Friends in High Places

December 10, 2014 / Local Interest
Rome, Italy

While having a friend with good strong connections intercede on one’s behalf is a practice that certainly exists the world over, Italy is known to be a place where the right introduction and helpful spintarella (the little push) is often the key that opens up any situation, project, career, etc.

Perhaps it’s due to a long history of a largely ineffectual judicial system… (The irony of this, given Ancient Rome’s contribution to law, should be lost on no one.) This inefficiency means that the chance for fair recourse through a court of law is difficult at best, so folks stick to hiring/working with people they know or who are introduced to them by friends, rather than risk with strangers.

To this day things still work this way, and la raccomandazione (the recommendation) involves a whole set of unwritten rights and responsibilities for the three participants; the person with the power to grant something, the beneficiary of the favor, and the person who speaks the buona parola (literally, the good word) and makes the introduction.

While we in no way wish to suggest that the ancient Roman sisters (and saints) Pudenziana and Prassede were not worthy of their sainthood, one of our favorite figurative examples of la raccomandzione is visible in these mosaics in the church of Santa Prassede in Rome.


On one side of the mosaic in the apse, we see Saint Paul with one arm around Santa Prassede introducing her to Jesus Christ with his other hand, very much the motion of a standard “I’ld like you to meet a friend.” On the other side of the apse is Saint Peter with his arm around Santa Pudenziana, making a similar “introduction.”

Fact is, there’s some historic truth to the mosaic! Pudenziana and Pressede’s father was one of the first Roman Patricians to convert to Christianity given his personal friendship with Peter during the early days of the Church in Rome. So in way, St. Peter did “introduce” his friend’s daughters to the Church and to Christ.



by GB Bernardini

Editor, Italian Notebook

9 Responses to “Friends in High Places”

  1. Great note GB. Very informative and entertaining, as always.
    It’s always special to note the similarities of the Italian people of today with those of the past.

    Thanks for posting

  2. John Figliozzi

    It is also interesting to consider that the Catholic church has always used “raccomandazione” and “buona parola” as well. Prayers to various Saints and the Virgin Mary are in fact intercessions on behalf of oneself or another. Not surprising that this is culturally ingrained throughout the country after all. I enjoyed your post as always.

  3. Melinda Jankord-Steedman

    GB, I am again thankful for your insider’s knowledge and your charming way of writing about Rome and Italy. On our first trip to Rome, we visited the church of St. Pudenziana and were delighted to find a painting of St. Timothy, the name of our youngest child. It is always a delight to read your posts.

  4. Jack Litewka

    A sad reality, given the contributions of Roman law. I’m not sure that this way of doing business is more prevalent in Rome than a few other places I can think of, but it certainly seems a deeply-ingrained way of doing business in Italy (and the way that a lot business was done by Italian immigrants in, say, New York City.

  5. David Bridges

    Some things never change. One always needs a “raccomandazione” and “buona parola” for whatever. The common practice in the US of writing recommendations for persons seeking jobs, special things or favors is alive and well. I can imagine the Romans, while giving us a way of governing, did not invent the”raccomandazione” and “buona parola”!

  6. Pat Carney Ceccarelli
    Pat Carney Ceccarelli

    Just plain brilliant! With all the hallmark of our Editor! History, interpretation, art, place, human interest, sense of humor and a certain way of seeing! Many thanks. Lifted the day.

  7. marianna raccuglia

    Always an interesting story – thank you and Merry Christmas and a happy, successful New Year! Marianna

  8. Candace Utroska

    Merry Christmas G.B. and thank you for all the years of delightful introductions to and insights of things Italian. Your bi-cultural way of seeing things and writing that way is delightful.


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