Day 18 – Rome
- Barb: Crowds
- Mike: Idolatry
- Jen: Excessive
- Barb: Early church
- Mike: Cinghiale surprise
- Jen: Cultural fossils
Three or Four Words
- Barb: Ostentatious and grandiose
- Mike: Monk-bone decorating
- Jen: Rome sightseeing smorgasbord
- Barb: What would Jesus think?
- Mike: These catholic cathedrals can be a little over the top (to say the very least), but they sure are impressive.
- Jen: It might have been Mithra.
We took the train back to Rome today. Parking, getting tickets, etc. were a piece of cake. We even learned to use the Metro ticket machines, so we can now hop on and off the Metro whenever and wherever we want.
Today, we indulged in the all-you-can-see Rome sightseeing smorgasbord, gorging ourselves on the following selections from the menu:
- Colosseum, just the outside
- A pasticceria for croissants and donuts to go
- San Clemente basilica
- San Giovanni in Laterano
- Capuchin Crypt at Santa Maria della Concezione
- Trevi Fountain
- Bernini’s elephant in Piazza della Minerva
- Santa Maria Sopra Minerva
- Sant Ignazio di Loyola
- Unsuccessful search for Gelateria della Palma
- Tiber River
- Castel Sant’Angelo
- Basilica of St. Peter: climbed the dome and visited the church
Gluttons! And because we were so gluttonous at the sightseeing smorgasbord, and because we had no food at home to pack a lunch, those croissants and donuts were all the fuel we had for the day. I was counting on getting gelato, if not an actual lunch, so not being able to find the gelateria was a big disappointment. My last hope was that we’d return to the train station in time to visit the little grocery store for a bite to eat on the train home. Alas, we made it just in time to catch the train home—making use of jump seats in a section between train cars because there were no three seats available together elsewhere. Thankfully, the grocery store in Po’Bandino was still open when we got there shortly after 7:00. We had twenty minutes to shop. That was plenty of time!
My top three sights/sites for the day were, in chronological order, San Clemente, the Capuchin Crypt, and St. Peter’s.
In 1857, Father Mullooly began excavations beneath the 12th-century basilica. Guess what he and his successors found (you won’t believe it). A 4th-century church also dedicated to Saint Clement, the fourth pope.
All right, that’s not so hard to believe, but we’re not done yet. This 4th century church was originally a Roman nobleman’s house. It’s built on a spring in such a way that the house has running water. Part of the house contains a 1st-century church, and the basement has a 2nd-century mithraeum, i.e. a worship place for followers of Mithraism.
And this Roman nobleman’s house was built on the foundation of some other building that burned in the Great Fire of 64AD.
Aside from the fact that archaeologists have opened up these different levels and pieced the story together, the place is just flipping cool! We were able to wander down, down, down through a maze of dark, cold, poorly-lit, underground rooms. We heard and saw the oh-so-valuable and useful spring that would make this a choice location for a nobleman. I kept thinking it would be a great place for a haunted house event.
There wasn’t much to the mithraeum, but it was nice to see a bit of non-Christian antiquity and to imagine how things might be different if people had glommed onto Mithra instead of Jesus, to imagine what might have been.
By the way, in case you didn’t notice, we weren’t allowed to take pictures here.
Mike and I saw something about the Capuchin Crypt on one of the videos we watched prior to the trip. I think it was a Rick Steves show.
What I recalled from the show was that the crypt held thousands of Capuchin monks’ bodies. They were laid out on beds and standing in narrow cubbies, robed and mummified. The show host (Rick Steves?) walked amongst them. He told us that monks would go down and test out the different available spaces to see how they might enjoy eternity in that spot.
Call it morbid, if you must, but it strikes me as interesting and funny. I wanted to go, and Mike did, too, though perhaps not as much as I did. Guide books said it was free but that the monks asked for a donation of any amount. Fair enough.
However, times have apparently changed. There is now a charge of six euros per person, which struck us as steep. We hesitated, but ultimately shrugged, rolled our eyes, and paid the 18 euros. We routinely cough up five euros per person to walk through a church for fifteen minutes, after all.
Then there was another surprise: a museum about the history of the Capuchin order. You have to walk through it to get to the crypt, which, honestly, felt a bit manipulative. We’re coming to see the crypt, and they’re forcing us through something else first. They also don’t allow visitors to take pictures, and their postcards are awful. I really wanted a postcard or seven, but they were terrible pictures and lousy productions. That kind of ticked me off. If you won’t let me take pictures, give me a decent postcard.
Even so, despite the cost, the force-feeding of Capuchin propaganda, and the no pictures/no postcards lameosity, I’m glad we went, and I loved the crypt.
Apparently, Frommer’s guide book has called it “one of the most horrifying images in all of Christendom.” I disagree. It’s beautiful! Not horrifying at all.
The story goes that when monks arrived at Santa Maria della Concezione in 1631 they brought 300 cartloads of dead friars. I don’t know where they arrived from—I probably should have paid attention in the museum—nor do I know why they had 300 cartloads of dead friars, but someone—no one seems to know who—took the gazillion monk bones and made funereal art to decorate five rooms in the crypt. There are piles of femurs, piles of pelvic bones, piles of shoulder blades, piles of all sorts of like bones, tiny bones arranged in intricate patterns, bones framing dead bodies, bones wired together into chandeliers, and on and on. The bones of some 4,000 monks, they claim.
Here’s the thing: It looked nothing like what Mike and I recalled from the video. Neither of us was expecting clever or beautiful bone arrangements, just mummified bodies. We need to call that Rick Steves series up on Netflix again.
It seems that while the crypt was in use as a crypt—I don’t suppose it’s more than a tourist attraction these days—when a monk died, the longest-buried monk was exhumed to make room for the new guy. The bones of the exhumed body were added to the decorations. According to one source, a monk’s body spent about 30 years in the dirt, sans coffin, before the bones were exhumed and turned into art.
When I die, if anyone wants to use my bones for art, please feel free. I’d be honored.
Basilica of St. Peter’s
This was squeezed in at the very end of the day and was kind of rushed, but it was great even so.
First, we climbed the dome for a bird’s-eye view that made my spirit and imagination soar. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I love an expansive view from a lofty perch. We looked out on St. Peter’s square (which is a circle) and searched for familiar buildings—the Colosseum, the “wedding cake,” the Pantheon—in the crowded sea of Rome architecture. We found them. I can even see the wedding cake in the image below.
Inside the basilica, we marveled at paintings, sculptures, mosaics, and architecture, most notably, Michelangelo’s dome and Pieta (Mary mourning the dead body of Jesus), the latter being sculpted when he was just 25 years old.
Those are my top three stops of the day, but there was so much more, too, and much I’d like to remember and share.
We found San Giovanni in Laterano to be a bit over the top, even for a showy cathedral, but, oh, how I loved the mosaic floor! (Pictures above)
The Trompe l’oeil dome in Sant Ignazio was fun, and there’s a really cool piece of wood art currently being made. A beautiful giant cathedral stands in the center of a circle of tiny cathedrals that seem to represent states and countries around the world. The tiny cathedral that will represent Alaska (and Hawaii, Oregon, Arizona, Alabama, Colorado, Arkansas, and California) is not yet completed.
I didn’t love the Pantheon. The building itself is great, but in my opinion, they ruined the interior when they Christianized it. As a “pantheon” I think it needs to honor more than one god, and I wish it still held tributes to Mars and Venus and others. Oh, I know…if it hadn’t been Christianized, it probably would have been destroyed.
The ceiling at Santa Maria Sopra Minerva is beautiful! It’s one of those blue, starry ones, but especially vivid. And there was a lovely row of brilliant stained glass rose windows up high along the long walls.