Between 1998 and 2012, Kate and I visited Rome four times. And one of her priorities was always to see the inside of the church of Sant’Agnese in Agone on the Piazza Navona.

Built to a compact Greek-Cross plan, the unusually graceful Baroque building resulted from the work of three important Italian artists: Girolamo Rainaldi, Francesco Borromini, and Gian Lorenzo Bernini (who also designed the giant “Four Rivers Fountain” outside). And Kate wanted to see inside.

Always Closed!

Problem was, the church was never open when we stopped by. This was partly due to interior restorations, but also because Sant’Agnese is a destination for pilgrimage groups wanting to view the relic of St. Agnes’s tiny skull. We eventually came to call the church “Saint Agnes Always Closed.”

But late on the last night of our final stay in Rome, we decided to walk by one more time. And lo-and-behold, light spilled from the church’s open doors!

Sadly, a large pilgrimage group was leaving because the place was… wait for it… closing!  So many people were flowing out that we couldn’t really get in. And topping that, a sign on the porch outside warned that photography wasn’t allowed within.

Three Hail-Mary’s

Desperate to capture the church’s beautiful ceiling from outside, I:

  • Manually focused my Fuji X-Pro1 to a hair shy of infinity,
  • Stood on the porch just outside the entrance doors,
  • Let the camera hang down at chest level,
  • Tilted it upward 45 degrees,
  • And took three quick Hail-Mary shots over the departing crowd’s heads.

My timing was almost supernatural. The interior was illuminated by two strong flood lamps, but between my first and second shots, the light on the right went out. And between my second and third shots, the other one dropped…and plunged the interior into darkness.

Rebuilding an Interior

Looking at the photos as we left, I saw that the one with both floods lit was uselessly flared. But the shot with only one lamp on was much better. It enabled me to digitally “rebuild” the interior into a lovely canvas print that I gave Kate for Christmas.

She was very pleasantly surprised. It may have been 14 years in the making, but I’d finally given Kate a piece of Sant’Agnese’s sumptuous interior. And that was enough.

–Dave Powell is a Westford, Mass., writer and avid amateur photographer.

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