So, what do we make of Rome. Day one we arrived after an uneventful trip. It was a worrying start as our lift was not waiting and so we had to shell out for the trip to the hotel; that put us back a few euro! Still, we can get that back. Out hotel is the Hotel Trevi near the Trevi Fountain. It is a comfy wee place. On the first day we went exploring checking out the Fountain, which is always overflowing the tourists throwing coins in and making wishes. We then found the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and checked out the Pantheon. It was built just after Paul’s time, a temple to the gods of Rome. As Christendom took hold it became a church to Mary. It seems to me that Mary is bigger in Rome than Christ, which is most disconcerting for a Protestant. We then found out that MacDonalds is as nice here as anywhere, average!
After an early night, yesterday we did the crypts and catacombs. The catacombs were amazing. Over 60 underground burial chambers used by early Christians from the second century on. It is estimated that there are around 2m people buried there. Christians were permitted to bury their dead outside the city walls. However, if they went to the catacombs for worship, they could be martyred on the spot. The huge numbers is testimony to the courage of the early believers who were martyred, to the low life expectancy, and the high level of infant mortality. The burial slots are very small, a testimony to the shortness of the people of Rome of the time; men were around 5’ 3” and women under 5’. I was thrilled to hear that exposed babies who were left to die outside the city walls of ancient Rome were taken for a Christian burial by the first Christians. The burials of Christians did not follow the common pattern of cremation, indicative of early Christian belief in the literal resurrection of the dead. The tour guide stated that Christians now take a spiritual view of resurrection. I know that is true of many, but not of many like myself who believe in a bodily resurrection (cf. 1 Cor 15).
We also visited the Church of St Clemente, Clement of Rome from the late first century and early second century. It is an amazing site with three levels. The first is a 14th Century Basilica. The second was a 4th century Christian church. Underneath is a Roman apartment block which we walked through. Romans lived in apartments at the time of Paul’s visit. This interested me, and I wondered whether Paul was in such an apartment when he was imprisoned on his arrival in Rome (Acts 28:30-31). There was a room which was purportedly used for Christian worship. It was about 6m by 8m into which 50-70 men and women would crowd to worship Jesus. The 4th century basilica housed around 500, indicative of the change in mindset in Rome toward Christianity after Constantine. The reason for the burying of ancient ruins is the regular flooding of the Tiber.
Yesterday morning we walked through parts of the Forum, past the Colosseum, the Circus Maxima etc. We did not do the tour, we will do that tomorrow. A highlight was the Mamertime Prison which purportedly housed Paul and Peter. The truth of this we can’t be sure. Still, it is perfectly placed beside Nero’s Forum and could easily fit the bill for Phil 1:12-13.
The last place we visited yesterday was a church near our hotel. It was from a group of breakaway Franciscan monks in the 16th century who had decorated rooms with their bones! It was a deplorable place. A monument to the fickleness of existence and the need to use our lives wisely. The message was good, but it was revolting. I found nothing to redeem it. Neither did Emma.
Today we went on a bus tour visiting the Vatican Museum. It was an astonishing experience seeing all the statues, gods, and amazing artwork; especially the Sistine Chapel. What a place. I found myself in a state of conflict. Jesus was submerged beneath Popes and Mary. I found myself torn with the glory of the art, and what seems rather dubious theologically. Much thought required here.
So far, extremely interesting. Paul seems lost here though. I want to find him, but there is little to find.