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More churches and other things: Day 4 in Rome

March 22, 2010

Our fourth day was spent riding around Rome and looking at churches and museums. It was a great day because we saw some of the most meaningful sites to me. The first of these was the Church of Jesus, St. John the Baptist, and St. John the Evangelist. This church building was likely the first church building in Rome especially built for the purpose of the gathering of a church. Constantine established this church in the first half of the fourth century (a little after 325 a.d.). It was and remains the cathedral of Rome, meaning that it is the seat of the Bishop of Rome, who incidentally is the Pope. One of the significant things about this church is the adjacent baptistry. Can you believe a baptistry in a Catholic church? It is not a font, either. It is actually a tub in which people could be immersed, as was practiced in the early stages of the church. The baptistry is in a separate building. Look at some pictures of the church building and the baptistry.

the facade of St. John in Laterno
the front doors of the church building, formerly the doors of the Senate building in the Forum
the inside of St. John’s. Note the massive size
the outside of the Baptistry Building
the baptistry, an early Roman tub

Our next stop was across the street at the Sancta Scala. These steps reputedly came from Pilate’s judgment hall in Jerusalem where Jesus was tried before him. The logistics of that seem difficult at best. The steps were originally in the residence built for the Pope next to St. John’s, but were moved across the street. Signs indicate even now that one can only ascend these steps on the knees. On these steps, we do know Martin Luther was crawling up them in a ritual prayer exercise when the words from Romans, “The righteous shall live by faith,” kept resounding. He got up before he reached the top and returned to Wittenburg to write and post the 95 theses and the Reformation began.

people ascending the steps on their knees, praying

We then went to St Mary Major church building. This church was built in honor of the mother of Jesus after the Council at Ephesus in the fifth century and after the Catholic Church decided to honor Mary as “Mother of God.” That led to a several changes in doctrine in the church including the immaculate conception and the assumption of Mary.

St Mary Major church building

Our next stop was at a simple church building dedicated to St Stephen and several other martyrs. The building contains many gruesome paintings depicting the deaths of martyrs.

The church building dedicated to St Stephen and the martyrs

We then drove by the Circus Maximus, one of the sites of the free entertainment provided to the Roman populace by the emperors during the decline of the empire. The site takes to pictures to get it all in. The length of the chariot racing track is about one mile. The circus was elaborate as were all the sites of that era. You can see where the seats were and the berm in the center of the track, but that is all that is left.

One end of the Circus Maximus

The other end. You can see where the seats were along each side.

We then drove up to Garibaldi Square. The site is named for Giuseppe Garibaldi, the leader in the unification of Italy as a nation that was not completed until the early 20th century. Garibaldi was one of my heroes as a child because of his persistence and his ability to lead people to serve even to the point of sacrifice.

Garibaldi and his horse

We drove next to the Borghese Park for lunch at a kiosk owned by a man named Amir whose friendship has been cultivated by some of our people who have traveled here. We had a super lunch consisting of a sampler platter of Italian food. It was really good. Amir also provides transportation. One of his men drove us around the city, and he  and two of his men provided transportation as a favor to us, taking us from the kiosk in the park to the Borghese Gallery in his golf carts. There we saw some outstanding paintings and sculptures by Caravaggio and Bruninni.

The site of a great sampler lunch at a table outside the kiosk

Our host

The Borghese Gallery. No pictures, of course, but some great paintings and sculptures

It was time for coffee. We went to a very good coffee bar on the Via Venedeto where we had some super coffee served by an entertaining barista.

You can see the barista around the customer.

Our final stop for the day was at another church building to see a sculpture of St Theresa in Ectasy by Brunini.

St Theresa and an angel

We then headed back to the hotel on the underground, home to the infamous Rome pickpockets. Unfortunately, in spite of all my diligence to watch out for them, I encountered one and really made his or her day.  He or she got my wallet with my credit cards, my driver’s license, my social security card, and more cash than I want to think about. Oh, well. It’s only money, and thanks to American Express, the cards are taken care of. In spite of the encounter, we still had a good day. It ended with a visit to a great gelateria where we had another gelato and then went back to the hotel for some work and another great gourmet meal by Chef Faris.

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