Dec 20, 2014


First, I'd meant to include a "footnote" in my last update to explain the joke I started with, but I forgot. The letters SPQR ‎stand for the Latin phrase "Senatus Populusque Romanus" which was used from the days of the Roman Republic to demonstrate that  political sovereignty rested with the Senate and the Roman people. It fell into disuse during the reign of Constantine the Great, but was re-adopted later, somewhat desperately, to show the continuity of Rome with her days of strength and glory. (Wikipedia has more: )

The joke is that the Italian "translation" Sono Pazzi Questi Romani means, "These Romans are crazy." Obelix used to say this all the time in the Goscinny and Uderzo comics, and in the Italian translation, that's the exact phrase he used. (And if you've never read Asterix and Obelix, do yourself a favour and check them out! Doesn't matter which language, the translations are all brilliant.)

I arrived in Rome on Thursday and headed straight for the guesthouse operated by the Society of St Vincent de Paul. After a shower and a rest, I went out to explore the neighbourhood. Lots of hotels, a few embassies, and finally, a supermarket! I bought some food, but on the way back home I stopped off for dinner at an Eritrean restaurant. I hadn't eaten since breakfast, and walking through the supermarket made me realise just how hungry I was.

Friday I had breakfast with a few of the brothers and then headed off to the Vatican to get my pilgrim's credential stamped and receive the Testimonium of Pilgrimage. After that, I bought a mailing tube and posted this souvenir home. I spent the rest of the day at St Peter's Basilica. The lineup was long, but it was moving rapidly‎ and it only took half an hour to get through the security checkpoint.

When I entered the basilica, there were barriers up keeping visitors quite far back in the nave, and only slightly closer to the front of the church in the aisles. Pope Francis was speaking from the altar to seated VIPs, with several Swiss guards flanking the altar area. I have no idea what the occasion was, but as he finished speaking, a wave of applause filled the vast space. Not being able to see much at that point, I headed for the dome. Entrance to the basilica is free, but as at the Duomo in Milan, roof access cost €5 -- €7 if you wanted to use the elevator. 

The signage said there were 551 steps up, ‎and without my backpack on I handled them with ease. It was worth the climb. If I'd been thinking, I would have come later in the day to get the late afternoon light over the city for better photography, but the view was still spectacular.  I spotted snow on a few distant mountain peaks while standing in the hot Roman sunshine with my sleeves rolled up.  After walking around the viewing area on the dome, I headed back down to the roof. I was amused to see both a souvenir stand and a snack bar.

By the time I headed back down, the nave had been cleared of chairs. I wandered around a bit more and happened upon the stairs to the crypt quite by accident. I knew there had to be access to the lower levels, but I had no idea where.  ‎Public access was limited, but I was able to stand opposite the tomb of the Apostle, about 20 m from the relics of my patron saint.

Eventually I moved on, and emerged from the basilica in time for sunset. I thought about heading back up to the dome, but I was tired and hadn't eaten since breakfast. I started to walk back‎, enjoying the bustle and lights of a major city. Along the way, I bought some roasted chestnuts from a sidewalk vendor. [The first time I had roasted chestnuts was when my dad took me and my brother to watch the Leafs play at the Gardens in the 1970s. I don't remember who won, but I remember the chestnuts.]

‎I stopped at the outdoor/sporting apparel store I'd noticed in the morning and bought a vest. I'm not sure what to expect of January in the Balkans, but even in Italy it gets chilly when I'm not walking with a 13 kg backpack.

After that, I headed to the nearest Metro (subway) station.  When I was in Santhià and visited both Turin and Milan, I'd made the decision that my "pilgrimage" travels towards Jerusalem would be by foot as much as possible, but when visiting a city to see the sights, I'd take advantage of the local transportation. Since I had walked to St Peter's Basilica and collected my Testimonium, I felt justified in switching over to tourist mode.

Ah, but there's the thing! Rome has been inhabited for almost 24 centuries. (It's still a sweet young thing compared to Damascus and Aleppo, at 8000 years of continuous habitation, but neither of them are as vast as the Eternal City.) I'm planning to be in Bari on Monday. With the help of a priest who had lived in Rome before converting to Orthodoxy, I drew up a list of sites to visit. Even that small number of sites would ideally take a week, but at least it gave me something to work from, rather than being paralysed with indecision.

I spent Friday evening in my room with a (really inadequate) tourist map, a city guidebook, the list from Fr. David, and my phone's GPS app. My experience doing deliveries for so many years was an asset when planning my movements for the next few days!

Saturday morning over breakfast (Italian style {sigh}), my hosts were curious about my plans. I started listing off some of the churches I hope to visit, and even received help in locating one of them. A little later, one of the brothers ‎mentioned there is a Russian church a few blocks down the street. He wasn't sure of their schedule, as the information was only posted in Russian, but since it was only a ten minute walk away I decided to go and have a look and then double back to the Metro station to begin my day of church-hopping.

It turns out that the church is dedicated to St Nicholas the Wonderworker of Myra. Since the parish belongs to the Moscow Patriarchate, that means their patronal feast was December 19. As this fell on a Friday, the festal Liturgy was celebrated on December 20. I arrived during the first Great Ektenia, and stayed right through to the end of the memorials. (I had a schedule to keep, but I also have my priorities.)‎ I spoke with the priest afterwards, and tomorrow morning he'll hear my confession and I'll receive Holy Communion! 

It would have been nice to visit the scene of St Ignatius' martyrdom on the anniversary of his receiving his martyr's crown, but I plan to make the Colosseum my first stop after Liturgy‎ tomorrow. From there, I plan to visit several churches from the first millennium, and then perhaps try for the Lateran complex, depending on how much time I spend at St Mary Cosmedine, St Giorgios, and St Sabina in the ancient Greek quarter of the city.

That brings up another thing. The author of my Via Francigena guidebook writes, "Given the geographical dispersal of these buildings, Sigeric's must have been something of a whistle-stop tour – 'checking off' the churches one by one, much as a modern tourist might with sights on his or her 'must-see' list – even though he would have visited at least several of the churches on horseback."

I am not willing to do this. I'd rather experience one or two churches unhurriedly than say I "visited"‎ all the most important ones. After Liturgy this morning, I headed out to visit Sant'Agnese fuori  le Mura. As part of my visit, I took the guided tour of the catacombs beneath the church, and indeed the neighbourhood. There are 6 kms worth of catacombs connected to the tomb of the martyr St Agnes, above which the church was built. Given my propensity for seeking out nooks and crannies to explore, it's just as well there was a guide to keep me from wandering off and getting lost.

The mausoleum of St Constanza was next on my list, being as it is located on the other side of a large garden from St Agnes. When I walked up to the door, however, it was obvious I wouldn't be visiting just then. ‎The groomsmen standing at the door kept glancing worriedly towards the parking area, so I'm assuming the wedding was set to start almost immediately. It struck me as rather odd that a mausoleum church would be chosen as a wedding venue, but whatever. "Sono Pazzi Questi Romani."

Most of the churches I hope to visit over the next 40 hours are clustered together in different parts of the city, which makes visiting them that much easier. Even St Agnes "outside the walls" was close to another church I'd wanted to visit. My next stop was another church "outside the walls," but to the south of the old Roman walls rather than to the northeast. As ‎with St Agnese, the Basilica of St Paul has a nearby eponymous Metro station.

I didn't spend as much time at St Paul's as I did at St Peter's the day before, but I didn't rush my visit to the tomb of the Apostle. It was shortly after 3:00 when I hopped on the subway again. As with the previous two days, I realised I hadn't eaten lunch, and was feeling both tired and hungry. I stopped at the supermarket on the way back to basecamp and picked up a few things that I could carry in my small pack tomorrow.

And now I ought to prepare myself for Liturgy tomorrow morning. :-D

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