It has been another beautiful day in the Eternal City. The local forecasters called for rain and it has remained sunny all day – some things, like predicting the weather, are international.
Since today is Saturday there was not a scheduled class, but Michael Schwartz led a “field trip” for anyone interested to the Trastevere section of Rome. This meant that I needed to be up and waiting on the bus by 6:45 AM. It also meant that I was going to travel alone to meet up with Dr. Schwartz and the others. I left early because this was a completely new section to me, located just west of the Tiber River and south of Vatican City.
I reached the agreed meeting spot with time to spare so I took advantage of the extra minutes by indulging in what would amount to three cups of cappuccino. Needed some more euros to tide us over for the weekend, I asked the barista owner for the nearest “bancomatic” or ATM. He was kind enough to walk me down the block and show me how to enter the bank in order to use the machine (I would have never figured this out because you have to slide your card along a reader outside the door, whereupon it opens automatically and leaves you securely inside to do your business).
Three students and one other professor joined Schwartz for the full day before us. Trastevere, according to guidebooks, is considered by its inhabitants as the most authentically Roman. I am not qualified to make a judgment call on that, but it was filled with picturesque narrow streets, may of which would open up into pleasant piazzas, including our first stop, the Piazza of Santa Maria in Trastevere (not to be confused with the Santa Maria della Scala, which I am sure was just a rogue breakaway church!!!).
According to local lore, the church was founded in the third century when Christianity was just another minority cult. The building as it stands today is mostly 12th century, with stunning, shimmering mosaics. One’s eyes are immediately drawn upward and in effect one’s thoughts are brought inward. As with every church we have visited worship is often a visual experience.
Next we walked a short distance of perhaps 50 or so yards and visited Santa Cecilia, patron saint of music as well as a martyr in AD 230. After the passage of many centuries her body was discovered in the Catacombs near our apartment and so in the 9th century this church was rebuilt where she is now buried. An altar canopy by Cambio as well as a sculpture by Maderno draw the visitor into the drama of meditation and reflection. The apse is a fine 9th century mosaic depicting the saints as well as the patron of the church with his distinguishing square halo. Many times throughout the day, including this very church, I wanted to break out in song but thought better of it!
Our next church was probably one of my favorites – San Francesco a Ripa. It is said that St. Francis of Assisi lived here in 1219. Along the nave is a breathtaking Bernini sculpture, the “Ecstasy of Beata Ludovicia Albertoni.” At this point words will only sound predictable, trite or cliché, so I am just going to say “wow.” For a better worded reflection, discuss this with Schwartz and he was dazzle your mind and heart as he discusses the Bernini’s use of marble, space, and place to created a transcendent opportunity.
We then made an upward climb to San Pietro Montorio, designed by Bermanit, the first architect of the famous St. Peter’s. This church was founded on the hill where it is presumed that Peter was crucified upside down. Schwartz guided us through its architectural features and their use in later church architecture. It reminds me that our church’s impressive rotunda was by no stretch original, and its own function serves many deeper purposes than just simply beautiful space.
As we exited we were treated with a bride and groom, newly united, leaving the chapel. Their proud families surrounded them with applause and, I assume, handfuls of risotto toasting their day. I wanted to follow them to the reception in hopes of finding a stack of chicken fingers, but the rest of the group prevailed otherwise. Instead we entered the chapel and looked upon the painting by Sebastiano, “Flagellation.” Just above it was a transfiguration painting. The eye moving from the altar to the paintings had the effect of mediating upon the suffering body and the transfigured body.
We continued to meander and hike upwards on the way to St. Peter’s Basilica. Since we will be visiting the Vatican Museum Monday I will save my thoughts until then.
When I got off my bus it was around 4 pm and I was glad to see my family again. One of the things I have enjoyed about this Sabbatical is that I have been able to be around my children and wife much more than usual, even if I am dragging them all over this city! We walked a few blocks to a nice little family owned restaurant and enjoyed a few dishes. Actually, Aaron discovered he does not like gorgonzola cheese, especially on his pizza! It is a good thing his brother and father will eat anything!
We capped the evening off – surprise – gelato. Amy and I passed on the gelato although we walk enough each day to more than compensate for all the extra calories!
I will think of you all as you worship. Zihna will do an outstanding job. Her presence has been a gift these nearly two years and she will be missed. Her sermon will be yet one more gift for First Baptist Church.
Peace be with you,