Pearls From Sant’Agostino

Feast day travel column

In the spiritual classic Abandonment to Divine Providence, Father Jean-Pierre de Caussade wrote, “Let your own motto be: Have patience, and let God do the work. For, when all is said, you can do no other. Yours is merely to say: I adore and I resign myself; fiat!”

And, as Matthew 13:45 reminds us, “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant searching for fine pearls.”

When I was a recent pilgrim in Rome, giving the Lord my fiat was my plan. And just two days in, he gave me “pearls.” These pearls were dropped into my hand during a sunny afternoon in the tucked-away Basilica di Sant’ Agostino, which is just a few steps’ walk from the bustling Piazza Navona. This church holds baroque art by Italian painter Caravaggio, who beautifully painted Madonna di Loreto. This piece of art draws the viewer in by his mastery of the technique of creating contrast between light and shadow, called chiaroscuro. A few steps further and one sees a fresco of the Prophet Isaiah by High Renaissance Italian painter and architect Raphael.

This basilica has grand art, but it had small beginnings. In the 13th century, a Roman nobleman donated a few houses to the Augustinian friars or “Hermits of St. Augustine,” to be commissioned as a convent for their order. Although it was proposed that a new church be built to accompany this convent, construction had to wait due to the close proximity of the already existing ancient church, San Trifone in Posterula.

The existing church, named after the martyr St. Tryphon, had been given to the Augustinian friars by Pope Honorius IV to be used for their chapel. Later, it was renamed San Trifone e Agostino to include and honor St. Augustine of Hippo, whose feast day is Aug. 28. In 1424, the chapel received the relics of St. Augustine’s mother, St. Monica, who is known for her fervent prayers for her son’s conversion and whose feast day is Aug. 27. Eventually, the new church was started, and it was completed in the 15th century. It became the parish church and was given the name Sant’ Agostino, while the older church returned to its former name.

I had one mission while visiting Sant’ Agostino: to pray a Rosary on the red velvet kneeler placed directly in front of St. Monica’s tomb for the conversion of one of my good friend’s brothers. (Another devotion attached to this church is the Madonna of Safe Deliveries — people come to pray for expecting mothers and delivery of children from every kind of harm.)

After praying, I stopped to look at the postcards at the gift kiosk. The young man working there gave me a deal on the postcards and then threw in an extra postcard of an image I didn’t recognize. He then walked me to the original image of the postcard, which was the fresco done by Raphael himself. As he walked away, he placed a rosary made of pearls into my hand!

The spiritual surprises didn’t end with the prayed-for pearls. As I finished my Rosary and was about to leave, the young man motioned me into the sacristy, which is off the right-hand aisle and contains paintings of Sts. Ambrose, Augustine, Leo and Jerome, the four Latin doctors of the Church. He then brought me to the stairs of the friary, which previously served as the former convent to the Augustinian friars, and allowed me to climb all the way up to  see a breathtaking view of the city.

Those physical pearls I received felt like a small glimpse of the kingdom of heaven just when I needed it. My pilgrimage to St. Augustine’s church was a blessed reminder that God sends us pearls — literal or spiritual — to show us his love.

Susanna Bolle writes from

St. Paul, Minnesota.