As with last semester, the PC/CEA Program in Rome has been lucky to work with students from the Pontifical North American College. The purpose of our relationship is to help PC students along the path of their own spiritual journeys, in whatever form those may take. Some of their sponsored activities involve volunteering with local charities in Rome, weekly Bible study, and sometimes just having fun around town — the guys from the ‘PNAC’ seem to know all the best gelato joints in Rome! And one of the opportunities they provide is a day-trip to one of Italy’s many magnificent Holy Sites. Last semester, we venerated the tomb of St. Dominic in Bologna. And this semester, we went to Assisi to visit the Basilica of St. Francis.
Born in 1181 to a wealthy cloth merchant, St. Francis’s youth in Assisi was marked by a carefree and notoriously rambunctious lifestyle. When Assisi went to an ill-advised war with Umbrian neighbor Perugia, Francis was captured and imprisoned. Due to his father’s wealth, he was ransomed and returned to Assisi, — with a very different outlook on life. After a dream of God, Francis was led to reflect on his life of material wealth and the meaning of a spiritual life. He spent years in happy poverty reflecting on his relationship with God, with others, and ultimately with himself. At the church of San Damiano, Francis heard Christ speak to him from the cross: “Francis, repair my Church!”
We started the day with a two-hour train ride from Rome to Assisi. The Umbrian town sits high atop Mt. Subasio, and so the train requires a subsequent bus ride up through the winding streets, through a layer of fog, and into a Medieval world of umber-colored buildings.
Our first stop was the Basilica itself. Built in 1228, the year Francis was canonized by Pope Gregory IX, it is the Mother Church of the Franciscan Order. Students were surprised to learn there are actually two churches on-site, an upper (completed 1253) and lower church (1230). The churches are decorated in Romanesque and Gothic style respectively by some of the best artists of the time, foremost among them Cimabue and his student, the proto-Renaissance master, Giotto. At a still lower level rest the holy remains of St. Francis himself, which were hidden within a crypt to prevent potential relic looters until their rediscovery in 1818.
But what historical details like this can’t prepare students for is the overwhelming feeling of the sacred that pilgrims feel in the presence of St. Francis’s earthly remains. It’s impossible to put into words that inner profundity of the genuinely sacred site.
After some time in quiet reflection, Fr. Brian, Deacon Vince, and Deacon Colin offered us a rare opportunity: a private mass at a small chapel within the Basilica’s ‘Sacra Convento’. Deacon Vince’s homily called us to reflect on the Gospel’s words and Francis’ life within a contemporary context.
After mass, we explored together the city, climbing its steep hills and working up a healthy appetite in preparation for a decidedly non-Franciscan feast!
After lunch, we made stops at the church of San Rufino, who was the first Patron Saint of Assisi before St. Francis, and also the church of St. Clare, which houses her remains.
Our final stop was located in Assisi’s ‘new town’, in the valley of Mt. Subasio: the Papal Basilica of Saint Mary of the Angels. The basilica was built in the 16th Century in order to contain a sacred site of the Franciscans, the “Porziuncola”. This church-within-a-church was the very one Francis worked on when he heard Christ’s voice say: “Francis, repair my Church!” Francis had been given this poor little 9th century building as a gift from the Benedictines. Taking Christ’s words literally, Francis repaired the physical church before setting off upon his life’s work to repair the spiritual church. Today the Porziuncola serves as a reminder of Francis’ conversion and work especially on behalf of the poor and disenfranchised. And it serves to call the millions of Christian pilgrims who visit Assisi each year to continue his work to ‘repair the church’ through their living communion.
As with last semester, the PC/CEA Program in Rome has been lucky to work with students from the Pontifical North American College. The purpose of our relationship is to help PC students along the path of their own spiritual journeys, in whatever form those may take. Some of their sponsored activities involve volunteering with local […]MORE
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
The Spring Semester in Rome 2018 has begun, but not without its share of hiccups! While students were excitedly packing their Spring and Summer clothes for balmy Rome, mother nature had other plans back in Providence!
Approximately 20 students here at CEA this semester were significantly delayed by snowy weather on the east coast, forcing many to stay overnight in airports. Delays were so bad that it took one student until Saturday to join us — five days after their scheduled arrival! Even a week later, some students remained without their luggage.
Of course, the team at CEA did everything possible to rearrange transportation and offer whatever special accommodations were possible on a case by case basis. Fortunately, once PC students checked into their new homes and could begin to enjoy Rome’s 50-degree winters, things began to improve!
More than 30 PC students joined colleagues from around the US to form CEA’s largest class ever: 100 total students! As with last semester, the program began with a three-day orientation. From an introduction to the staff doctor and advice from the local police, to the rules of their apartments in the lovely Prati district, to the opportunities offered by CEA for excursions and social activities, students came to learn the ropes and what magnificent experiences awaited them in the Eternal City.
After morning information sessions, students typically spent afternoons in walking tours of either the immediate area surrounding CEA or else on an introductory walk through the historical city center.
Trusty guide Stewart took one of our groups on a two hour amble to the Spanish Steps, the Trevi Fountain, into the Pantheon, past Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, and all the way to Piazza Navona. For our jet-lagged students, the sheer number of amazing historical sites was the best medicine!
So we’re up and running for another exciting semester! What wonderful experiences await us here this semester?
The Spring Semester in Rome 2018 has begun, but not without its share of hiccups! While students were excitedly packing their Spring and Summer clothes for balmy Rome, mother nature had other plans back in Providence! Approximately 20 students here at CEA this semester were significantly delayed by snowy weather on the east coast, forcing […]MORE
This week our New Testament class completed its study of Mark’s Gospel and began to read Matthew. We visited San Luigi Dei Francesi, the French national church in Rome, which has in its Contarelli Chapel three famous Caravaggio frescoes of St. Matthew: the altarpiece of St. Matthew and the Angel, showing Matthew half-kneeling at his writing table and looking toward the angel in the air behind him for inspiration to write the gospel, the Calling of Matthew at his tax office, and the lengendary Martyrdom of Matthew as he is pulled from an altar while celebrating the Eucharist.
This week we had the good fortune to be joined by Dr. Arthur Urbano who is in Rome as part of his sabbatical research project on the art of the catacombs, particularly the early portrayals of Christ and the apostles. Dr. Urbano pointed out that the depiction of the Inspiration of Matthew was consistent with Dei Verbum, the Dogmatic Costitution on Divine Revelation from The Second Vatican Council. Caravaggio portrays Matthew in his red robe looking up to the angel over his right shoulder for inspiration, but he is also a true human author, as he has his pen in his own hand and it is not being guided by the angel as in an earlier now lost version.
We also were able to do a close reading of the Call of Matthew. The text in the Gospel is extremely brief. “As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax office; and he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he rose and followed him.” (Mat 9:9)
Caravaggio, using his brilliant chiaroscuro technique, has captured the moment of the call before Matthew has responded. He has light streaming into a dingy dark room from the right hand side just above the head of a young Jesus whose hand is extended toward a bearded Matthew whose face is bathed in the incoming light. Jesus’ hand gesture is reminiscent of Adam’s in Michelangelo’s Sistene ceiling. He and Peter, who is in the shadow just in front of him and also pointing to Matthew, are dressed in the garb of 1st century Jews and are barefoot. In fact Jesus’ feet are already turned to leave the room, having given the call. Matthew and the others at the table are dressed in Renaissance clothing: elaborate hats with feathers, tights, swords, doublets with puffed sleeves, etc. The two young men nearest Jesus are looking at him, but the elderly man and the young man at the far left of the painting are absorbed in counting money and have no awareness of Jesus. Matthew is famously pointing to himself with his left hand in an extension of Jesus’ gesture, as if to say, “Who, me?” He still has his right hand on the money at the end of the table, but his legs under the table are preparing to rise and follow Jesus. The painting is a brilliant illustration of the moment of the light of grace summoning Matthew to abandon his attachment to money and follow Jesus’ call.
In the afternoon, thanks to Arthur, we attended a moving performance of the contemporary German opera “Augustinus – A Musical Mosaic” at Castel Gandolfo in honor of his holiness Benedict XVI who was in attendance and seemed to be very moved by the performance. The event was part of a conference on Augustine’s City of God sponsored by the diocese of Wurzburg. We thought we were simply going to a tour of Castel Gandolfo, but leave to Arthur to lead us to such a moving event.
This week our New Testament class completed its study of Mark’s Gospel and began to read Matthew. We visited San Luigi Dei Francesi, the French national church in Rome, which has in its Contarelli Chapel three famous Caravaggio frescoes of St. Matthew: the altarpiece of St. Matthew and the Angel, showing Matthew half-kneeling at his […]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 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 […]MORE
Patrick V. Reid, Ph.D. is a professor of Theology at Providence College. Since 1977 he has taught courses in Biblical Theology, Old Testament, and New Testament on both the undergraduate and graduate level, and all four semesters of the Development of Western Civilization course for both honors students and regular students. He has published three books–Readings in Western Religious Thought: the Ancient World, Readings in Western Religious Thought: The Middle Ages through Reformation, and Moses’s Staff and Aeneas’s Shield— and several articles in scholarly and popular journals on the Old and New Testament and the Roman Catholic Lectionary. He also does a weekly column on the Lectionary for The Rhode Island Catholic paper.
Patrick V. Reid, Ph.D. is a professor of Theology at Providence College. Since 1977 he has taught courses in Biblical Theology, Old Testament, and New Testament on both the undergraduate and graduate level, and all four semesters of the Development of Western Civilization course for both honors students and regular students. He has published three […]MORE
In the fall of 2011 the inaugural group of students arrived in Rome to begin their studies at the Providence College/CEA Center for Theology and Religious Studies in Rome! Under the guidance of Faculty Resident Director Dr. Dana Dillon (FRD 11-12), students spent four months exploring Italy, learning about the New Testament in the Eternal City, and living like Romans.
For more on what our 2011-2012 group did in Rome, check out Dr. Dillon’s blog!
In the fall of 2011 the inaugural group of students arrived in Rome to begin their studies at the Providence College/CEA Center for Theology and Religious Studies in Rome! Under the guidance of Faculty Resident Director Dr. Dana Dillon (FRD 11-12), students spent four months exploring Italy, learning about the New Testament in the Eternal […]MORE