Guiseppe Verdi once wrote: “You may have the universe if I may have Italy.” Nowhere is this more true than the Tuscan city of Florence. The home of Dante, Boccaccio, Machiavelli, Michelangelo, Leonardo, Brunelleschi, Savanarola, Galileo, Botticelli, and Lorenzo ‘the Magnificent’ di Medici — if Rome is the cradle of Western Civilization, then Firenze is its crown.
Along with their university colleagues from around the US, PC students in the CEA Rome program jumped on the speedy ‘Frecciarossa’ train for the 90-minute trip to Florence.
After checking into “Hotel California” (fortunately, not the same one from the Eagles song), students were given a brief orientation to the city and the schedule.
We started with a 2-hour city walking tour from the resident art history instructor at our sister institution, CEA Florence. Among the first highlights was the Cathedral of Santa Maria del fiore, better known as the ‘Duomo’. Begun in the late 1200s by Arnolfo di Cambio, its magisterial dome was finished by Filippo Brunelleschi only in 1436! But even after two hundred years of work, the church wasn’t finished: the famously colorful facade was only added in the 19th Century.
The group continued on through the winding streets, regaled with tales covering the Medieval birth of the city, its height during the reign of the Medici, and even the contemporary manifestation of the mafia.
As always with Florence, the highlight is art. While much of Florence’s beauty is contained within the walls of museums like the Bargello, the Uffizi, and the Accademia, students were surprised to learn that a number of masterpieces were open to the elements. At the side of the Palazzo Vecchio stands the Loggia dei Lanzi, which houses chief works by Giambologna and Cellini. And although a few students snapped shots of the statue outside the palace itself, they would have to wait for the real thing!
Of course, not all art is painting or sculpture. It can be argued that Italy’s greatest artist was its Florentine poet: the author of the Divina Comedia, Dante Alighieri. Scholars are relatively certain the church which still stands there today was the very one where Dante met the love of his life, Beatrice.
Less certain, however, is whether Dante ever lived in the building now known as the ‘Casa di Dante’. More likely, this Medieval building was preserved from the 19th Century on the grounds of a rather spurious claim to being the home of the poet. Similar house museums can be found in Florence for Michaelangelo, Cellini, and Galileo.
The last stop on the walking tour was maybe the most picturesque: the Ponte Vecchio. The double-storied bridge serves today as it did in the Renaissance: both as a scenic storefront of gold and jewelry merchants and the epicenter of youthful Italian romance. As our guide related, the bridge was very nearly destroyed by bombers in World War II. With every other crossing of the Arno river already destroyed, the legend at least goes that a German commander named Gerhard Wolf resisted orders to destroy the bridge, on the grounds that he could not destroy something so beautiful as the Ponte Vecchio.
After the walking tour, students were free to explore Florence on their own. From my conversations with them afterward, I think they made the most of the famous Tuscan cuisine: stewed boar pasta, ribolita soup, panzanella salad, bistecca alla fiorentina — and one brave student even ventured into true ‘foodie’ territory with a lampredotto sandwich! For the uninitiated, lampredotto is the fourth stomach of a cow…
The next morning brought somewhat more palatable delights. After breakfast, the group had their appointment with Michelangelo’s masterpiece: the David. So different from the Old Testament’s tale of the frightened young boy about to fight the giant Goliath, Michelangelo portrayed his figure as a man possessed of tranquil but penetratingly focused confidence, both mind and muscle tensed in readiness. As the story goes, David’s gaze was originally positioned to look toward the south. The message for his Renaissance was clear: Florence was the David to the Goliath of Rome. Though smaller, they were prepared to stand tall for their way of life. And in the end, little Florence conquered the cultural world.
One last meal after the museum, and it was soon time again for the train ride home. Once more, Providence College and CEA Rome reveals what incredible beauty and diversity our world’s culture has to offer.
Guiseppe Verdi once wrote: “You may have the universe if I may have Italy.” Nowhere is this more true than the Tuscan city of Florence. The home of Dante, Boccaccio, Machiavelli, Michelangelo, Leonardo, Brunelleschi, Savanarola, Galileo, Botticelli, and Lorenzo ‘the Magnificent’ di Medici — if Rome is the cradle of Western Civilization, then Firenze is […]MORE
Ruane Hall is lovely. The new Business School and Science Building provide our students and faculty state-of-the-art facilities. But there’s nothing quite like a PC-in-Rome classroom. On Friday, October 20th, students in Alexandra Massini’s “Angels and Demons” class and my own “Roman Stoicism” class joined expert guide Livia Galante for a day-trip to nearby Ostia Antica.
About 20 miles southwest of Rome, Ostia was the ancient harbor city of Rome. It’s history, if not as grand, is as complicated and fascinating as that of Rome herself. Used for defense and for trade from Julius Caesar to Augustus, Ostia was nearly double the size of the more famous ‘Pompeii’ archaeological site — and nearly as well preserved, too.
Here the students learn about different kinds of masonry in Ostia. Why learn about a brick? Because the quality of materials and craftsmanship teaches an intimate lesson of the ‘boom and bust’ times of the Ostian economy. Bricks tightly joined together evidence greater wealth than houses or civic buildings featuring more loosely-joined masonry.
With students taking notes on their trusty phones and Ipads, the surrounding Ostian classroom provides tactile and kinesthetic experiences that simply can’t be had anywhere else.
An intimate view into Ancient life around every corner, the latrines are always a big hit with students. Nothing shows the inner workings of a culture more than their private moments!
Ostia was also a prominent site for the Roman Cult of Mithras. Mithraism was the major religion in Rome from the 1st Century BC to the 4th Century AD. Many scholars have demonstrated its vast influence on early Christian rites, imagery, and even holidays. There were seven levels of ‘initiation rites’ associated with the Mithraian mysteries. A ‘Mithraeum’ is where these rites took place. Nearly always underground and depicting the hero Mithras killing a bull, Ostia’s Mithrauem is one of the most distinctive and best preserved.
Apart from the art and archaeological history lesson of Ostia, my own class on Stoicism was also able to make a unique connection with Ostia. Port cities were the major hub of economic transactions. And it’s unfortunately true that the slave trade was among the most significant aspects of the Ancient economy. While Stoicism is better noted as the principle Roman philosophy because of celebrity figures like Cicero, Seneca, and Emperor Marcus Aurelius, two of its most important advocates were the Turkish freed slave Epictetus and a slave whom we know came through Ostia Antica itself: Publius Syrus.
Brought to Italy through Ostia from Syria as a boy during the 80’s BC, we believe Syrus eventually earned his freedom through his wit and obvious intelligence. He came even to defeat Caesar’s own court poet in a literary competition of 46BC. His theatrical skills were also the stuff of legend, though they are unfortunately lost. What remains of Syrus’ writings are his ‘Sententiae’ or pithy little apothegms full of wisdom and advice for living that good Stoic life. Among some of his better gems are:
“Poverty is the lack of many things, but avarice is the lack of all things.”
“Anyone can hold the helm when the sea is calm.”
“Fortune is like glass—the brighter the glitter, the more easily broken.”
This last quotation suggests one of the overriding concerns of Publius and of the Stoics generally: fortune. Not merely good or bad luck, Fortuna was worshiped, feared, and appeased by the Roman people as a quasi-deity. The entirety of Stoic practical philosophy can be summarized as a resistance to Fortuna, both good fortune and bad fortune. We do this not by becoming richer or more powerful. Instead, we should learn to value only that which stands within our power to control. What alone lies ever in our free control is our ‘prohairesis’ or ability to elect our actions. Even if fortune should prevent those actions being carried out successfully, it is always in our power to ‘aim rightly’ at the targets that are in our power to value.
Publius Syrus, as a slave, obviously had far fewer gifts of fortune than other Stoics like Seneca or Marcus Aurelius, and probably far fewer than everyday Roman citizens. But he considered himself happy and good insofar as he could choose to limit what he valued to the scope of activities and objects he could in fact achieve and acquire. And insofar as everything he valued was within power to achieve, he considered himself freer than even Caesar.
The real opportunity of a study abroad program, it seems to me, is the chance to expand one’s horizons of thinking. By spending time in the cold Mithraeum we get a better sense of what it would have been like to worship as a Roman. By sitting in the bright sun of their amphitheater, we get a better sense than any textbook could tell us what it would have been like to actually experience a Roman theatrical performance. And by walking through both the slave auction and the Temple of Fortuna, our students acquire at least some sense of just what it would have been like to hold one’s philosophical positions, not simply as a set of theorems, but also as a living, breathing, way of life.
Ruane Hall is lovely. The new Business School and Science Building provide our students and faculty state-of-the-art facilities. But there’s nothing quite like a PC-in-Rome classroom. On Friday, October 20th, students in Alexandra Massini’s “Angels and Demons” class and my own “Roman Stoicism” class joined expert guide Livia Galante for a day-trip to nearby Ostia […]MORE
A few days into the semester, I had recommended the students see the church of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva. Built upon the former Egyptian Temple of Isis – long mistakenly thought to be that of the Greco-Roman goddess Minerva – the church is the spiritual home of the Order of Preachers here in Rome. It was likely Christianized in the eighth century by Pope Zachary. Pope Alexander allowed the Friars to use it in the thirteenth-century, and by 1275 it became officially Domincan. In the 16th Century, the surrounding buildings came to house the College of St. Thomas Aquinas, then the forerunner of today’s Angelicum, which is named in honor of the “Doctor Angelicus” himself. In 1628, it was used as a tribunal for the Inquisition. It was where, in 1633, Galileo was convicted as being “vehemently suspect of heresy” for his non-Copernican worldview. And it houses the remains of two of the most historically significant Dominicans: the blessed Fra Angelico (1395-1455) and Doctor of the Church, St. Catherine of Siena (1347-1480).
For its centrality to Roman history, Christian history, and specifically the history of the Dominican Order, Santa Maria Sopra Minerva is an absolute must-see for our students. Besides all this, it is one of the most beautiful churches anywhere in the world. With its deep lapis-colored ceiling dotted with stars, it is the last remaining Gothic Church in all of Rome. It showcases Michelangelo’s 1521 ‘Christ of Minerva’ and Bernini’s haunting 1647 memorial to Sister Maria Raggi.
A number of our students, taking the suggestion to attend Mass at Santa Maria, had a unique and irreproducible experience. I’ll let them tell the story in their own words.
Michael Splann: “My roommates and I walked about a half hour on one of the hottest days of the year to arrive at the gorgeous gothic basilica for their 11am mass in Italian (which proved to be less difficult than we thought it would be to follow along).
Matthew Branagan: “The outside façade is largely undecorated and could even be considered unnoticeable. However, we found that the interior was exciting and remarkable. We found our seats in the wooden pews, in silent awe of the majesty before us. The mass began and although it was completely in Italian [we were able to understand some of it]. After we were ready to leave, both Michael and Aiden both wanted to light a candle for a prayer in front of St. Catherine’s altar.
Aiden McGoldrick: “As I was saying a prayer at the tomb of St. Catherine of Siena after mass, the priest who had said the mass approached […] Mike and I. He began asking us questions such as where we were from and why we had attended his mass. We got to talking and he told us his name was Father Cassianderbes and was a Dominican priest at the church.”
Michael Splann: “He showed my roommates and me all around the basilica including a room in the back sacristy where St. Catherine died and he allowed us to go inside the enclosure to see the tomb up close.”
Charles McDonald: “Giving us some information, he told us that the tomb was only open one day a year (on her feast day I believe) and that the line to go inside would be incredibly long. After a brief pause he said, “So do you guys want to go in?” I cannot express how shocked we were at this incredible offer. We honestly thought he was joking. But lo and behold, Fr. Cassian got the key to her tomb and opened it up to let us in. Fitting about three at a time, we took turns saying prayers, taking pictures, and simply marveling at the opportunity we had just been given. Quite simply, it was one of those rare opportunities that we would simply never get if we stayed back at PC. It is a perfect example of an experience that I personally came to Rome in search of.
After seeing St. Catherine, Fr. Cassian then took us to the room in which she lived and died in. If going in her tomb was a once in a lifetime experience, going to that room must have been a once in 1,000 lifetimes experience. […] Between the tomb of St. Catherine of Siena and the room she had lived and died in was actually the church sacristy. It was at one point, the venue in which two separate popes were elected. I will never forget that as we first walked into the room Fr. Cassian pointed to a painting over the door and said, “That painting depicts pope Nicholas V being elected during the 15th century. Do you know where that was?” Shaking our heads no, he pointed to the opposite side of the room and proclaimed, “At that very spot”. And lo and behold, by comparing the painting to the spot he had referenced, it was clearly the spot Pope Nicholas had been elected. Personally, it was a powerful moment comparing that painting to the actual spot in the room. So often do we go to spots of great historical significance but to have that side-by-side comparison of what had happened and what is there now allowed us to really step into the past and vividly imagine a papal conclave occurring some 600 years ago.”
Matthew Branagan: “With utmost certainty, I can say that venerating Saint Catherine’s tomb was the most holy place I have ever been in my entire life. The experience was exceptionally humbling and I was reminded of Saint Catherine’s virtuous life. I contemplated her devotion to the faith and the intense majesty it inspired within me. The feeling of being in such a beautiful basilica combined with having the opportunity to praise St. Catherine still sends chills up my spine. The coincidence of running into a friar that knew one of us and that exact mass was nothing short of Providence. I still cannot believe that this event took place, but I know that I will be eternally grateful for such an incredible educational and spiritual event.”
Aiden McGoldrick: “For my friends and I to be given such an incredible and once in a lifetime personally guided tour is definitely one of the most memorable experiences that I think that I have had in Rome so far. I have never experienced anything like this back home. […] Everyday I am learning something new about the city and its history. Everyday I am learning more and more about the Catholic church itself in Rome. Everyday I am growing and learning something new about myself as a person. I am seeing all of these incredible things and it has changed me for the better.”
Charles McDonald: “I came to Rome to have a unique experience; one that I could never have staying in Providence, Rhode Island. Going inside of the tomb of St. Catherine, seeing where she lived and died, standing in a room in which two popes were elected, and seeing the visible effects of Napoleon are the types of experiences that I came in search of. I feel incredibly lucky to have had the opportunity to go where I went and see what I saw because I know it was absolutely a once in a lifetime experience.”
Michael Splann: “Fr. Cassian and I have already met up again since then. The Dominican community is one of my favorite things about PC and is something I had thought I would miss coming here to Rome, which is why meeting Fr. Cassian that day gave me great hope. As I reflect on this experience on my first Sunday in Rome, I am reminded that it’s truly God’s “Providence” that has led me here to the Eternal City this semester and I look forward to encountering everything He has planned.”
Rome continues to surprise us. A few days into the semester, I had recommended the students see the church of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva. Built upon the former Egyptian Temple of Isis – long mistakenly thought to be that of the Greco-Roman goddess Minerva – the church is the spiritual home of the Order of […]MORE
Providence College was founded in 1917 by the Dominican Order. The Dominican Tradition has its origin in the life and ministry of St. Dominic de Guzman (1172 – 1221), the son of a Spanish noble, who founded one of the largest religious Orders in the Catholic Church. His charismatic vision of a way of responding to the needs of the Church in the thirteenth century led to the establishment of the Order of Preachers –popularly known as the Dominicans.
The Providence College in Rome program is rooted in and flows from the Catholic and Dominican mission of the College. The students are able to experience, in very tangible ways, the Dominican “ethos” and “narrative” while studying here in Rome.
One way this happens is by visiting the world headquarters of the Dominican Order at Santa Sabina. Santa Sabina basilica is the Mother Church of the Dominican Order and is located on top of one of the seven hills of Rome – the Aventine Hill.
This semester our tour was led by Fr. Michael Mascari, O.P. Currently, Fr. Mascari serves on the General Council of the Order and works closely with the Master General. His position is known as “Socius for the Intellectual Life”. He is also a former member of the Board of Trustees of Providence College.
Santa Sabina is a 5th century early Christian basilica built over the family home of St. Sabina. In the first century, the Aventine was the site of an affluent patrician neighborhood. It is thought that Sabina was the patroness of a “house church” which means that Christians met at her home for prayer, worship, and celebration of the Eucharist.
While explaining the art and architecture of this beautiful church, Fr. Mascari also wove in the story of Dominic, his foundation of the Order, and his experiences while living in Rome.
After exploring the basilica, we went inside the residence or “convent” of the Dominicans. This is where the cell of St. Dominic is located. Transformed into a chapel, this room of Dominic made a deep impression on the students. We said a prayer there together asking for Dominic’s help and inspiration.
Besides St. Dominic, there are other famous Dominicans who have lived at Santa Sabina. A plaque on the wall listing former residents offers a veritable “Who’s Who” of Dominican history. St. Albert the Great, St. Thomas Aquinas and Pope St. Pius V all lived here at one time or another. We also saw St. Pius V’s cell, which has been turned into a chapel as well.
I think it’s important for our students to get a sense of the international character of the Dominican Order, its history, legacy, and mission in the Church today. Experiences like our tour of Santa Sabina should provide that. After all, a Friar is more than just a basketball mascot!
Providence College was founded in 1917 by the Dominican Order. The Dominican Tradition has its origin in the life and ministry of St. Dominic de Guzman (1172 – 1221), the son of a Spanish noble, who founded one of the largest religious Orders in the Catholic Church. His charismatic vision of a way of responding to […]MORE
Last week our site visit for the New Testament in the Eternal City class was the Catacombs of St. Priscilla. Because of the great number of martyrs buried there and the fact that it is mentioned in the most ancient documents of Christian topography and liturgy, it is called the “regina catacumbarum” or the “Queen of the Catacombs”.
There are over 50 catacomb complexes underneath Rome stretching for nearly three hundred miles. Many of them have ancient Christian inscriptions and decorations. Although there are several Christian catacombs that are open to the public, I chose Santa Priscilla because of the richness of the artwork and inscriptions. It has the oldest image of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the so-called “Greek Chapel” is an absolute treasure trove of frescoes depicting biblical images from the Old and New Testaments.
Contrary to popular Christian imagination, the early Christians never lived in the catacombs. In fact, it would have been dangerous even to pray publicly there as a group since it could have led to discovery and arrest during the days of the Roman persecution of the Church. The catacombs were a place of burial and remembrance. The fresoes and inscriptions are testimony to the faith of the early Christians and their hope of resurrection. The tombs of the martyrs take pride of place and are usually richly decorated.
During our tour, the students were able to connect many of the motifs of the frescoes and inscriptions with theological and spiritual themes from our New Testament course.
“Symbols and artifacts of the early Christians are difficult to find, and the Catacombs give a clear representation of their faith through the details that are depicted throughout. The fish became a symbol of Christ and is clearly shown within the Catacombs. There is also a Phoenix rising from the ashes, which is a symbol of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” – Lindsay Hogan
“The symbol of the anchor was used in the Catacombs of Priscilla with the intention of having the same meaning as the cross, an understanding which strengthens one’s relationship with Jesus.” – Lacey Sullivan
“While looking at the tombs in the catacombs observers can find marks of dates. However, these dates did not signify only the date of death, but rather the date of entrance into eternal life.” – Connor Bubolo
“The Catacombs of Priscilla were used as a final resting place for Christians – poor and rich – all of whom believed that life truly started after death. The common theme of life after death and believing in Jesus through hard times ties Mark’s gospel and the Catacombs of Priscilla together.” – Abby Chave
Last week our site visit for the New Testament in the Eternal City class was the Catacombs of St. Priscilla. Because of the great number of martyrs buried there and the fact that it is mentioned in the most ancient documents of Christian topography and liturgy, it is called the “regina catacumbarum” or the “Queen […]MORE
The famous Roman Forum was our second site visit of the semester. The format of our course, The New Testament in the Eternal City, includes not only classroom lectures but also site visits each week. More than simply “fun field trips”, these site visits are an integral part of the academic component of our study abroad program. Each week the site is to be integrated with the content of the classroom lecture. And while we’re on site, there is even more academic input from me and the occasional guide who leads us. So, pens, notebooks and course texts are not left behind! Instead, the site itself becomes both our classroom and the focus of our study – our “text”.
Our lecture was on the Roman context of early Christianity and our trip to the Roman Forum gave us a feel for what it was like to live, work, shop, participate in politics, and pray in ancient Rome. The basilicas, government buildings, temples, and areas of commerce included in the Forum helped us to understand how it functioned as the political, religious, and social center of ancient Rome.
One of the advantages of studying the New Testament in Rome is being able to have an “up close and personal” experience of the ancient Roman Empire through the architectural and artistic remains of it that can be found throughout the city. Walking into the Pantheon, climbing the stairs inside the Colosseum, or trekking through the Roman Forum are all ways to experience the Roman context of early Christianity.
Here is what some of the students said in their essays about our Roman Forum visit:
“The Roman Forum, through its architecture and culture, can act as a ‘primary source’ when studying Christianity and the New Testament in particular.” – Alexandra Brady
“… with the erection of the Arch of Constantine, Christianity gained official notice in the Roman Empire. The arch, which honored Constantine’s victory over a rival emperor, seems to refer, however, to both Christian and Pagan beliefs.” – Chris Burrows
On our tour of the Roman Fourm we observed many situ artifacts in their original places that contribute much to the history of Christianity… One artifact that combined both religions was the Temple of Antoninus and Faustina originally build around 141 AD. ..In the 12th century AD this temple was converted into the church of San Lorenzo after the legalization of Christianity…” -Grace Maxim
“A visit in the modern day to the Roman Forum is interesting because you are able to see many of the Pagan remains from ancient Roman society, but you are also able to get a glimpse of their transformation. Many of the old Pagan temples, such as the Temple of Romulus, have been converted into Churches.” -Nick Berardi
The famous Roman Forum was our second site visit of the semester. The format of our course, The New Testament in the Eternal City, includes not only classroom lectures but also site visits each week. More than simply “fun field trips”, these site visits are an integral part of the academic component of our study […]MORE
“The intricate design and archaeology of San Clemente reveals invaluable information and background about the New Testament.” Ashlee Robinson
One of the things we are learning in our New Testament in the Eternal City course is that archaeology is imperative for the study of the New Testament. There is no chance of understanding Jesus, Peter, Paul, Mary, or the early Christians without understanding their world. And there is no way to reconstruct their world without archaeology. In fact, archaeology is so important in Rome, that the Vatican has an office devoted solely to its study called The Pontifical Commission for Sacred Archaeology.
How can the study of archaeology help us to understand the New Testament? This is the question we asked during our recent site visit to the Basilica of San Clemente. Our Scripture course includes not only classroom lectures, but also on site visits to particular places in Rome that are significant for Christian history, theology, and spirituality.
By tradition, St. Clement (92-101 AD) was a bishop in Rome who gave his life as a martyr for Christ. Fourth-century accounts speak of his forced labor in the mines during exile to the Crimea in the reign of the emperor Trajan (98-117 AD) and his missionary work there which prompted the Romans to bind him to an anchor and throw him into the Black Sea. His relics were recovered and are under the main altar of the church.
According to the oldest list of Roman bishops, he was the third successor to St Peter in Rome (after Linus and Cletus). The First Eucharistic Prayer of the Mass, known as the “Roman Canon”, mentions St. Clement in the list of bishops and saints of Rome through whose merits and prayers the faithful seek help and protection. The church in Rome dedicated to him is said to be built over a first century house which belonged to his family.
The church of San Clemente is like a “layered cake” of archaeological wonder. The present basilica is from the 12th century, but underneath is a 5th century basilica and below that is a first century house, warehouse, and Mithraic temple. These sites were excavated beginning in the 19th century under the guidance of an Irish Dominican priest, Fr. Mullooly, who was prior of San Clemente. Indeed, the Irish Dominicans have been the custodians of San Clemente since the 17th century. In this way, Providence College has a kind of “connection” with San Clemente since they are both Dominican institutions.
Archaeological artifacts can profoundly affect our understanding of the New Testament’s message. And visiting some of the most important archaeological sites in Rome this semester will teach us much about the lives and beliefs of the early Christians.
Here are a few quotes from the papers the students wrote after our site visit:
“This excavation, along with many in Rome, has helped to give insight into the meaning of aspects of scripture … Therefore, these discoveries are not just for mere curiosity but are important to understanding the Catholic faith in its truest form.” Matt Griffin
“Our first site visit to San Clemente emphasized the points of revelation, historical context, and the importance of the written word that we had discussed in our first class.” Grace King
“Having San Clemente be our first site visit seemed to be very appropriate in understanding the purpose of the New Testament. Its history is more than just an interesting tour—for Christians, it still holds relevance today.” Evan Juliano
“The intricate design and archaeology of San Clemente reveals invaluable information and background about the New Testament.” Ashlee Robinson One of the things we are learning in our New Testament in the Eternal City course is that archaeology is imperative for the study of the New Testament. There is no chance of understanding Jesus, Peter, […]MORE
“As a dedication to the person and martyrdom of Paul, it is one of the four patriarchal basilicas to be visited on one’s spiritual pilgrimage to Rome.” Giana D’Avanzo
“Upon entering the portico of St. Paul’s outside the walls, the pilgrim encounters a vision of paradise in the center garden. The grand statue of the apostle in the center reminds the traveler that it was Paul’s courageous teaching that led to Christianity’s firm hold within the city of Rome.” Alexandra Lawrence
Recently, our New Testament in the Eternal City class visited the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls. This basilica, built over the tomb of the apostle Paul, enshrines the witness of martyrdom for the sake of the Gospel. As the patristic writer Tertullian stated, “…the apostles poured forth their whole teaching, along with their blood into the Church of Rome…” Like St. Peter, the apostle Paul culminates his ministry of the Word with the spiritual victory of winning the crown of martyrdom. As he states in II Timothy, “… the time for my departure is near, even now my life is being poured out as an offering. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and now what awaits me is a crown of glory that will never fade, life on high in Christ Jesus..” (4:6-8)
Although St. Paul’s martyrdom, like St. Peter’s, is not mentioned in the New Testament, the evidence of Patristic writers testifies to his execution outside of the walls of Rome on the road leading to the port city of Ostia. St. Paul was beheaded and his body was buried, according to tradition, by a pious Roman matron named Lucina, in a nearby pagan cemetery. Today the magnificent basilica of St. Paul’s Outside the Walls stands over the site of his grave.
St. Paul’s tomb is below the altar, behind a grill, where a small red light burns constantly. If peered at through the grill, it is possible to see the marble cover of the sarcophagus with the inscription: “To Paul, Apostle and Martyr”. The cover has holes, made for direct contact with the inside of the tomb. Through these holes, in ancient times, pilgrims were able to lower down objects to touch the sarcophagus of the Apostle. And these pieces of cloth became prized relics for the ancient pilgrims.
After our visit, as usual, the students wrote papers connecting our lectures on St. Paul and his apostleship to the Gentiles with the art and architecture of the basilica. In this way, they are being trained to “read” a church and its artistic program from a theological and biblical point of view.
“The cross is depicted on the central bronze doors of the Basilica. In this depiction, the names of the four evangelists and the images of the twelve apostles are represented and acanthus leaf wraps around the entire cross. The acanthus leaf historically represents eternal life and by interweaving it with the cross, apostles, and evangelists, it stresses how the cross is the key to absolute salvation.” Tony Ravosa
“Above the columns of the naves run a row of Papal portraits. Popes are the successors of St. Peter and St. Paul, which makes it interesting to see these portraits, because the Pope labours to free the message of Jesus from any cultural restraints or encumbrances, as St. Paul did.” Rachel Reilly
“All along the sides of the church are statues of the apostles in niches and all around the church are portraits of the popes. This is fitting because, as successor of St. Peter and St. Paul, the bishop of Rome is to continue the ministry of St. Paul in an ardent zeal for the promotion of the good news of Christ.” Colleen O’Connell
“… the major mosaic of Jesus is the largest and most serious, portraying him as a judge. Jesus looks stern because the image represents him during the second coming. Christ is holding a shepherd’s staff, further highlighting his role as judge during the Parousia.” Jordyn D’Esposito
“As a dedication to the person and martyrdom of Paul, it is one of the four patriarchal basilicas to be visited on one’s spiritual pilgrimage to Rome.” Giana D’Avanzo “Upon entering the portico of St. Paul’s outside the walls, the pilgrim encounters a vision of paradise in the center garden. The grand statue of the […]MORE
Last week CEA arranged a trip to Umbria for us. We visited the town of Assisi, the birthplace of St. Francis and St. Clare, co-founders of the Franciscan Order.
On the bus ride up to Assisi, I was able to share some reflections about St. Francis and his remarkable life. We discussed his family life, his dramatic conversion, and his mission to the poor, the sick, the marginalized, and the forgotten. I told them about his trip to meet the Sultan on a mission of peace and his efforts to heal divisions and reconcile enemies. Finally, we discussed some of the “iconic scenes” of his life which live on in the history and spirituality of the Franciscans.
As a true reformer, Francis challenged the Church of his day to conform itself more closely to the Gospel of Christ and the ideals of the Sermon on the Mount. We also discussed the choice of the name “Francis” by our current Pope. Upon reflection, we realized that perhaps we are witnessing in our own day another “Francis revolution” with the preaching and example of Papa Francesco.
The basilica of St. Francis was the highlight for most of us. We were able to decipher many of the frescoes that portrayed biblical stories and then had the challenge of understanding the stories of Francis’ life in their context.
Using our New Testament in the Eternal City course as a backdrop, we could more easily understand the stories of the life of Francis and the birth of the Franciscan Order.
There is a story – some would day legend – that St. Francis and St. Dominic actually met and became friends. Their meeting and fraternal charity towards one another is to be a corrective to any rivalry or “unholy competition” between the two religious Orders of Franciscans and Dominicans. Their encounter has been portrayed in painting, stained glass, and sculpture by both religious families. (In fact, there is a stained glass window in St. Dominic’s Chapel on campus that depicts it.)
More than just a way to escape from the “big city life” of Rome, these cultural trips in our study abroad experience expose students to Italian culture, art, architecture, food, and history. The sights and sounds of Assisi and the Umbrian countryside made a lasting impression on everyone who went.
The fresh air, beautiful sights, good food and camaraderie reminded us how special the study abroad experience is. Assisi is known as the “city of peace”. And it did not disappoint!
Last week CEA arranged a trip to Umbria for us. We visited the town of Assisi, the birthplace of St. Francis and St. Clare, co-founders of the Franciscan Order. On the bus ride up to Assisi, I was able to share some reflections about St. Francis and his remarkable life. We discussed his family life, […]MORE
“It is important to know that the Mariology can never stand on its own. It always starts with Christology. The focus is never on her, instead it is on her son, Christ.” Chelsea Lynch
This week’s Blog is devoted to our recent visit to the basilica of St. Mary Major. After a lecture on the Gospel of Luke, we toured the basilica which is dedicated to Mary, the Mother of God. Luke’s theology of Mary in his Gospel is highly developed, casting her as a model of discipleship.
Built in the 5th century, in honor of the title “Mother of God”, conferred on Mary at the Council of Ephesus in 431AD, this church is a testimony to the essential role of Mary in God’s plan of salvation history.
“Since Jesus is truly God and truly man, then it needs to be understood that Mary is mother of both the human and divine Jesus. Mary is given the honor by the Holy Spirit to “house” the Son of God for nine months, and by doing this she houses the very presence of God in her womb.” Connor Spatz
According to a medieval legend, the Basilica of St. Mary Major was actually built because the Virgin Mary appeared to Pope Liberius (352-366AD) in a dream and told him to build a church dedicated to her where the snow would fall that night. The snow Mary promised did appear on the Esquiline hill on August 5th, which is now the liturgical feast of our “Lady of the Snows”. As the legend goes, the Pope drew in the snow with his staff where the basilica would stand.
“The Virgin Mary appeared telling Pope Liberius to build a Church on the Esquiline. The Church honors Mary and acknowledges her as the Mother of God.It is a testimony to the essential role Mary played in God’s plan for salvation history.” Aaron Giroux
Since medieval times Romans have believed that the relics of the Manger of Bethlehem or even the whole Grotto itself was transferred into the Basilica of St. Mary Major. For these relics the Oratory of the Crib, the Oratorium ad Presepe was built. Since ancient times, on Christmas morning, a procession of the Santa Culla, the Holy Crib, is held in the basilica.
“The Confessio in the basilica further emphasizes Mary’s importance in salvation history, as the birth mother of Christ. Placed in front of the altar, it contains a fragment of the crib of the Infant Jesus from Bethlehem. The relics provide a positive contribution to the study of the Gospels because these come from the material from Jesus’s lifetime.” Kathryn McDougal
The walls of the central nave and the triumphal arch at the end of this nave are decorated with mosaics from the time of Sixtus III (432-440AD), making them the oldest mosaic cycle in Rome .
This mosaic salvation history cycle is completed by the scenes of the Incarnation and the infancy of Christ on the triumphal arch.
The apse mosaics are not as old as the ones of the central nave and of the triumphal arch. They were created during the pontificate of Pope Nicholas IV (1288-1292AD). The apse is decorated with stories of Mary’s life that are below the central scene of the Coronation of the Virgin.
The most important one of this cycle is in the center. The Dormition or the Transitus is the traditional representation of the firm belief that Mary, after her earthly life, is now with her Son. This tradition is common to both the Eastern and the Western Church.
“In an almond shaped nimbus known as a mandorla…the image shows that Mary did not “ascend” into heaven but was carried by her Son, who is her Savior and the Savior of the whole human race…This is significant because Mary brought Jesus into the world, but here the roles are reversed as he brings her out of it.” Darragh Quinn
Pope Paul V built the chapel for the most venerated image of Virgin Mary, the Salus populi Romani. This icon of the Byzantine style is from the ninth century, but pious Medieval Romans believed it was painted by the evangelist St. Luke. Mary is represented holding Jesus, who is dressed in a golden tunic and holds the book. The hands of Mary are crossed in front of her child. One hand exposes two fingers, which is a sign of the two natures of the person of Christ, who is both human and divine.
“It is important to know that the Mariology can never stand on its own. It always starts with Christology. The focus is never on her, instead it is on her son, Christ.” Chelsea Lynch This week’s Blog is devoted to our recent visit to the basilica of St. Mary Major. After a lecture on the Gospel […]MORE