But as I slept, Rome, Rome still beckoned me, and I woke in a struggling light as though at a voice calling, and slipping out I could not but go on to the end.Hilaire Belloc The Path to Rome (Ignatius Press 2003) p.437
Belloc’s day had a martial start to it. He saw a sign saying ‘”The Triumphal Way'” (The Path to Rome, p.438) – ‘I wondered whether it could be the road where ritual had once ordained that triumphs should go’ (Ibid) – and two soldiers from the current Italian army out on manoeuvres.
Not long later, however, the military gave way to the spiritual. Belloc climbed a little hill, and between the walls of a villa, he saw Rome at last.
This sight marks the beginning of the end of The Path to Rome. Belloc now launches into a long and operatic goodbye. It has a touch of the mock epic about it, for while the farewell begins with Belloc it ends with no less than God and St. Michael in the heavenly heights. And that’s just the beginning. Where does one go after the Lord and his most powerful servant?
Home, of course. Belloc made his way down the hill and walked across a plain to the gates of the city.
… I went on for several hundred yards, having the old wall of Rome before me all the time, till I came right under it at last; and with the hesitation that befits all great actions I entered, putting the right foot first lest I should bring further misfortune upon that capital of all our fortunes.The Path to Rome, p.445
And so the journey ended.
Belloc passed through the gates and made his way to the nearest church – Our Lady of the People. Mass was just ending, but another would soon be starting. He retired to a café for a breakfast of bread, coffee and brandy and to write the ditty with which he ends the book.
So, there we are! 29th June is the Feast of St. Peter and St. Paul (unless you are reading this in England or Wales, in which case the feast has been transferred to tomorrow). Belloc has walked from Toul to Rome.
I think this is the fourth year in succession that I have read The Path to Rome and I am still not bored of it. I don’t think I ever will be. To be tired of Belloc as he recounts his journey is to be tired of living because that’s what he does, with all its ups and downs, commitments made and commitments broken, joys and griefs – all these things that mark our lives also marked his journey.
In terms of friends and friendships, Belloc made no flashing friends along the way. He did, however, experience friendship many times – The Path to Rome is a wonderful book to read if you want to experience the kindness of Men towards strangers.
Ultimately, though, I find my thoughts being directed away from the idea of friendship in the book and towards what I said about The Path to Rome being about living. I have to admit, I never thought of it that way before. Perhaps that will be the theme for next year’s reading: The Path to Rome as a microcosm of life.