The two days spent in Rome was dedicated to exploration. The more lively tourism meant congested streets and a constant lookout for petty pick pockets. These two days brought along some of the best learning experiences as our group explored the rich collection of art and the traditions of the Roman Catholic church. Let’s check it out.
During our two days of adventuring around the Roman side streets, we visited most of all the historically important destinations in the heart of Rome. There were a couple that particularly caught my eye. First, was the Pantheon.
Housed within great ancient monolithic Greek pillars, the structure was created as a temple to the gods of the planets. Even the architectural structure of the buildings was created to honor their gods. The pantheon was created to show how the clash between the circle and the square could come together in harmony. The building plays off the Vitruvian man who is superimposed between both a circle and a square to show the proportions of the ideal man. This ideal man and his position within the circle and the square is used in the architecture to show how the ideal man is place in the presence of his god. The idea back then was that man is the center of the universe and so it only makes sense to place them inside the two shapes and they look out upon the gods. Inside, the temple places even more importance on dialing in on the gods by its large open circular ceiling that acts as a portal to the heavens. Mans purpose here was to look up to the gods and the gods look back down on them with favor. This joining of the physical and celestial worlds shows why the building got its name, pan (all) theon (gods). Even more interesting was how the building served a dual function. With the open hole in the ceiling, the light from inside the pantheon helped to isolate individual droplets of water if it rained so that the viewer could marvel upon the gift of the gods. Then by good engineering, the water ran down the concave marble floor where it was drained into the Roman aqueducts.
Second, we found our way to the Forum for better understanding of ancient Roman culture. In this town center, gods, politics, military, treasury, women, and the law all had their place. Starting with the religious aspect was the use of large steps outside of the ancient churches that housed an alter on the steps for public displays of commitment to a god. Back in their time, connectivity with god was much different. For example, the emperor was believed to be able to achieve a godly form on earth. Further, they found that man could relate to gods because each god was sought to be in a bodily form. The political sphere was also important because politicians used the town square to gain support, study law, and pay tribute to the gods. The military aspect of the town square was an important one. Their thought back then was that warriors did not make good citizens and so, warriors marched into town, striped and bathed off the blood of war, and transitioned into fully functioning members of society. The treasury was one of the more important functions of the town center because as money made by the surrounding lands made its way to the city, the townspeople needed a way to sell, trade, and save their money. The creation of banks, currency, and accountants were all localized in the towns center. Even in their time, the women served an important purpose in the town square, they represented support for patrimony and even a building was dedicated to a school for virgins who were taught home making skills that made them eligible to be wed and to make a living through marriage if their family was not able to support them. Further, the law represented an important aspect in ancient Rome, housed in basilicas both civil and criminal law functioned in different quarters but were equally important to the development of culture and law and order in Rome. All of these important and interwoven aspects of the Roman culture worked hand in hand to support one of the greatest empires of all time.
Then, we visited the coliseum where we learned all about the ‘sport’ of their day. Created for the people, this stomping ground for circus, death, races, killings, and battles was the ultimate stage for entertainment. The stadium was brilliantly designed to allow for underground entrance through elevators and escapes through trap doors to amp up the excitement. Onlookers were seated similar to today. The ‘box seats’ or those closest to the action were reserved for the emperor and patrons. The next level up was for the half a percent of people who ruled over Rome. Then the third row was used to house Roman citizens and then dignitaries of other nations were placed above the citizens. Sadly, the use of slaves from all over the empire were sent to the coliseum to be slaughtered for sport and yet even some rose to gladiator status by becoming warriors and winning battles. Even though they were still slaves, they because similar to todays celebrities and idolized by the onlooking crowds. If ever pinned and at the sword of an opponent, the crowd was able to vote to save their beloved gladiator.
The conclusion of our trip took us to explore the Vatican City. Within its one mile radius of walls were some of my favorite sights. As we entered the museum of the vatican, we walked down a long hall that depicted the life of christ and the fruits of Rome in tapestry on either side. Then we went to the next hall full of maps. All of Italy was mapped out, hills and all. After the halls, one notable room was the paintings of Rafael. The four walls represented the four ways of thinkings. Philosophy, Law, Theology, and Poetry. In each of the paintings, Rafael depicted different artists of their craft as they studied or taught their preferred area of expertise. Shortly after, we entered the Sistine Chapel – the most important chapel in all of christiandom. Within its walls, the pope give easter mass and within the conclave the new pope is selected. The shape, width and depth, is as described in the book of Solomon. This chapel was made famous by the paintings of Michelangelo who wished to paint the coming to fruition of the old testament to the new testament. On the ceiling he depicts scenes from creation all the way to moses and on the sides are the life of Christ. The use of male nudes are used to show the hand of God in the creation of man and the centerpiece, the creation of Adam, add to this theme. The use of vibrant color and physical presence and movement make the piece come to life for the viewer and help us understand the beauty of creation. My only wish upon entering this space was that I could do it all by myself. Stripped of all the spectators and tourists, the room would have been much more of an experience.
Our last stop within the vatican, and one of my favorites, was St. Peters Basilica. Sitting at over 400 feet, the inside of the church is ominous to say the least. Upon entering I felt so small in the presence of such a holy place. However, this place helped me find insight into one of my most important revelations from the trip. As I walked through the doors into the house of God and followed the flow of dense tourists, I was reminded of the account of Christ in Mathew 21. When the Lord enters a temple, he is outraged by the selling of goods, exchange of money, and robbery that is going on all around him. He overturns all the tables and kicks out all the vendors. He says “It is written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer.’ But you are making it a den of robbers.” When I entered the basilica I saddened by all the robbing surrounding me. They were stealing the moment and its glory from Christ. They were being sold the lie that this was just another ancient building of the Romans. They were sold tickets into the house of God and yet they did not even pay tribute to the splendor of his house. Outside of the doors were vendors who sold trinkets and lies of who God really is. By becoming robbers, tourists and pilgrims alike missed out on the true splendor of the church. The opportunity to marvel at who God is and to understand how present he remains today. Through his gift of the Holy Spirit, we change from robbers to saints and do as Christ did. Utilize this space as a house of prayer and a house of healing.
After this insight into the life of Christ and getting to feel how he felt, we climbed to the top of the dome and overlooked Rome from above. I had a chance to reflect on my trip and to be thankful for what I had learned. More importantly, I had a chance to look over the city and enjoy the dreams that builders had strived for as they labored to build greatness.
Song of the Day:
On an Evening in Rome – Dean Martin
Photo of the Day: