls they have cemented thirty fragments of a Roman temple they dug up in their cellar when they replaced their sewer pipes. No, claiming to have Caesar’s bones in the cellar is of no advantage here in Rome, because your next-door neighbor is sure to have the cracked skull of Caligula.
1854. What matters today is the famous works of the old masters in the churches of the city. And mark my words, this is in no way a religious matter. People come by the millions to have a look at Michelangelo’s Pieta, and do you think it is because of the compassion to be seen in Mary’s face, or the curious way Mr. Buonarroti carved Christ’s whiskers, whiskers that reinforce somehow the serene expression on his dead face.