Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Italian Pilgrimage: Rome, Day 1

Tiber River Art by William Kentridge (source)
When we arrived in Rome it was already dark outside and our first glimpse of the city took us past the train station in a neighborhood riddled with graffiti.  We had seen lots of graffiti in all of the previous cities we had visited and had heard that there was even more graffiti in Rome, but really, nothing could have prepared us for the large amount of it that we found by the train station.  It made me sad to see such a beautiful country with so many historic buildings covered with so much spray paint. Yet, amazing art abounded in Rome despite the graffiti.  Later during our visit, while riding past the Tiber River, we spotted an entire wall of art made by erasing the dirt that had built up over the years.  It was just fantastic!

Trying to make my pinky appear dainty-no luck.

Moving past the train station we arrived at our beautiful hotel, the International Eurostar Palace where we settled in for the night.  The following morning after a big breakfast buffet where Paul and I practiced daintily raising our pinkies while drinking cappuccino without much success at appearing dainty, we piled back onto the bus and were off for our Roman adventure.  I was so excited, I felt like a child again!

vegetables for breakfast-my favorite!


Paul and I nabbed the front seat on the bus, not wanting to miss a single moment of this dream-come-true opportunity to see the city I'd long imagined visiting.  Once again, Massimo, our expert driver, amazed us with his skill.  Traffic in Rome was unlike anything we'd ever seen before!  Cars seemed to be going every which way without any sense of organized direction.  Scooters would cut right in front of the bus and pass on both sides of cars not seeming to care that they were driving on the wrong side of the road.  Sirens were constantly blaring but nobody ever pulled over to let the emergency vehicles pass.  It's remarkable that we didn't see any accidents!  This was so unlike the traffic that we're used to in the United States, at least in our smaller Wisconsin cities!

St. John Lateran Basilica

Baldacchino which houses the skulls of St. Peter and St. Paul

St. John Lateran Basilica

St. John Lateran Basilica

Processional Vara in St. John Lateran

Soon we arrived at St. John Lateran Basilica and all thoughts of crazy traffic were removed from our minds as we were immersed in the beauty and opulence of this church which is the Cathedral of Pope Francis.  Here we were fascinated by the baldacchino which holds the skulls of St. Peter and St. Paul. I personally was delighted to find a highly decorated vara used in processions since I have had a bit of experience organizing Marian processions.  I also enjoyed seeing my sweet, holy, hardworking and brilliant friend, Erin Berghouse along with her son, Jordan, and her company, Ahava Productions, film Bishop Don for his latest Echo Catechism Series.  If you aren't familiar with Ahava Productions I highly recommend that you visit their website here and view all of their short and excellent films.

Filming for Ahava Productions Echo  Catechism Series

Filming for Ahava Productions Echo Catechism Series
Leaving St. John Lateran we walked across the street to the Sancta Scala, the Holy Stairs.  This was one of the sites on our itinerary that I was greatly looking forward to!  Tradition holds that the stairs that Jesus climbed to Pontius Pilate's praetorium were moved to Rome by St. Helena. These marble stairs have been covered with wood to protect them and pilgrims climb them on their knees while praying the rosary.  I wanted to do this so badly that I had been practicing climbing the stairs on my knees at home just to see what it would be like.  My daughter Mary thought this was extremely funny and even made a videotape of me practicing.  My life is very comical to my children, I'm afraid, but I'm glad that I am able to offer them wholesome entertainment every now and then. Unfortunately we were told that we wouldn't have time to climb the stairs on our knees since this would take over an hour and we had to climb the side-stairs on our feet instead.  I did, however, take a few minutes to just kneel on the very bottom step and offer a prayer and I'm very grateful to have had that opportunity.

The Sancta Scala

The top of the Sancta Scala

The ceiling above the stairs that are climbed on foot.

A painting along the stairway of Jonah and the whale. Our guide explained that the artist
 had never seen a whale before and this is what he imagined a whale to look like.
What I didn't know was that at the top of the stairs we would find the Sancta Sanctorum, the Holy of Holies, which houses many precious relics including one that was not made by human hands called the Uronica, an image begun by St. Luke and finished by angels.  Although I did join the other pilgrims in kneeling and praying before this image I had no idea why exactly I was praying there.  I had thought that the stairs were the only attraction in the building.  I didn't realize that there was a purpose of climbing to the top other than to pray on the stairs.  It wasn't until we had left the building that I heard one of the other pilgrims commenting on the Holy of Holies that I began to realize exactly what it was that I had seen.

Uronica, the Sancta Sanctorum or Holy of Holies (source)
Our next stop was St. Mary Major, the church where Pope Francis always goes when he returns to Rome from his travels.  Here he pays homage to the Blessed Mother under the image of Madonna Salus Populi Romani.  It was such a blessing and grace to pray with the relics of the manger where Jesus was laid after birth, as part of the manger was brought here from the Holy Land in the seventh century.

St. Mary Major
St. Mary Major
St. Mary Major
Madonna Salus Populi Romani

Reliquary of the Holy Crib (my image)
A better image of the Reliquary of the Holy Crib (source)

Following St. Mary Major we went to St. Praxedes Church where we found the pillar upon which Christ was scourged.  It's a good thing the pillar was encased in glass or I'm sure you would have had to pull me away to prevent me from clinging to and crying over and kissing the pillar, and I bet I'm not the only one who would have had such a strong reaction to the place of Our Lord's great suffering.
The Basilica of St. Praxedes (note the huge door!)

Mosaic ceiling at Basilica of St. Praxedes

The angel in the mosaic ceiling is being supported by an actual pillar.

The column upon which Christ was scourged.

A closer view of the column of flagellation.

Our quick photo stop outside of the Colosseum revealed some interesting facts.  The gladiators had trained at gladiator school.  The losers in the battle would be fed to the lions at intermission along with the Christians who would be martyred for their faith.  It wasn't only the gladiators who had to be trained but the wild animals as well, because they weren't naturally accustomed to human flesh and had to be trained to desire it.  What a gruesome pastime!

Triumphal Arch of Constantine

After what was a seriously busy morning we arrived at the Piazza Navona where we were given time to explore and eat lunch.  I was wondering which might be the best restaurant in the Piazza but after walking around Paul and I thought that every restaurant looked exactly the same including the items on the menu!  We couldn't resist purchasing some roasted chestnuts from a vendor.  Neither of us had ever tasted chestnuts before and we thought they had a warm and comforting appeal and flavor. When we finally decided upon a restaurant for our lunch we were entertained by a gypsy playing the accordion and I was delighted by the floral arrangement on our table that included chili peppers with the carnations-it really doesn't take much to amuse me.

Piazza Navona Fountain

Roasted chestnuts from a street vendor.
Charming floral arrangement.

Serenaded by a gypsy.
Following lunch we paid a visit to the Pantheon, now known as the Church of St. Mary and the Martyrs.  At 2000 years old it's the oldest church in the world!  The dome is completely made of unsupported concrete.  Light enters the church through the oculus on the top of the dome.  The rain that comes in through the uncovered hole collects in a drain at the center of the church.  I found the oculus to be the most amazing thing about the Pantheon.  I marveled at how the church is continuously left open to the elements and yet remains in great condition.

Everywhere we went we were reminded to be silent.


The oculus of the Pantheon.

Pantheon interior

Mother and Child

As in other churches, the size of the door is impressive!

Honestly, I don't remember when or where we saw the vestment store but I thought the window dressings were very interesting and photo-worthy.

Earlier in this series I had touched on the fact that many pilgrims suffer while on their journeys, some walking the entire way on their bloody knees or dealing with hunger or lack of sleep and other such difficulties, but for me this journey had been nothing but joy and peace.  But now, on our first day in Rome, I hit a wall and felt the first real taste of weariness and sorrow, not suffering exactly, but still something that felt less than pleasant.  Perhaps it was because we had been away from home for a full week, the longest I have ever been away, and I was feeling a bit lonely and homesick for my family and my ordinary life, even though my husband was right by my side. Perhaps I was just exhausted from constantly being on the go and overwhelmed with trying to take in so much beauty and fascinating information.  Whatever the reason, by the time we reached The Church of the Gesu for Mass I was edgy, tearful and tired-definitely not my best self.  In fact, after Mass, when I knelt to pray before the image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, I found myself kneeling next to a man who had been openly sobbing and I felt like crying right along with him. Regardless of the reasons for my less than perfect mood, I was certain that because I was out-of-sorts  my prayers here were all the more powerful. I was sure to pray for my Jesuit friends at the Church of the Gesu, especially for my friend, Fr. James Kubicki, who has been instrumental in bringing about my devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. 

As our first day in Rome came to an end, I was tired, yes, but still very grateful to be living out my dream of spending time in the Eternal City.  God has been so good!  I couldn't wait to see what the next day would bring!

Church of the Gesu

Mass at The Church of the Gesu (photo credit:  Michael Wick)

Church of the Gesu

Church of the Gesu

Church of the Gesu

Sacred Heart Shrine (source)

Close-up of the Sacred Heart Shrine (source)

Reliquary containing the right arm of St. Francis Xavier
A closer view of St. Francis Xavier's arm-Bishop Hying said that it was this arm that
drew thousands of souls to Christ in the Far East.

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