This week the Providence College Center for Theology and Religious Studies held its Spring Academic Colloquium.
We were pleased to welcome His Excellency Mr. Kenneth Hackett , who graciously accepted our invitation to visit and address our student body. Mr. Hackett is the current United States Ambassador to the Holy See. He was nominated to the post by President Barack Obama in June 2013, confirmed by the Senate in August 2013, and he presented his Credentials to Pope Francis on 21 October 2013.
Ambassador Hackett, originally of West Roxbury, Massachusetts, earned his undergraduate degree from Boston College. He then joined the Peace Corps, and served in Ghana. Afterwards, he joined Catholic Relief Services, an international humanitarian agency supported by the U.S. Catholic community, serving in Africa and Asia. He became president of Catholic Relief Services in 1993. And as President, Ambassador Hackett led 5,000 CRS employees in over 100 countries.
It was under his leadership that CRS responded to recovery efforts such as those following the Rwanda genocide, the Bosnian and Kosovo emergencies, the Asian tsunami, and the Haiti earthquake. Equally notable during his tenure as President was CRS’s work on behalf of people living with HIV/AIDS. Mr. Hackett retired from that post in 2012.
His Excellency and Mrs. Hackett have two children and most recently have been residents of Maryland and Florida. But now, of course, they are residents of the Eternal City. The Hackett’s more than 40 year history of working in the field of international human development brings a unique dimension to the service of diplomacy to the Vatican.
I asked the Ambassador to speak to us about his former work in developing countries and his new service in diplomacy here in Rome. The title for his presentation was: “From Charity Work to Diplomatic Service: A Personal View”.
He spoke to us of his personal journey beginning from his days at Boston college as an undergraduate trying to decide on a career. Joining the Peace Corps was a somewhat spontaneous decision, but one which proved to set a course for the rest of his life. He spoke passionately about how “service to others” is the most rewarding life. He challenged our students not to decide on a job “just because it pays a lot of money”. But, rather to do “‘something which makes you happy” and “stretches you and your imagination”.
At the heart of his presentation was his explanation of his commitment to Catholic social teaching and how his work at Catholic Relief Services was shaped by it every step of the way. He explained how as President of C.R.S., his goal was always to implement Catholic social teaching from “top to bottom” in the organization of over 5,000 people – many of whom were not Catholic.
Speaking of his diplomatic service as U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican, he talked about the “new approach” of Pope Francis to the papacy and his hope that the United States and the Holy See can work together on many “issues that affect human dignity, the poor, and people who are marginalized”. “There are many things that we can come together on – particularly peace.”
After his lecture, we gave him a Providence College tie as a token of our appreciation. Of course, I joked that he should wear this “Dominican tie” when he goes to his Jesuit alma mater, Boston College.
The Colloquium ended with a light reception during which His Excellency was able to mingle with the students as well as the CEA Rome Team, who worked so hard on the logistics of the event. Mr. Hackett ask the students about our program and their time in Rome, and even stayed to pose for a few photos.
Perhaps the best reaction I heard afterward was from a student who said: “I was expecting a much more formal lecture. But his talk was very personal and down to earth and I felt like he was speaking right to me. He spoke from the heart”.
This week the Providence College Center for Theology and Religious Studies held its Spring Academic Colloquium. We were pleased to welcome His Excellency... MORE
“There is no better city to study Theology than in Rome. The ability to see many of the world’s most famous churches during class time made the decision easy for me.” Riley Dowd
Why Study Theology in Rome?
This week it has finally begun to sink in that we have less than a month left of our Roman adventure. I asked the students to reflect on their time here in Rome and their experience of studying Theology. I asked them what they would say to a student back home who is considering studying abroad next year. What advice might they give to someone who was considering spending a semester in the Eternal City? Is there any reason why Rome should be the preferred place for studying Theology?
Here’s what some of them said:
“Studying theology in Rome offers an experience unlike any other. Rome is the center of our Christian theology and the sites and history provide a whole new experience. I think being able to visit the 4 major basilicas and a few other Catholic sites has had an impact on me and has gotten me to think about theology in a whole new way. I think in order to fully understand and appreciate the Church this is a must.” Daniel DeFilippo
“Studying theology in Rome brings the New Testament to life. Being able to go to all of the locations that you read about makes your faith stronger.” Erin Mullane
“Everyone should study theology in Rome because of the vast amount of history in this city. Rome has so much to offer and I have enjoyed every second of exploring it.” Nicole Patrina
“One may first approach studying theology while being abroad in a negative manner, but I believe it is one of the greatest choices I have made. Studying theology in Rome allows us as students to gain first hand knowledge and gives us a better understanding by living and seeing what we learn about in places other than a text-book.” Veronika Abkarian
“As somebody who is not religious, I knew taking my theology requirements in Rome would help situate religious stories in a historical and social context that I could connect with more. These classes have brought me to places in Rome that I never would have visited or critically understood on my own, which is something I really appreciate.” Leanne Falzon
“Rome is truly one of the greatest places to study theology. You can only read so much in books, and in Rome there are so many prominent basilicas and Christian sites to help one to truly understand the history of the Christian religion. It brings the class to a whole new level and you get to experience many places in Rome you may never have visited otherwise during your semester here.” Sophia Bolt
“Studying theology in Rome is the way to go because of all the magnificent basilicas and sites that the city has to offer. Since the Vatican is placed in Rome’s center, the city alone holds extreme theological meaning.” Paige Lee
“Studying Theology in Rome has been a truly incredible experience. Looking back on my time here, I can say that I feel truly blessed to have had the opportunity to study here and experience places like the Vatican and the Roman Forum.” Tim Evans
“Studying theology in Rome has allowed me to experience theological events in a completely different way. You have a better appreciation and understanding for theology when you are present in the city where every important event occurred. It is enlightening and truly amazing to be exposed to this history in such an extraordinary way.” Gianna Fournier
“Studying theology in Rome creates opportunities to see a vast number of churches, some of which you would not have known to visit without taking a course in theology.” Kerrie Lynch
“By studying Theology in Rome, your identity as a Roman Catholic really becomes transformed. Instead of viewing Catholicism as just going to mass every Sunday and occasionally praying, you are able to experience firsthand the significant sites of Roman Church history in your Theology class every week, which is a constant reminder of this incredible faith relationship that God desires to have with us and it definitely brings you closer to Him.” Catherine McLean
“There is no better city to study Theology than in Rome. The ability to see many of the world’s most famous... MORE
“Paul is a figure of monumental significance. He expanded the church and instituted small but vibrant Christian communities wherever he went.” -Maria McLaughlin
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, 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.
“During our site visit, we saw two cities in the mural: Bethlehem and Jerusalem. Bethlehem represents the Gentile community and Jerusalem represents the Jewish community. Also, Bethlehem can represents Jesus’ birthplace and Jerusalem can represent Jesus’ place of death. It is important that both cities are on the mural because it shows that both are equally important to God. Both the Gentiles and the Jews are equally important in God’s eyes.” -Francesca Coughlin
“All of this important work is honored and displayed in the basilica. From the outside, the detailed façade has much to say about Paul. Peter and Paul are both standing next to Jesus who is seated in a throne of victory and judgment. Peter is often displayed in this basilica alongside Paul as they are often seen as a duo, the founders of the Church.” – Sophia Bolt
” There are also a series of mosaics throughout the basilica that each illustrate a scene from the life of Saint Paul, where the viewer enters into a narrative of his life. The artwork shows how he fits in with both Peter and Christ with his apostolic mission.” – Catherine McLean
“In the basilica Saint Paul outside the walls, the triumphal arch has a unique portrait of Jesus… It portrays Jesus as seated on a throne. His face is stern… This facial expression is not common among images of Jesus. This is because it represents his attitude towards his second coming . At that time, he will sit as Judge over all of the living and dead. God gave him the power of deciding who will make it into heaven and who will not.” -Zach Jensen
“Another interesting point to note about the triumphal arch in Saint Paul’s basilica is its location. According the Catholic tradition, triumphal arches are always placed over the tomb of a martyr. The reason is because this specific location represents a spiritual victory. Just as Paul found God and preached his word by founding Christian communities, we too are invited to do the same and experience God’s word for ourselves.” – Tim Evans
“Surrounding the portrait of Jesus Christ, draped in white linen, as described in the Book of Revelation, are “the twenty-four elders on the throne, [who] will worship Him who lives forever and ever, and will cast their crowns before the throne,” (Revelation 4:10). These elders have washed their robes in the blood of the lamb, being Jesus Christ, and they are therefore privileged to sit with Jesus. They are offering their crowns of martyrdom to Jesus to illustrate their adoration and gratitude for the Lord and his salvation.” -Jacqueline Condon
“In the front of the church, the quadriportico is home to an enormous statue of St. Paul that was erected to honor him. This statue alone can tell one the whole story of who Paul was and the work he did. Starting from his clothing, he is wearing cloth over his head to denote that he is a traveler and pilgrim. He travels to other nations to teach and preach to gentiles, or non-Jews. St. Paul is carrying a sword because it represents his martyrdom for Christianity. Also, the word of God is believed to be like “a two edged sword.” In Paul’s other hand, he is a carrying a book. These represent his teachings to the gentiles.” – Ben Hochberger
“Paul is a figure of monumental significance. He expanded the church and instituted small but vibrant Christian communities wherever he... MORE
“Pope Francis has a truly magnetic and uplifting energy; it is truly inspiring to witness how people from all corners of the globe react to this man and what he represents!” Brittany Ricci
“Getting to participate in the papal audience this Wednesday definitely felt like a blessed experience. It was amazing to be aware of the hundreds of pilgrims that traveled from around the world and came together all in the name of God.” Nikki MullinsLast week the P.C. in Rome program went to the weekly Wednesday papal audience with Pope Francis. I contacted Bishop Tobin’s office in Providence at the beginning of the semester for help in obtaining tickets for the students and myself. The weather was supposed to be cold and rainy, but instead it was warm and sunny. The students called this the “Pope Francis effect”. The crowd numbered close to 50,000 according to the Vatican news later that day. We were thrilled to hear “Providence College” formally welcomed during the introduction when various pilgrim groups and visiting dignitaries are introduced at the beginning of the Audience. (Thanks Bishop Tobin!) Go Friars!Pope Francis has recently been using his talks at the weekly audience to offer some catechesis on the sacraments. The talk he gave to us was about the sacrament of the anointing of the sick. He urged that this sacrament be used for the sick, and not just the dying. He said that in a special way the sick are in need of the experience of the presence of Jesus with them in their illness.I asked the students to share their photos and their impressions of the experience.“Wow! Felt like I was at a NFL football game in America. I could not believe how many people were there to see the Pope speak, it was definitely a celebration. I thought his emphasis on the anointing of the sick was interesting, as people have said this Pope is very concerned with the less fortunate and suffering people of the world. It was definitely an experience I will remember forever and now am trying to plan a visit for my family to see Pope Francis when they come to Rome.” Nathan Rosadini“The papal audience was an incredible experience. The reaction that Pope Francis got from the entire crowd blew my mind. It was like a soccer game with different countries waving flags and scarves each time a prayer was read in their respective languages. I’m really glad I went and if there was one thing I take away from this is that Pope Francis really is a rockstar here.” Danny DeFilippo
“It’s pretty incredible to think that thousands of people from all around the world were gathered in one place to hear someone speak. It goes to show just how prominent Pope Francis is and how much he is respected throughout the world.” Tim Evans“While attending the Papal Audience it was a powerful site to witness the love people have for Papa Francis and the immensity of their faith. When he came out into the crowd, Papa Francis’ smile was very infectious” Sophia Bolt“My experience at the papal audience was both exhilarating, and overwhelming. Seeing the Pope for the first time that close to me is something that I will never forget. I was taken back by the amount of people that attended, and their excitement and energy was admirable. I am so blessed to be able to say I was that close to papa Francesco!” Gianna Fournier“It was an amazing experience finally being able to see Papa Francesco in person after hearing so much about him! He was smiling the entire time and waving at the crowd!” Francesca Coughlin
“Today, I attended my third papal audience of the semester and still got chills when Pope Francis passed by in his Popemobile. I witnessed a young child who was right next to me get blessed by Papa Francis and saw her parents begin to cry tears of joy. It is incredible how one individual can inspire and touch the lives of so many people.” Sarah Wacik“My reaction to seeing Papa Francis at the papal audience last Wednesday was one of complete awe. He was such an incredibly humble person when meeting everyone. Everytime I saw him bless a child and kiss their forehead on screen my heart just melted a little. I felt so blessed to have this amazing opportunity.” Catherine McLean“It was really cool to see how excited Italians get about Pope Francis, he’s like a celebrity here. There was a group of elementary school students chanting “Papa Francesco!” at the top of their lungs and it was just about the cutest thing I’ve ever seen. It was nice to see how affectionate he was with all of the children in the audience.” Leanne FalzonGo Friars!
“Pope Francis has a truly magnetic and uplifting energy; it is truly inspiring to witness how people from all... MORE
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.
“When looking at the Basilica of Saint Mary Major it is important to note that it is not just an architectural wonder, but also a theological lesson. By understanding the artwork of Mary in conjunction with Luke’s gospel, many parallels can be drawn…” Tim Evans
According to the medieval legend, the first church dedicated to Mary was on the Esquiline hill, built by Pope Liberius (352-366AD) on the site of an ancient market place.
“The Basilica of St. Mary Major was actually built because Mary appeared to Pope Liberius in a dream and told him to dedicate and build a church where the snow falls that night. The snow Mary promised did appear on the Esquiline hill on August 5th, which is now the feast of our ‘Lady of the Snows’.” Riley Dowd
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 church is magnificent in size, and beneath the high altar lies what is known as the Holy Crib, containing wood from the original manger that held Jesus. This emphasizes the Birth Christology of Luke…” Katie Melkonian
“In the front of the altar is the Confessio, which holds the relics of Christ’s Manger. These relics are believed to have been brought from Bethlehem at the same time as the body of St. Jerome. The relics serve an important purpose because they provide a tangible reality to a faith that is based mostly on the intangible.” Bryn Roeder
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 .
“When on the site visit, the main area of the basilica had stories on left and right side that traced back to the Old Testament. On the left hand side there were stories of Abraham and Jacob and on the right hand side there were stories of Joshua and Moses. These stories connect us back to the Old Testament and show that the Christian religion has been developing throughout time.This idea of rooting Christianity to the past can also be seen in Luke’s Gospel when he explains Jesus’ genealogy.” Francesca Coughlin
“One of the mosaic images in the basilica is the six sheep, which gather at the gate of Bethlehem, symbolize Christians of Gentile descent. Together with the other six lambs standing at the gate of Jerusalem, they represent the whole Church. As you can see, Luke’s Gospel and the basilica of St. Mary Major connect in numerous ways.” Nicole Patrina
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.
“Another piece of art where we can see that Mary is a special woman is the scene of her death. We see her reclining of her deathbed surrounded by the apostles. Jesus is mothering Mary into resurrection and she is assumed bodily into heaven. We know this because there are no relics of Mary. She was afforded with this privilege because she held God in her body.” Meaghan Mahoney
“Seeing the beauty of the basilica, we recognized the beauty of Mary and that her body was sacred all along, as it had held God inside. I suddenly realized what my grandma’s passion and obsession with Mother Mary was all for, as she truly was a “walking tabernacle”.” Nathan Rosadini
“This coronation is interesting in that Mary is only sitting with Jesus because he has invited her to, not because she is of the same status or worth. Though she is not divine like Christ, the Catholic Church venerates Mary, and this apse is the culminating point of all the mosaics in the church, commemorating the declaration at the Council of Ephesus that the Virgin was the Mother of God.” Jacqueline Condon
“While the Church was dedicated to Mary, there are no relics there, in fact, there are no relics of the Virgin Mary anywhere. This is because Mary doesn’t decay, her body is resurrected immediately, this is her exaltation, she is the greatest creature ever…” Dan DeFilippo
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.
“The image of “Madonna and Child with Crossed Hands” shows Mary with the baby Jesus, and above her head are three stars. These three stars represent one of the most significant beliefs in Christianity, that Mary was a virgin before, during, and after Christ’s birth.” Leo Latz
“Mary is often referred to as the archetype of the church. Mary carries the body of Christ during her pregnancy. Thus, Mary carries the flesh of God with her. This is also symbolic of the presence of God through communion and the Eucharist. In other words, God is present in the church through the Eucharist. Thus, Mary is the archetype of the church because she is housing the presence of God, similarly the church houses the presence of God.” Alivia Thoubboron
This week’s Blog is devoted to our recent visit to the basilica of St. Mary Major. After a lecture on the... MORE
This week I was pleased to welcome the Rogers family to our PC/ CEA Theology and Religious Studies Center. Michael (’76), and Mary Ellen (’77), were in town to visit their son, Fr. Michael Rogers, S.J., a Jesuit priest who is studying here in Rome at the Gregorian University. Their daughter, Mary Kate, who was also on the tour, was just accepted “early decision” to P.C., and will be a member of the class of 2018. Talk about a “Friar family”!
During their visit and tour of the Center, they were able to meet some of our students and the CEA Rome Team. The students were encouraging Mary Kate to already start planning her semester abroad in Rome during her junior year. Mary Kate hopes to study Marketing. Her mother was a Social Work major and her father studied Business Management while at P.C.
Mary Ellen is not only a proud alum of P.C., she is also a member of the College’s Board of Trustees and has served since 2007. As a “good steward” of the College, Mary Ellen had many questions about our Rome program. We discussed the study abroad experience in general and the College’s renewed commitment to international study opportunities for students. I explained P.C.’s relationship to CEA and shared the good news that we have just signed another three year agreement with them.
When our conversation turned to academics, Mary Kate and her father Michael were interested in the New Testament in the Eternal City course and how we use the city of Rome itself as a “classroom” connecting lectures with site visits each week.
Having a visit from a member of the Board of Trustees certainly helps to strengthen the connection between our Rome Program and the home campus. Mary Ellen promised to fill in the rest of the Trustees about the success of the PC/CEA Center when she sees them later this Spring at their annual “Black and White” fundraiser. She’s also hoping to give her impressions of the Rome Program and its direct link to the mission of the College at their next Board meeting in June.
The warm visit and conversation with the Rogers family was a real boost to all of us who met them. And once again we were reminded how the PC in Rome experience flows naturally from the Catholic, Dominican mission of the College. From Cunningham Square to the Piazza San Pietro! Go Friars!
This week I was pleased to welcome the Rogers family to our PC/ CEA Theology and Religious Studies Center. Michael... MORE
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.
Last week the focus of our New Testament class was Matthew’s gospel. We visited the Basilica of St. John Lateran and studied some of Matthew’s theological themes contained in its structure, mosaics, statuary, and paintings. Reading the “text” of the basilica the students discovered a salvation history similar to the one in Matthew’s gospel. 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 portaits 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. Here are some excerpts from the students’ weekly essays:
“These 12 statues represent the 12 apostles who are the “pillars” of the Church. The scenes above each apostle represent stories from the Old Testament (left) and the New Testament (right). Each story has a mirror effect from the one across from it. These scenes represent Matthew’s ecclesiology that the Church is unrecognizable without the history of Israel.” Kerrie Lynch
“Both the Gospel of Matthew and St. John’s Lateran Basilica work together to stress one of the cardinal aspects of Christianity: the joining of the Old and New Testaments. This form of fulfillment is very apparent in how Jesus Christ not only becomes the full revelation of Christianity but also how he fulfills lessons given in the Old Testament through his ministry on earth.” Scott Blackburn
“We are able to see some of Matthew’s key teachings inside the walls of the Basilica of St. John Lateran. These are the Old Testament support of New Testament figures and happenings, and the importance of the twelve apostles, especially Peter. It is almost as this basilica was built using principles found in Matthew more so than the other Gospels.” Sam Scherer
“Like the Gospel of Matthew which preaches a new story of Jesus, based on older stories from the New Testament, St. Giovanni of Laterano has many scriptural and biblical scenes from both the Old Testament as well as the New Testament… The shift from the stories of the Old Testament to the stories of the New Testament again focus on the switch from Moses as teacher to Jesus as teacher just like Matthew did within his Gospel.” Mike Humphreys
“The central nave of Saint John Lateran embodies the history of salvation within Christianity beginning with oval paintings of the twelve prophets, supported by statues of the twelve apostles, and intertwined by twelve reliefs that show the life of Jesus the Messiah as prefigured in the Old Testament.” Zachary Jensen
“Emperor Constantine built this first Christian basilica in the city with the doors from the Senate building of the Forum, demonstrating a transfer of power from the state to the Church. In this way he shows the power of Christ reigning over the power of the Emperor, worshiping Jesus’ almighty power.” Brianna Fontaine
“The four rivers of paradise are below Jesus Christ, painting the picture of a “watery apse“… This is an illusion of baptism and is evident in the resurrection scene of Matthew 28, as the Emmanuel promises he will be with them until the end, he says teach and commissions the apostles to baptize.” Veronika Abkarian
“The Lateran Baptistery symbolized eternity for the Christians who came to be reborn. The set up of this baptistery is an octagonal structure, this being because the 8th day represents eternity for Christians. It is both a cleansing and rebirth process where the member is able to go from his or her old self to a new life led by Christ.” Victoria Caruso
“8 porphyry columns surround the Baptistery of the Lateran. The 8 sides represent the 8th day for Christians. The 8th day signifies eternity. Baptism is particularly important in Matthew’s gospel … St. John Lateran’s baptistery looks like a tub (cleansing) and tomb (death of old life and birth into new life). It is the womb of the church and gives birth to children…” Paige Lee
The inscription on the façade of the Basilica of St. John Lateran reads: “The Most Holy Church of the Lateran,... 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.
“The catacombs truly exemplified the faith the early Christians had in Jesus and his resurrection. This was clearly shown from all the symbolism in the frescoes. I was blown away by how well preserved the catacombs were and the immense story telling capacity they hold.” Sophia Bolt
“What struck me the most about our site visit to the Catacombs was the incredibly close connection it once had to the divine world by acting as a burial ground for the early Christian martyrs. The positive aura that radiated from the symbolic frescos depicting the Resurrection definitely overpowered the dark, gloomy surroundings of the burial site, creating a paradox of life and death that I found to be very similar to the one I found in the Gospel of Mark.” Catherine McLean
“While visiting the catacombs and learning about their martyrdom and heroism, I couldn’t help but wonder if my faith is strong enough to withstand the trials that they endured. It is a great encouragement to know that generations of Christians have gone before me, and though the evidence of their eternal reward is not accessible, there is solid proof that their hope in God was strong enough not to be trifled with, even by the Roman empire.” Maria McLaughlin
“The eerie sense of knowing what the Catacombs were used for and seeing the art and inscriptions left as evidence of Christian death rituals hundreds of years ago was super fascinating and creepy. It was definitely something I never would have had the opportunity to see and understand without this class.” Leanne Falzon
“This past week’s trip to the Catacombs of Priscilla was a very unique experience. It was interesting to walk among such old grounds and see the religious influence that was in affect so long ago. I also found it really interesting to see the first known portrait of the Virgin Mary and Jesus painted by a tomb of an unknown martyr.” Katie Melkonian
“I was surprised that the catacombs had many symbolic images on the tombs. It definitely tested my knowledge of Christian stories and symbolism in the Old and New Testament.” Sarah Wacik
“Visiting the Catacombs of Priscilla gave a unique insight into what it means to be a Christian. Seeing as the catacombs house thousands of tombs for deceased Christians, one would imagine that they would provide for a somber environment. This, however, is not the case. The walls of the catacombs were surprisingly covered with Christian symbols and frescoes of the resurrection of Christ and stories of salvation, both of which convey a message of hope and the promise of eternal life!” Brittany Ricci
“I was extremely impressed at the vastness of the catacombs. I have always enjoyed studying the stories of early Christian martys in the Roman world and it was just surreal to be able to stand where so many of these martyrs had been buried. Physically standing in the catacombs really brought about a new perception of early Christian suffering, perseverance and salvation for me.” Nikki Mullins
“The catacombs gave a literal sense of mortality to the early Christians we have been learning about. Their struggle as persecuted people became real and I realized part of the community I share with them as a Christian myself.” Suness Jones
Last week our site visit for the New Testament in the Eternal City class was the Catacombs of St. Priscilla. ... MORE
Last weekend CEA took the students to Tuscany. They visited Florence on Friday and a working vineyard in Chianti on Saturday. 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 art, architecture, food, and history. As one student told me on Monday, “My western civ. class finally came alive!”. Indeed, the sights and sounds of Florence and the country side made a lasting impression on everyone who went.
“Climbing to the top of the Duomo and seeing all of Florence was a surreal experience that I highly suggest to everyone.” Nicole Patrina“My favorite part of the Tuscany trip was the tour of the Varrazzano Castle in the Tuscan countryside. The meal and scenery is something I will never forget!” Leo Latz
“This was my first visit to Florence and I loved it. Florence had a different feel than Rome did, it was something I liked, it seemed very “homey”. The walking tour of Florence was exceptional and we saw a few of the major attractions there, including the Duomo and the David. The day trip to the Verrazzano Vineyard was amazing, the tour was great and the food/wine tasting was as well. I really enjoyed the trip to Florence.” Daniel DeFilippo
“This weekend in Florence was a great break from the hustle and bustle of Rome. Climbing to the top of the Duomo offered incredible views. Visiting the wine vineyard is an event that I will not forget, it is definitely something that I can cross off my bucket list!” Dylanne Axelson
“Florence is an absolutely beautiful city. Climbing to the top of the Duomo di Firenze gave an amazing view of the city that was completely unforgettable. I am so grateful to have the fortunate of having this experience.” Katherine McSweeney
“The vineyard truly made the trip and was by far the best Italian meal I have had so far. I felt so welcome and it was an experience I will never forget. Walking around Florence I could tell that it was much smaller than Rome, but climbing up the bell tower and seeing all of Florence gave me a whole new perspective on the astonishing city. I continually can’t believe what I am seeing and have to pinch myself with my time in Italy.” Sophia Bolt“Florence was an amazing city! My favorite parts were the Duomo, wine tasting and of course the leather market! Can’t wait to return in March!” Paige Lee“We had an amazing weekend in Florence and Tuscany! From viewing the David, to walking to the top of the Duomo, and wine tasting in Tuscany, we could have asked for a better weekend!” Francesca Coughlin“After being in Rome for roughly three weeks I was ready to experience some new places! Florence was a great first stop, the city was beautiful and we were lucky enough to see a Vineyard on such a gorgeous day. Although I love Rome, Florence was a smaller and more familiar place to be. I was glad it was my first trip!” Katherine Seibel“The Florence/Tuscany trip was a great way to kick off to the semester. The winery tour is probably something I never would have booked by myself, but I’m glad CEA organized it for us. Can’t wait to do more traveling with our group.” Riley Dowd“Although Rome is a beautiful city to be living in, it felt good to get out of the city for a bit and explore Tuscany. The view from the top of the vineyard fields was amazing. I hope someday I can come back when the grapes are in season.” Tim Evans
“This weekend was one of the most enlightening weekends of my life! From seeing the statue of David to climbing 496 steps to the top of the duomo, florence is by far one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. The small, quaint atmosphere is refreshing and the mountains in the distance make the view so beautiful. Tuscany was breath taking and the wine tasting along with lunch was incredibly delicious. I am so happy I had the opportunity to visit these amazing places.” Gianna Fournier
“The walking tour of Florence was a great overview of the city. We found places to revisit later in the weekend! The wine tasting tour was extremely informative and delicious!” Suness Jones
“Florence and Chianti were both beautiful places that I will be returning to in my future travels. Florence definitely reminds me more of Boston while Rome reminds me more of NYC. A bunch of us went to The Lion’s Fountain Irish pub and found the Providence College t-shirt on the ceiling with an abundance of signatures on it. I don’t think any other t-shirt had that many signatures. Go Friars! Chianti was relaxing and the blue skies were a refreshing change from the overcast skies in Rome.” Kerrie Lynch
Last weekend CEA took the students to Tuscany. They visited Florence on Friday and a working vineyard in Chianti on... MORE
Our course on the New Testament in the Eternal City includes not only classroom lectures, but also on site visits to particular places in Rome that are significant for Christian history, theology, and spirituality. Our first site visit this semester was to the Church of San Clemente. 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 labour 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 archeological 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. Our guide for the site visit was an American Dominican priest, Fr. Pius Pietrzyk, who is studying Canon Law here in Rome and is in residence at San Clemente. Fr. Pius is an enthusiastic, polished, and entertaining tour guide of the treasures of San Clemente. His remarks were full of fascinating information and inspiring reflections on the faith of the early Christians who made pilgrimage and worshipped at the basilica. The students seemed to appreciate most his erudite knowledge of Christian iconography as he explained frescoes, mosaics, and paintings as well as the architecture of San Clemente.
Here are some quotes from the papers they wrote after our site visit:
“The three layers of the church of San Clemente represent distinct historical features of Christianity as it evolved from the early third century to today in Rome. These genuine artifacts demonstrate how religious belief in Rome has grown and changed, and contextualize the emergence and stories of Christianity with well-preserved art and architecture. Each layer represents what the central features of religion were at the time they were constructed.” Leanne Falzone
“In the readings and the site visit to the Basilica of San Clemente we saw examples of God revealing himself on earth. These examples are mainly in the Word of God and interpretations through pieces of art. Through these stories we become more acclimated with God’s identity, character and call… Through our reading, notes, and visit we get a strong understanding of the cultural and societal ways dating back to around the time of Jesus.” Sam Scherer
“The Basilica of San Clemente and the New Testament tell us a story, both about the different time periods from which they come from and about the workings of Jesus and his disciples. The Basilica is composed of many different pieces from different time periods, while the New Testament has many authors who share the various events and teachings from Christ. Through the art of frescos and through writing both of these religious pieces demonstrate to us the stories of Jesus, and allow us to gain a better understanding of our faith and of the history that is behind it.” Brianna Fontaine
“The oldest known tabernacle-style altar is located in Saint Clement Basilica. Interestingly, it is decorated by an anchor. Taken in context, it references the tool used to drown St. Clement the martyr. This demonstrates the fact that ecclesial decorations are never meaningless. Statues, altars, and frescos tell important stories. Although they are wordless, depicted scenes are surely a way of portraying God’s words and deeds.” Maria McLaughlin
“St. Clements story is further depicted in the fresco… which… further explains his martyrdom… Analyzing these frescos helps Christians understand that St. Clement gave his life for the faith to show how strongly he believed in Jesus Christ… This further leads people to the faith because it proves that he was real and was not just a person from a story. His actual relics are located under the altar of the basilica so it further shows the realness of the stories depicted in the frescos and New Testament.” Erin Mullane
“Early Christians honored Saint Clement, our fourth pope, by dedicating the entire church to him. He died by having an anchor tied to his leg and was thrown into the Black Sea. There is an anchor on the baldacchino in San Clemente Church, signifying his martyrdom. The anchor is still used today to signify Christianity and is popular among young Christians as a trendy tattoo.” Sunness Jones
“In the Basilica of San Clemente the development of the paganism to Christianity is evident as one walks from the pagan temple to the 4th century Basilica, to the 12th century Basilica. When examining the frescoes of the two basilicas, it is obvious that the New Testament teachings have had centuries to develop and come to fruition in the Western world. The frescoes are rich with stories of martyrs, saints, popes, and, of course, the passion of Jesus Christ. At this point in the 4th and later centuries, the Christians have established a more substantial footing in Rome and Christian theology has adopted its own approaches to good and evil, wisdom theology, and the end of time.” Brittany Ricci
“Some of these frescos I believe, were drawn to lead others to faith. They serve almost as propaganda, to persuade others to believe in God and all that he can do. One fresco in particular showed the importance of faith and the dedication that Saint Alexis had towards God. This saint devoted his life to God, and his story is depicted in a fresco that is in the San Clemente church.” Gianna Fournier
“Some churches still exist from the Roman Empire and reflect the Christian’s victory over the pagan religions. One primary example is the Basilica of San Clemente, which was built on top of an ancient mithraeum, or an ancient temple of worship… This underground mithraeum had no windows to allow in light and had an altar with a depiction of Mithras’ conquest. The fall of Mithraism led to the creation of a brand-new building for Christian worship… Eventually, the power of the word of the Christian God outlasted the Roman’s pagan religions. Through the history of San Clemente, Christians can be reminded of the early Christian community’s progression. The lower church of San Clemente provides evidence of the church’s success over pagan religions during the period of the Roman Empire. It also represents the expansion of Christianity as the Roman Empire declined.” Sarah Wacik
” The fact that the lower church was built on top of the pagan temple is symbolic of the mission and values of Jesus Christ… the pagan temple and the church built directly on top are testaments to the changing theological mindset at the time. This transition was cemented in the creation of a new religious movement, embodied in Christ.” Lizeth Gonzalez
“What seemed most powerful about this third layer, the upper church, was again symbolism and the representation of both the past, present, and future of faith. We saw this when examining the apse mosaic. In the center, Jesus is on the cross, surrounded by twelve doves representing the apostles. Father Pius explained the meaning of many other symbols in the mosaic; the cross, often called the tree, is omnipresent and reaching everywhere with the roots growing from the bottom; the peacocks stand for resurrection; the men and women doing everyday work remind followers of the importance of Jesus’ presence today, or in the present.” Sophia Bolt
“The Tree of Life goes throughout the apse because it shows how intertwined all life is and how it all relates back to God through his deed of creation. Directly above Jesus is the Dome of Heaven and the Hand of God. This iconography represents God’s revelation to Jesus, and therefore Revelation to mankind. It is only through the Hand of God that divine human nature and divine nature could be manifested. It is only through Jesus that mankind could become fully aware of the Creator and understand that creating a closer relationship to God was the most important part of life because the more love and faith that one showed in the Creator, the more he would reveal himself.” Mike Humphreys
“After exploring through the three levels of the basilica, I found that the central mosaic apse of the upper level was the most memorable aspect of the church for me. Not only was I captivated by its regal beauty and colorful mosaic art, but after hearing and reading about its significance to the basilica, I learned to appreciate this center piece of San Clemente even more. By having Jesus on the cross as the center of this twelfth century masterpiece surrounded by various symbols in a background of gold, one can conclude that Christians highly valued certain symbols to signify important aspects of their faith at the time.” Catherine McLean
“San Clemente’s mosaic is a prominent and iconic image connecting the images of the Church in the modern world to illustrated Paradise…the apostles are twelve sheep that face toward the Lamb of God. The tree of life is above the lambs and below the cross. The cross represents the wood of the tree and the tree represents Christ in the garden of eternity. The branches of the tree extend to the entire universe, and the fruit of the tree is the Eucharist. The vine springs from the foot of the cross with acanthus leaves, while the rivers of Paradise flow down from the cross. The deer yearn for running water, exemplifying the call of the human race. God wants us humans to have faith and create relationships with him. The deer yearning for running water can be translated as the souls of the faithful thirsting for the lord. The outside of this shows the present which represents the tree of life, connecting the eschatological past to the present and future with Christ in the center of it all.” Veronika Abkarian
Our course on the New Testament in the Eternal City includes not only classroom lectures, but also on site visits... MORE