July 1, 2011

Church Tours

There are so many Churches in Rome that I can't even begin to count them.  We've visited a number of them but a few of them truly stand out - the Basilicas.  A Basilica is a name given to a Church of great importance or significance.  In the United States, for example, the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC is one.  Rome has a number of basilicas but four are called Major Basilicas.  They are:

Saint Peter's
Saint John Lateran
Saint Mary Major
Saint Paul Outside the Walls

We visited all of these today with the exception of Saint Paul which we will visit tomorrow.   We also visited a minor basilica, Saint Clement.  This Basilica dates back to the 4th century but the present upper part is from the 11th century.  Below the upper part are two levels - the 4th century Church and then ruins from a Roman home from the 1st century.

We have been to Saint Peter's a number of times this week but this morning, Father Richard Dion celebrated Mass for us in one of the crypt chapels - Irish Chapel of Saint Columba.  My fellow Irishman, Mr. Nelson, and I were very pleased we were having Mass in this chapel but I think the majority of our French Canadian friends would have liked something a little more Francophone!  It was a lovely chapel with a nice fresco on the back wall.  One of the pictures on the fresco was that of the tower of Glendalough, an ancient monastery founded by Saint Kevin of Ireland.  My son's name is Kevin so it meant a lot for me to see that.

Father Dion gave a nice homily in which he asked us to reflect on the questions, "Why are we here in Rome and what is God trying to tell us?"  I will try to unpack my thoughts on this later.

After Mass, we walked around Saint Peter's more and then decided to walk up into the cupola (the dome).  You don't have to go all the way to the top - you can stop halfway at the base of the dome if you're like me and are terrified of heights and open, narrow, spiral staircases with no way out.  So I stopped at the midway point while Mr. Mailloux, Mrs. Henning, Mr. Nelson, Deacon Charlie, and David Gagnon went to the very top.  Before they went on, we were able to stand inside the basilica looking down.  It blew my mind being that high up and seeing the interior of the basilica from that angle.  We were directly above the altar!

I guess it was pretty tight and narrow on the way to the very top with only a rope to hold on to at  the end of the climb.  But the view they had was magnificent.  Where I stayed was right on the same level as the statutes that are on the top of Saint Peter's and to be right next to them was exciting.  They look small from below but in person, they are about 15-20 feet high.

The rest of the morning was uneventful but later we visited Saint Clement, Saint John Lateran, Saint Mary Major, and the Scala Scanta.  Saint John Lateran is the pope's cathedral in his role as Bishop of Rome.  In addition to being the head of the whole Church, he also has direct responsibility for the Diocese of Rome, like Bishop McCormack in the Diocese of Manchester.  This Church is spectacular with beautiful statutes, an amazing altar, and gorgeous paintings.  After this we went across the street to a Church which contains the Scala Scanta - the holy stairs.  They say that they are the stairs Jesus climbed up to meet Pontius Pilate on Good Friday.  Helen, the mother of Constantine, had them sent from Jerusalem to Rome in the 4th century.  You can only go up the stairs on your knees...and there are 28 steps!  I did one and called it a day.  They were hard, wooden stairs and the people were not moving very quickly.  Mrs. Henning, Mr. Nelson, and David bravely completed all 28 however.

Saint Mary Major is beautiful as well but I must confess that I was a little too tired by this point to truly take it all in.  It was 7pm by now and we were all just exhausted from the walking and heat and took a cab back.  David fell asleep in the cab within 30 seconds.

Tomorrow is our last full day in Rome.  We're going to visit Saint Paul and do some last minute gift shopping.  It will be a quiet and reflective day.

If you're still reading by now, be sure to check out our Facebook page as Mrs. Henning posted pictures of Pope Benedict receiving the Trinity shirt!

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