We headed for Saint Peter’s this cool, brisk Monday morning, thinking the lines might not be too long, but they were, winding through the arching portico onto the plaza where they zigzagged back and forth. We considered Plan B.
The Rome tour buses lined the main street feeding into the piazza, and we chose Roma Cristiana, a Stop-and-Go tour of the downtown area, the major sites and churches. This would give us an overview.
We climbed up to the open-air seats, slipped on our earphones, adjusted the volume, and chose our language. Soon we were rolling along the river on the border of the ancient district Trastevere, once home to Jewish merchants living close to the harbor and now a thriving area of restaurants and colorful neighborhoods. I made a note to return – I wanted to revisit Santa Maria, the major basilica, considered on par with the larger pilgrimage basilicas, and famous for its mosaic apse. I remembered the apse from years ago, a stunningly breathtaking wall of shimmering images. There was also Santa Cecilia, known for its interest and beauty, and San Francesco aRipa, marking the place where Saint Francis stayed when he was in Rome.
The bus crossed the river and headed into the Renaissance district of Rome, one of palaces and schools, past Saint Philip Neri’s church, Chiesa Nuova, between sixteenth century neighborhoods packed with Jesuit churches filled with Baroque masterpieces – painted ceilings, sculpture, marble and gold. The Pantheon was nearby, I remembered from my bus perch, and theTrevi Fountain, and we headed up the hill toward the Diocletian Baths which had also become a large church. This rebuilding over old Rome has always fascinated me, as I thought about the underground city or cities beneath my feet, and happy with the Christianizing of the pagan. No longer were maidens forced to martyrdom, no longer was one forced to worship the Emperor. At each Roman altar I give thanks to God for our freedom to believe.
The bus headed toward Maria Maggiore, the lovely golden basilica on the hill (maybe they are all on hills) housing not only a ceiling of Peruvian gold, but a first century Madonna said to have been painted by Saint Luke and a bit of Christ’s creche venerated under the High Altar. We will revisit Maria Maggiore for sure, one of our favorite spots in Rome.
We turned down the Via Merulana, the long straight street connecting MariaMaggiore with Saint John Lateran, the basilica attached to the Lateran Palace, once home of the Pope, and considered the seat of the Bishop of Rome. A giant Saint Francis stands in the park facing the basilica, his arms raised, for it was here that the Pope granted permission to form the Order of Friars Minor. I must return, I thought, for this year, in addition to being the Year of Saint Paul decreed by Pope Benedict XVI, is the 800thanniversary of the Franciscans. I will return and give thanks for Saint Francis and all those who have followed in his humble footsteps.
The bus made its way down the hill to the Colliseum and I pondered again the terrible thrust of history in the bloody first years of the Church.We wound around the Palatino, past Isola Tiberina with its pretty San Bartolomeo, and back to San Pietro. I wondered what the next few days would reveal, for with each visit to Rome I have encountered another miracle or mystery woven into the tapestry of its history, waiting to be seen.