“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... MORE
“The Basilica of St. John Lateran is a useful guide to teach the lessons of the Bible. The intent of this Basilica is to lead the viewer on a visual journey through the Old and the New Testaments.” Elizabeth Kirby
Last week our New Testament in the Eternal City class made a visit to this basilica of St. John Lateran. We were studying Matthew’s gospel which includes a theology of the Church that is founded on Peter and the Apostles. Matthew also stresses the Church’s connection to the Old Testament and Judaism in general. This view of salvation history sees the Church as the “new Israel” and Jesus as the Jewish Messiah, fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies and theology.
“The Old Testament portrayals serve as a foreshadowing for the coming of Christ in the New Testament… It is this “Biblical Concordance” that showcases the history of salvation in the Basilica of St. John Lateran.” Ashley Alemian
The inscription on the façade of the Basilica of St. John Lateran reads: “The Most Holy Church of the Lateran, Mother and Head of all the Churches of the City and of the World”. This cathedral of Rome owes its origins to the Emperor Constantine in the 4th century and was where the Popes resided until the 14th century when the papacy became centralized at the Vatican.
We were able to study some of Matthew’s theological themes contained in the structure, mosaics, statuary, and paintings of the Basilica of the Lateran. Reading the “text” of the basilica the students discovered a salvation history similar to the one in Matthew’s gospel.
“The images on the left side of the nave represent salvation history in the Old Testament, while the right side represents fulfillment of these scenes through Jesus. The most important fulfillment, perhaps, is the depiction of Abraham being stopped by an angel from sacrificing his son Isaac, being fulfilled through the illustration of Christ’s crucifixion, marking the ultimate fulfillment of salvation history.” Luke Fitzgerald
Along the central nave leading to the main altar are statues of the 12 apostles, over which are base reliefs of alternating scenes from the Old Testament and the New Testament. Above these are oval portraits of the 12 Old Testament prophets. This artistic schema is not only beautiful and impressive, but tells the story of Jesus the Messiah, much as Matthew does, with his stress on Old Testament fulfillment.
“The central nave of St. John Lateran shows the history of salvation within Christianity by depicting the twelve apostles and supporting them by twelve reliefs that truly show that the life of Jesus the Savior, prophesied in the Old Testament was fulfilled in the New Testament.” Rachel Reilly
“Water is repeatedly a symbol of life and birth especially in the New Testament as well as in Saint John Lateran where there is a large baptistery… The baptistery is in the shape of an octagon to symbolize 8 sides: the 7 days of creation, and the 8th day symbolizing eternity and immortality.” Sarah Viens
“The Basilica of St. John Lateran is a useful guide to teach the lessons of the Bible. The intent of... MORE
This week the P.C. in Rome Program was pleased to welcome Ms. Alexandra Agati from the Center for International Studies back home. “Allie” is the “Study Abroad Advisor” in the P.C. office and therefore has had one-on-one contact with every student who has come to Rome. For this reason the students were excited about her visit and eager to share their Rome experiences thus far with her.
Allie graduated from Providence College with a B.A. in English and a minor in Political Science in 2011 and studied abroad at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, during which time she developed an enthusiasm for international education. Upon return, she began working as a Peer Advisor, promoting study abroad and advising students.
The purpose of Allie’s administrative visit was to familiarize herself with the P.C. in Rome program “on the ground” so that she can advise students in Providence effectively and accurately when they inquire about study abroad in the eternal city. While she was here she met with the CEA Rome Team and discussed academics, housing, student life, co-curricular opportunities, and partnerships with Italian universities in Rome.
Although only on a short stay with us, she was able to pack in a host of activities including class observations, meetings with students, faculty, staff, and administration, and even a tour of some student apartments for a true picture of what daily life is like here for a semester abroad.
Allie has a particular responsibility for advising students in the P.C. School of Business and School of Professional Studies, as well as advising all students on short-term study abroad opportunities. And she herself is also a student, currently completing her M.A. in Intercultural Relations from Lesley University.
One evening Allie met with students for an in-depth conversation on their experiences here and asked what they would tell potential students who were considering a semester in Rome. They were able to relate the blessings as well as the challenges of “Italian life” and living in the chaotic, busy, but also beautiful city of Rome.
Administrative visits like this are important because it strengthens the bond with the home campus and helps to ensure effective collaboration between P.C. and CEA. By familiarizing herself with P.C. in Rome, Allie can now bring back a deeper appreciation of how our program, in a unique way, perhaps, from other study abroad experiences, flows from the very heart of the College mission as a Catholic, Dominican institution.
This week the P.C. in Rome Program was pleased to welcome Ms. Alexandra Agati from the Center for International Studies... MORE
On Wednesday September 12, the students and I visited the Roman Forum as a way to explore the Greco-Roman context for the New Testament. We had a wonderful tour guide, Nicoletta Messini, who met us at the monument to Victor Emmanuel II in Piazza Venezia and walked us down the Via dei Fori Imperiale to the Forum. As we approached the Forum she pointed out to us the Mamertine prison just outside the Forum on the northwest side where, according to tradition, Peter and Paul were imprisoned before their deaths by martyrdom. This observation immediately linked all that we would see to the context of the NT in Rome. The two apostles probably walked through the Forum when it was at the height of its magnificence in the early days of the Empire (1st century AD).
Once we entered the Forum, Nicoletta explained that it was the center of political, religious, economic and social life from the founding of the city in 753 BC through the period of the “kings,” the Republic (509-31 BC), and the Empire until the city was sacked by Alaric in the early 5th c. AD. We saw many of the major sites: the huge Temple of Emperor Antoninus Pius and his wife Faustina, the Basilica Aemilia, the Temple of Julius Caesar where his body was cremated after his assassination in 44 BC, the Sacra Via (the central road that runs through the Forum and was the route for triumphal processions), the majestic Curia or Senate House with its various artifacts including the 4th c. column base showing the suovetaurilia (the sacrificial bull, ram and sow), Temples to Vesta, Saturn , Castor, etc. Throughout the tour Nicoletta continued to stress how religion, government and social life were integrated in pagan Roman and how the Romans were open to new cults like that of Isis and Mithras, but did not accept the strict monotheism of both Judaism and early Christianity and therefore emperors periodically persecuted Christians for failure to honor the Roman gods or the emperor’s cult. She also pointed out to us the irony of how many of the originally pagan buildings became Christian churches: the library constructed by Vespasian became the Church of Ss. Cosmas and Damian and the Temple dedicated to Antoninus Pius is the church of S. Lorenzo in Miranda.
For most of the students the tour ended with a close look at the triumphal Arch of Titus at the summit of the Sacra Via on the eastern end of the Forum just before the road descends to the Colosseum. This arch celebrates Titus’ victories in the Jewish War and the sack of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD. On one underside of the arch, we were able to see the relief depicting a triumphal procession bringing to Rome the altar of Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem decorated with trumpets and the Menorah (the seven-branched golden candlestick). This event, of course had enormous repercussions for both Jews and Christians. It marked the end of Judaism as a sacrificial religion and led to the Rabbinic Judaism of late antiquity that still persists today. For Christianity, it was the fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy of the Temple’s destruction (see Mk 13, Matt 24; Lk 21) which would inaugurate the woes and challenges of the Messianic Age.
As we begin to study Mark’s gospel this week, we will be challenged to reflect on the striking difference between Roman culture with its emphasis on status, order, and power and the preaching of Jesus who, when the disciples wanted the privilege of sitting at his right hand and left in his glory, said:
“You know that those who are supposed to rule over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man also came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mk 10:42-45)
On Wednesday September 12, the students and I visited the Roman Forum as a way to explore the Greco-Roman context... MORE