Five years ago Rev Dana English, Assistant Chaplain at All Saints’ Anglican Church in Rome and a parishioner, Beth Blosser, who is a landscape gardener, began a project to turn an abandoned garden, with weeds shoulder high, into a living memorial.

The Ecumenical Garden at S. Gregorio al Celio in  Rome was to be dedicated to the memory of a fellow ordinand, Verna Veritie, who died soon after spending her pre-ordination retreat with Dana and others in the Garden. The dwindling community of monks was inadequate to tend the space, so it was effectively closed off.

Anglicans and Protestants worked together over the course of that time to restore the monastery garden, under the leadership of these two American women. A group of volunteers gathered several times a month to clear the site and cut back the overgrown space. Beth researched archives to see if plans existed to show what had occupied the site before but none could be found. Dana undertook to raise the €20,000 needed to hire outside contractors to prune the trees, turn up the earth and plant the grass seed, create white crushed marble paths, relocate the lamps, and install a watering system. Then they had to buy the plants that were necessary to the revival of the site!

There is now an almond, pear, and fig tree, a lemon verbena shrub, sage, rosemary, rhubarb, and many other plants that are symbolic in some way: recalling plants in the Bible or others that would have typically been found in a medieval monastery garden. Roses and a grape vine climb over the pergola. There is an antique Corinthian capital as a centerpiece; a labyrinth of removable smooth flat white stones can be laid down in the contemplative part of the garden. Six travertine marble benches are dedicated and fit in recesses on either side.

On Saturday, May 20 over 80 people gathered for the formal Blessing and Dedication. Churches Together in Rome, the English-speaking churches of Rome, sponsored this project so Dana, Tim Macquiban, minister of Ponte Sant’Angelo Methodist Church and Head of CTiR this year as well as Russel Murray, American ecumenical liason for the Franciscans, jointly presided at the service. Two members of the original community, Brother Innocenzo and Brother Bonifacio (who will soon be 90!) represented the Camaldolese community still resident at S. Gregorio. A number of seminarians and monks from the community helped with the celebratory occasion. The Missionaries of Charity, Mother Theresa’s order, who share the monastery’s site, were also present to join in the celebration, as well as students in the Garden Club of St. Stephen’s School nearby.