Monday, March 31, 2014

Monday of Fourth Week: Santi Quattro Coronati

Well after this weekend, my bracket is officially busted.  Blast...  Heartbreaking that both state teams went down the same day.  Can't dwell on it too much or it'll ruin my day!  In other news, a quick note that I bought my plane ticket home yesterday.  So it's official, June 13th I'll be back in the Mitten!  Woot woot!  Now onto regularly scheduled programming.

Santi Quattro Coronati

Today we had a bit of a surprise at the church of the Four Crowned Saints.  Italy lags a bit behind the States, so we just 'sprung forward' last weekend.  Nice that we have some extended daylight in the evenings now, but we're back to walking in the dark to our daily station church.  I think today's church may have been our farthest walk yet; Four Saints is located just a bit beyond the basilica of San Clemente, which is already way out past the Colosseum.

So when we arrived at this old church, we discovered there was a power outage in that neighborhood of the city because no lights were on.  Since it was still before sunrise, the church was lit up with candles instead.  I believe the hip description for that would be, "rustic and vintage".  Actually it was really cool, it's a very different atmosphere in the candlelight.
Digital cameras have a really hard time taking low light pictures.  That top one is about how dark it was when I walked in, but the window light in the sanctuary is overexposed in the picture, so imagine a more subdued twilight coming through instead.  I sat down in the back and took a long shutter shot of the sanctuary, so the second pic much brighter than real life, but you can get an idea of the space.

The story of this church's title actually comes from two groups of folks.  Both groups were martyrs during the Roman persecutions (like practically every other church we've seen!).  The first group were four soldiers, Severus Victorinus, Carpophorus, and Severinus, who refused to take part in pagan worship and were killed for this in the persecutions of the Emperor Diocletian.  The second group was made up of five stonemasons, Claudius, Nicostratus, Sempronianus, Castor, and Simplicius, who were put to death for their refusal to carve a statue of the god Asclepius which would be used for pagan worship.

The oldest parts of the current building come from the fourth century.  Around the 630 Pope Honorius I dedicated the first church on this site, which was restored by Pope Hadrian I in the late eighth century.  A century later Pope Leo IV undertook a more complete rebuilding and placed the relics of many martyrs in a crypt beneath the main altar, including those of the four soldiers and the five stonemasons.

Along with many other building in the area, this church sustained heavy damage during the Norman invasion of 1084, so Pope Paschal II rebuilt the church, retaining the previous apse but making the new nave markedly smaller; he consecrated it in 1116.  In 1560 Augustinian nuns took up residence here, where they have remained up to the present day.  The apse fresco comes from the 1620s, which was the last major renovation / redecoration of this church.  Beneath the apse fresco are additional frescoes that depict the suffering, death, and burial of the soldiers and stonemasons.  One other random fact: the skull of St. Sebastian is found in a small niche above the altar on the left side of the sanctuary (the one you always see depicted in art tied to a pole with arrows shot into his body).
 You walk through two courtyards to get to this church.  The inner courtyard used to be part of the nave before it was rebuilt.  Walking out was a nice view of the sunlight coming through the entrance, and a nice shot of the cloister facade that is attached to this church.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Friday of Third Week: San Lorenzo in Lucina

We've made it to another Friday.  Feels good!  Let's get right to it:

San Lorenzo in Lucina

This is the third station church yet which is dedicated to our friend Saint Lawrence the deacon. Lucina and Panisperna (Thursday, first week) we've seen, and last Sunday's station church was the basilica of Saint Lawrence outside the Walls.  Next week we'll go to a fourth church named after him.  This dude was popular back in his day!

The name Lucina comes from the Roman landowner and donor of the property for this church.  Lucina lived in her large apartment on this spot during the early Imperial period, which at the time was located nearby the famous Ara Pacis.

The Ara Pacis Augustae was a monument commissioned by the Roman senate in 13 BC to honor the return of Augustus to Rome after three years of conquest in Hispaniola and Gaul.  Four years later in 9 BC it was consecrated by the Roman senate to celebrate the peace that Augustus brought to the Roman Empire with his military victories.  It stood, however, in the flood plain of the Tiber river (though originally it was guarded from this by a wall), and over the centuries the Ara was buried under about 15 feet of silt.  It was rediscovered in the 20th century and relocated a few blocks north, still in pristine condition; it has its own museum now where you can go and see it.

But back to St. Lawrence.  The first basilica on this site was built by Pope Sixtus III in the mid 430s.  That church stood until 1084 when it, too, (like San Clemente which we saw Monday last week) suffered fire damage from the Norman invasion of the city.  The restored church was dedicated by Pope Anacletus II in 1130.  The nave was originally flanked on either side by aisles, but during the 17th century these were both converted into four side chapels a piece which opened to the nave.  Blessed Pope Pius IX did some more renovating in the mid 19th century to bring the church to the look that we have today.

This last photo is of the altar in the first side chapel on the right, when you enter this church.  Inside that box is part of the gridiron on which St. Lawrence was grilled.  St. Lawrence, pray for us!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Thursday of Third Week: Santi Cosma e Damiano

Today was a drizzly morning for the station church walk.  I guess we could consider it a 'rainy' day b/c I needed my umbrella, which means the official rain-free streak has been put asunder.  But I suppose the same thing happened as well on Monday morning with St. Mark's...kinda.  So maybe that streak was snapped on Monday.  At any rate, having only two semi-rainy mornings thus far is much better than it could be!  So I'll take it.

Santi Cosma e Damiano

The basilica of Saints Cosmas and Damian sits on the site of the ancient Roman Forum, a few hundred yards down from the Colosseum.  Its patrons were two brothers who lived during the late third century in Syria.  As medical professionals they used their skills to heal people without seeking payment for their work.  The two were martyred around 303 AD during the Diocletian persecutions in the city of Aegea, then a part of Roman Syria.  They were convicted for their faith before a tribunal and were tortured before being decapitated.  Their relics were later brought to the city of Cyr before being transferred to Rome during the time of Pope St. Gregory the Great (+604).

Some of the foundation walls where this basilica is built date as far back as Emperor Vespasian (ruled 69 - 79).  Pope Felix IV (+530) modified the Roman building there to convert it into a Christian place of worship.  The apse mosaics which we see today come from that time as well (nifty!).
This is the side entrance to the church, so it doesn't look like much of a church from this angle.
We walked through a small courtyard of an attached Franciscan cloister before entering the basilica.
I was really surprised when I walked in.  This church is really short and squat.  The last picture is taken almost from the very back.  There is room enough for about 60-70 people in the pews, so half of us lined the rear and side chapels.  The art in here is beautiful though, especially the apse mosaic (6th century) and the high altar (17th century) with a Madonna and Child icon from the 13th century.

In the mosaic, Christ in the middle stands on the River Jordan and is flanked by Ss. Peter and Paul who are presenting Cosmas and Damian to the Lord.  The two brothers each hold a crown, symbols of their victory for Christ, while the palm trees in the image are symbols of martyrdom.  Pope Felix is all the way on the left, holding in his hand the church he established

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Wednesday of Third Week: Sant' Andrea della Valle

Today we're taking a detour.  The originally listed station church, San Sisto, was not available to us due to renovations.  So we went off to Sant Andrea della Valle instead.  I love this church!  It's so beautiful.  Plus its patron is St. Andrew, who is my Confirmation saint.

Sant' Andrea della Valle

I don't have much on this church since it is not part of our Procedamus station church booklet, but I can fill in a few details (thank you Google).  This church is super new in the scheme of things.  Its construction only began in the year 1590 and it was completed 60 years later.  The Baroque facade which you see today was added a few years after its dedication, between 1655 and 1663.  The duchess of Amalfi, Donna Costanza Piccolomini d'Aragona, bequeathed her palace and the adjacent church of San Sebastiano on this site to the religious order of the Theatines for the construction of a new church.  Amalfi's patron saint is St. Andrew, and so this church was planned in his honor.

The Theatines are also known as the Congregation of Clerks Regular of the Divine Providence.  They were founded by St. Cajetan and his companions on May 3, 1524, and were approved by Pope Clement VII only a few months later on June 24.  Their order sought to reform the life of both clergy and lay faithful with a call to greater conversion and the practice of virtue.  The order quickly became quite successful, and this church was one of the early fruits of its labors.

There are tons of beautiful things to see in this church, definitely one to put on the list.  But the ambiance is quite unique compared to other Baroque churches because all the windows along the vaulted ceiling and in the apse are stained a light yellow.  So when you walk in on a sunny day you see the whole place flooded with yellow light -- the effect is worth a good look.


Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Tuesday of Third Week: Santa Pudenziana

Happy Solemnity of the Annunciation!  This feast is fun because it's also a bit clever.  If Jesus is born for us every December 25, what happens 9 months before that day?  Yup, today on March 25th Mary says 'yes' to God and so the Holy Spirit brings a bun for the oven.  The official 'Incarnation Day' of God is worth celebrating as a Church!  The feast is called the Annunciation because God's plan of salvation came to us through the announcement of the archangel Gabriel to Mary.  See, it all makes so much sense.

I'll try to keep today's post short and sweet; these things can start to snowball if you're not careful.  Our Tuesday station church takes us almost all the way out to Santa Maria Maggiore again.  A fair bit of walking.  But thankfully the weather was cooperative -- it didn't start raining until about 10am.

Santa Pudenziana

The namesake of this church begins with a Roman senator named Pudens (possibly the same Pudens mentioned by Paul in 2 Tm 4:21).  What interesting names they all had back then.  Pudens had two daughters, Pudentiana and Praxedes.  His daughters (like St. Cecilia's husband St. Valerian and his brother St. Tiberius) collected the remains of the Christian martyrs and laid them to rest in a well within their home, which sat on the spot of this church.  By the end of the 4th century there was a  bath hall standing over the remains of their house which was renovated and expanded to become instead a church for Christian worship.

That church included the current rear apse which you see can below.  And in that apse is a mosaic which hails all the way back from the time of the church's initial expansion and renovation.  Whoa!  This makes it one of the only mosaics from the late 4th / early 5th century that has survived to the present day.  The difference with the latter mosaics found in other churches in the city is striking: instead of the gilded and stylized Byzantine appearance from churches a few centuries after this one (like the apse mosaics of A LOT of the churches we have seen), here we have a mosaic expressing a truly Roman style of art with figures all dressed in the style of ancient Rome.

The beautiful and important part about this church is that the house on which it stands, Senator Pudens' house, was also the welcoming and living place of St. Peter for at least six years while Peter guided the Church in Rome.  It is therefore generally believed that this spot is the first place Peter ever celebrated the Mass in Rome.



Monday, March 24, 2014

Monday of Third Week: San Marco

And here we go, week three.  The faithful remainder of Roman station church seminarians continues to slowly dwindle.  Lol.  Keep praying for me!  I have not missed one yet.  Although between the priests, seminarians, and college kids abroad / professionals abroad that are doing this with us, I'd say we are still holding strong at about 150 a day.  The Lenten station churches have been a great teacher about Christian spirituality and human growth.  This is the part where I'm going to use this post to preach to myself because it's late and I'm tired.  The basic idea I have found to be true is this: that when seeking to grow closer to God (as we do especially in this Lenten season), the human spirit is not so much deterred by the idea that sacrifice will be necessary, but it is always confronted by the measure of its willingness to suffer.

Uhhh. What?  So now let me give you my concrete example; it shall all become clear.  During Lent, one may decide to chase after the Lord with greater fervor by attending weekday station church Masses in the city of Rome.  In fact, the human spirit is so enamored with hope and so encouraged to 'run the race' and 'win the imperishable crown', that the foreknowledge of necessary sacrifices (like consistently losing sleep and walking an extra few miles every day) do not hinder or dampen its fervor.  In fact, one even finds excitement at the thought of doing battle for the Lord and meeting these sacrifices with God's grace.

So then what happens?  Well, one is inevitably confronted by the reality of those sacrifices, which slowly but surely attempt to overwhelm the spirit and cause it to turn back from its goal.  The plot thickens... It's harder to wake up.  The body is sore.  The legs are tired.  The mind is tired.  All the 'fun' is gone.  It is at this point that we meet an important spiritual juncture.  One sees the true measure of one's own willingness to suffer for the goal it has set before itself, and the drama of nature vs. grace, of conversion and salvation -- that drama unfolds, that battle is waged every morning in the heroic minute when the alarm goes off... again.

Amazing, salvation is won and lost in the simple and oh-so-ordinary moments when one decides, for example, whether to put his feet on the ground, or simply snooze the alarm and roll over.  Lol, now is this all just a pinch melodramatic?  Probably.  But kinda not.  The plain-Jane point is that, as with most things in life, there are talkers, and there are walkers, and there is a world of difference between the two.  We gotta be walkers.  We gotta be.  The apostle James calls it being a 'doer of the word'.

And the game changer of it all, the difference between talking and walking, that's love (or as Frankie Sinatra says it, that's amore).  Why?  Because love is the only force in the entire universe that has the power to transform suffering into something meaningful.

When we love something we are willing to suffer for it, and in fact, in the context of love, a mountain of suffering looks to us like a bump in the road.  So when mom gets up at 2am every morning for months to feed and calm baby, that's no small suffering for mom.  But mom loves baby so deeply that the suffering of lost sleep and a weary body is nothing in comparison to the joy of holding flesh of her flesh and bone of her bone.  So what am I saying, really.  Brian, only that it's time you keep on running that race.  I love God, and you wanna know what, these station churches have been awesome.

Man oh man I am sorry you haven't heard anything about Saint Mark's today; it was quite nice, the columns in the nave were just beautiful, made from Sicilian jasper.  I hope this bit of rambling will hold you over until tomorrow.  I'll at least leave you with the pics, which were disappointing because the lighting was so low that I couldn't get a great shot.  So actually I'll give you one that another guy took with a better camera.  Yeah that works.  Enjoy!  Oh yeah, and happy vigil of the Solemnity of the Annunciation!


Friday, March 21, 2014

Friday of Second Week: San Vitale

Hey, we made it!  Happy Friday everyone.  How is your NCAA bracket holding up?  Alas, I will not be winning $1 billion of Warren Buffet's wealth.  But let's be real, it's a safe bet to make when the odds of actually shelling out that kind of money are more than 1 in 9 quintillion.  So if every single person on the earth filled out approximately 1,300,000,000 unique brackets, and no bracket in the whole world was a duplicate, then ONE bracket of the entire lot would win a billion bucks.  Oh well, it was a good run.  The great thing about sports is, "there's always next year!".

So let's talk about today's station church.  We leave Trastevere to go back in the direction of my theology school, the Greg; except walk past it for about another half mile and you get to San Vitale.  Like yesterday at Santa Maria, this church has an interesting connection to our elder brother England.

San Vitale

We go back in time to 1535 and make our way to one of the dungeon chambers of the Tower of London.  Inside is John Fisher, the Catholic bishop of the diocese of Rochester, who is imprisoned there for his refusal to accept King Henry VIII's First Succession Act (and shortly before his death, also the Act of Supremacy).

Henry wanted to annul his marriage to Queen Catherine of Aragon b/c she was not producing a male heir for the Tudor dynasty; he also had his eyes set on Anne Boleyn, a young woman in the queen's entourage.  The king appealed to Pope Clement VII for a declaration of nullity, which was never granted... and so what does one do when one wants one's own way?  One makes oneself one's own moral authority.

A couple things happen in succession...Henry leaves Catherine, deceptively convinces the pope to approve his buddy Thomas Cranmer as Archbishop of Canterbury, then secretly marries Anne.  She becomes pregnant, so he publicly marries her, then sets up a special court wherein Cranmer declares his marriage to Catherine invalid and afterward declares his marriage to Anne valid.  John Fisher openly opposes the king's divorce, which upsets Henry and begins John's troubles. 

The king proceeded to pass the First Succession Act in March 1534, by which the king could compel any person to take an oath of succession, acknowledging the progeny of Henry and Anne as legitimate heirs to the throne.  John Fisher refused the oath and was imprisoned in April 1534.  Later in November, Henry put the Act of Supremacy through the English parliament, which declared him to be "the only supreme head on earth of the Church of England"; those who denied this, by the way, would be considered guilty of treason.  Fisher rejected the king's supremacy in early May 1535 from his prison cell in the Tower of London, affirming his allegiance to the pope and the supremacy of the See of St Peter.  For this he would be quickly tried and convicted of treason.
And this is what finally brings us to our station church!  Also in May of 1535 the newly elected Pope Paul III, in an effort to save John, elevated him to the honor of cardinal and assigned to him the church of San Vitale as his titular church in Rome.  Upon hearing this, King Henry declared that, rather than send the red hat to England (as cardinals wear red), he would send the bishop's head to the pope!  And this Henry did.  Well, he didn't mail John's head, but he had the bishop beheaded on the 22nd of June and hung his head from the London Bridge for two weeks (at which time it was thrown into the Thames and replaced with Sir Thomas More's head).

Well all that wasn't really saying too much about our station church, but it is interesting nonetheless!

St. Vitalis is the patron of this church, a(nother) martyr during the Roman persecutions of the early 2nd century.  Two large paintings which hang on the left and right walls just before the sanctuary depict his martyrdom: he was tortured on the rack before being buried alive.  His wife and sons were also martyrs, Ss. Valeria, Gervasius and Protasius.  A small oratory was built on this site in the late 4th century dedicated to Vitalis' sons.  Later in the 5th century Pope Innocent I built a larger church here with the help of a wealthy widow named Vestina, who upon her death left all her money for this purpose.  By the seventh century it began being referred to as St. Vitalis and was the last-built church to be included on the original list of titular churches of Rome.

Let's take a gander at a few photos of San Vitale to finish 'er up:
San Vitale is accessed by a flight of stairs, which is necessary b/c the street level was raised in the late nineteenth century.  Gives you an idea of just how much Rome has been continually built on top of itself!


Thursday, March 20, 2014

Thursday of Second Week: Santa Maria in Trastevere

We're almost there!  Anybody with me?  Thursday is my long day, besides these three hours of oasis in the middle of the day, I am fully 'occupato' with something straight through from 6am - 10pm.  Sometimes the best we can do is hold on for dear life and say, Come on Friday!!  Lol.  But it's good; better to be busy than to be bored... and it makes Fridays extra nice.

Santa Maria in Trastevere

We're sticking it out in the Trastevere neighborhood again today.  Not quite as far a walk as St. Cecilia, this church named after our Virgin Mother stands on the site of a spring of oil which came forth from the ground in 38 BC.  It was linked to the coming of the Savior into the world and in the early third century became the site of a house church established by Pope Callixtus I (while Christianity was still illegal).  The pope himself would be cast into a nearby well in 223 for professing the Christian faith.

After the legalization of the faith, Pope Julius I (+352) built a basilica here to replace the house church.  This basilica was nearly destroyed by fire in the sack of Rome in 410 by the Visigoths (an event which, on an unrelated note, became an inspiration for St. Augustine to write one of his most famous works, City of God ).  Eight centuries later Pope Innocent II decided to demolish it and build a new church, so the new construction proceeded from 1139 until 1181, when it was finished and rededicated.
The statues you see above the outer porch (which was built in 1702) depict Ss. Callixtus, Cornelius, Julius I, and Calepodius, all of whose relics rest beneath the high altar.  Pope Innocent II is also buried here half way up along the left aisle.  You can find by looking at the columns in the nave that they have all been recycled from the ruined buildings of ancient Rome (as has been the customary practice around here for ages!  Just look at the Colosseum).

The mosaic in the apse, from the twelfth century, depicts Christ and the Virgin Mary flanked by Ss. Peter and Paul, all the saints mentioned above, plus St. Lawrence the Deacon, who we saw the other day, the one burned alive on a gridiron.  Another Catholic Englishman, Henry Cardinal Stuart, sponsored the adornment of one of the side chapels up near the sanctuary in the mid 18th century, and so you will find his coat of arms above the door to the chapel.  He was the duke of York and the last Catholic claimant to the English throne.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Wednesday of Second Week: Santa Cecilia in Trastevere

Happy Solemnity of St. Joseph!  One of the great days during the Lenten season, when we get to feast instead of fast.  Woohoo!  Thank you St. Joseph..  In Italy they have their own sweet doughnut-y recipe that comes out today.  They're called zeppole di San Giuseppe, doughnut-sized deep-fried dough balls topped with powdered sugar and a custard-type cream on the inside.  Basically, the Italian version of the paczki which we eat on Fat Tuesday.  Delicious.  Although on a side note, I have found out since coming to Rome that eating paczki on Fat Tuesday is apparently a Michigan thing.  Nobody outside of our state knows about these things!  That's too bad.  More sweets for us!

Santa Cecilia in Trastevere

Today's station church is found in the Trastevere neighborhood of Rome.  It is west of the Tiber and a bit south of St. Peter's.  Luckily for us, that means it's much closer to the NAC, so this morning I enjoyed 15 more minutes of sleep.

St. Cecilia is a wonderful wonderful saint.  She is the patroness of musicians, and in Christian art is very often pictured with a musical instrument (typically an organ or viola).  Although I would like to know more about that, since she was alive way before organs and violas existed.

Cecilia was a Roman maiden of the early third century engaged to be married to a pagan named Valerian.  After their marriage, she brought him to Pope Urban I and following this meeting, Valerian had a vision which led him to convert.  The conversion of his brother Tiberius would soon follow, and subsequently the two began burying the remains of the Christian martyrs.  This of course attracted the suspicion of Roman authorities, who demanded that they sacrifice to a statue of Jupiter.  They refused and so were beheaded.  Cecilia was next arrested and condemned to suffocation in the bath of her house.  Miraculously the suffocation did not harm her, so the Romans decided to cut off her head, too.

Alas, after three strikes of the ax she was wounded but not killed.  Roman law forbade more than three strikes, so she was left there to die of her wounds.  Cecilia persisted for three days but in that time was visited by Urban.  She gave over her possessions to the Church and asked that her home be turned into a place of worship of God.  This brings us to the spot upon which today's church is built.
You enter the courtyard of Santa Cecilia through this archway, built in 1724 by Ferdinando Fuga.
In the latter half of the 300s, the first shrine to this saint was built on St. Cecilia's home.  Pope St. Paschal I (+824) replaced it with a proper basilica, at which time her remains and those of her companions were moved here from the catacombs of St. Callistus.  She is buried with Ss. Valerian, Tibertius, and the Popes Ss. Urban I and Lucius I.

When you enter the church and move directly to the right, you come to the Chapel of the Caldarium, which is built over the bath of the house of St. Cecilia where the Romans tried to suffocate her.  Per usual, many centuries of renovations give the church its present appearance.  Some items of note: the mosaic in the apse (sorry it looks really green) is from the ninth century.  The campanile outside and exterior porch were built a little further on in medieval times.  Also from this time is the tall Gothic covering thing over the high altar.  It's called a ciborium or a baldacchino (it's quite beautiful up close), and it was completed in 1293 by Arnolfo de Cambio, who also did the ciborium for St. Paul Outside the Walls.

But the real artistic treasure of this church is beneath the altar.  It is a marble statue of St. Cecilia sculpted by the artist Stefano Maderno right around the year 1600.

Stefano was present when St. Cecilia's tomb was last opened in 1599.  Amazingly, she was found to be in an incorrupt state, and the following year Stefano sculpted this statue which depicts the position of Cecilia's body in death.  You can see the gash wound on her neck, but despite the violence done her, she still appears to sleep peacefully.  Always a great reminder of the final resurrection which awaits all of us, so thank God for Lent when we can work a little harder at getting ready for that day.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Tuesday of Second Week: Santa Balbina

Today we take another walk down past the Circus Maximus to a little church on the side of the Aventine hill, near the ancient Roman baths of Caracalla.  It is named after the daughter of Quirinus, a tribune of the Roman army in the early second century.  Her statue is among the 140 saints that line the top of St. Peter's colonnade.

Balbina and her father converted to Christianity after Pope Alexander I prayed for a miraculous cure from illness on her behalf.  The cure came after she followed Alexander's directive to find and kiss with devotion the chains of St. Peter.  Balbina and Quirinus were both martyred later on for their conversions; one account puts their martyrdom together in 116 under Trajan, others put hers much later in 130 by Emperor Hadrian.

Santa Balbina

This church is located over the home of Lucius Felix Cilonus, a wealthy Roman of the early fourth century.  His residential complex came into Christian hands and the large hall on his property was converted into a church.  Its wall were raised in 370 to give it the basic shape it still has today.

The layout has remained quite simple and austere, as it was from the beginning.  Its apse was rebuilt in the medieval period, and the exterior porch was added in the late sixteenth century.  The baroque fresco in the apse depicts St. Balbina (bottom center, I believe) in the glory of heaven, whose relics, by the way, are held in the marble casket underneath the main altar.  The other cool thing in this church is in the fourth side-chapel on the right, which contains an image of the Crucifixion.  This image was saved during the demolition of the original St. Peter's basilica (built by the Emperor Constantine) and brought here.

On an unrelated note, I put together a map of the station churches in Rome we've visited thus far.  I'll be updating it and reposting it every week or two so you can follow the progress.  You can take a look below.  Today's church is the southern-most marker on the map -- a nice little walk!

- The light blue markers are the churches we've seen in these blog posts.
- The orange markers are the Saturday / Sunday station churches.
- The gray lines are my walking paths from the College to the day's station.
- The orange line is the approximate layout of the ancient Aurelian walls of Rome, for perspective.
- The black line is approximately 1 km, also for perspective.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Monday of Second Week: San Clemente

Happy St. Patrick's Day everyone!  It's fitting that today we visit this particular station church, because its caretakers are the Irish Dominicans.

So during the 40 days of Lent, the priest always wears purple vestments.  I was hoping that we might just be able to substitute them for green vestments in honor of everyone being Irish today.  But alas, no such luck!  If only St. Patrick's Day were on April 1...

On the other hand, today's station church is one of my favorites in the whole city of Rome!  Actually it tends to be on many people's short lists, given its history and its interior beauty.  Amidst the several hundred churches you will find in Rome, this would be one of those particularly worth seeing. 
Basilica of San Clemente

Saint Clement's basilica has a long-standing history.  It is named after Saint Clement of Rome, the fourth pope (92 - 99 AD) who was martyred by order of Emperor Trajan.  He was first banished to present-day Crimea, Ukraine for converting over 400 Romans of official rank.  So Clement merely continued his evangelization work in exile, converting the locals and shooting fire from his fingertips.  For this Trajan sentenced Clement to death and he was thrown into the sea with an anchor around his neck.  Perhaps the Black Sea?  I'm not sure, but that's why in Christian art you often see St. Clement posing with an anchor.

In the following years, a major recession of the tide and a lowering of the water table level allowed his relics with the anchor to be recovered and buried nearby, where they would be later found by St. Cyril in 867.  This is the Cyril we talked about earlier, the one who made the Cyrillic alphabet and converted the Slavic people to Christianity.  Cyril returned these relics to Rome, where they were laid in this basilica next to St. Ignatius of Antioch under the high altar by Pope Adrian II (Ignatius was martyred 107 AD by being fed to wild nice).  He (Cyril) died two years later in 869 and his own relics were enshrined in St. Clement's basilica as well.

The church on this site actually began as a 'home' church in the 3rd century because Christianity was still illegal at that point (the home itself was built in the 1st century).  About 100 years later in 390, after Christianity has been legalized, an official basilica was built over the house, which was later renovated in 533-35.  The stone half-walled-in thing you see on the central floor area in the second picture (called a schola cantorum), all that part comes from the sixth century renovation and has survived to today.  We know this because you can find on it the monogram of its donor, Pope John II (reigned 533-35).

The 390 basilica was sacked and ruined by the Norman invasion of 1084 (though not everything was lost, like the schola cantorum), and so the rubble was spread out over the floor and a new church built on top of it.  That's the church you see today, which was rededicated upon its completion in May of 1128.  The beautiful gold-looking mosaic apse you see is from the 12th century; the fresco of the Apostles below it and other frescoes were added in the 15th century, and further renovations would happen in the 18th century, including the coffered ceiling you see in the second photo.  So this church is Exhibit A of 1400 years of church art and architecture.

Excavations of the foundations and crypt were started in 1857 and much of the history of this basilica was rediscovered.  Today you can walk down into the 4th century basilica, and then walk down again into the 1st century Roman house.  Which, by the way, certainly gives all-new meaning to the term 'underground church'.  Lol.  On that note, a corny joke is the best way to end a blog post.  See you tomorrow!

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Friday of First Week: Santi Dodici Apostoli, Part II

I'm back!  What a great weekend.  For those who missed the previous post, I headed out of Rome Friday afternoon for a town a bit north called Spoleto to chill out with my classmates on our yearly 'class travel weekend'.  About 60 of us altogether.  As it turns out, the drive was a bit longer than Google maps told me it would be (and I thought Google knew everything?).  But that was perfectly fine since it meant more zzz's on the bus.  This all made me thankful for spending my childhood driving to Florida every year to visit Grandma and Grandpa: you get real' good at learning to nap whilst sitting up.

At any rate, I knew I wouldn't have time to finish a post about Friday's station church, so I promised to post it today instead.  Therefore here it is!

Santi Dodici Apostoli

The nice thing about Italian is that it often uses cognates, if not with English then at least with Latin, so you may have already guessed that Friday's station was the basilica of the Holy Twelve Apostles.  This one is RIGHT next to the Gregorian where I go to school.  Another gem of the city, it has a bit of an interesting history (lol, just like every other church we've come across so far).

The earliest record of a church dedicated to the Holy Apostles dates from the time of Julius I in the mid-fourth century, built down by Trajan's Forum.  Apparently it didn't last long, because Pope Pelagius I built version 2.0 on the current site of this church in the mid 500s; it was finished and dedicated by Pope John III in 570.  At this time, the relics of the apostles Saint Philip and James the Lesser were placed underneath the main altar.  It lived in peace until 1348 when a massive earthquake damaged it significantly.  Pope Martin I in 1421 started a reconstruction and restoration, and then again Sixtus IV during 1471-84.  This church was given over to the care of the Franciscan order in 1463, and they still staff it to this day.  They did lots more things and stuff re: new construction in the early 1700s, a new facade in 1827, and a new confessio (a sort of crypt underneath the main altar) in 1871-79.  That basically takes us to what we see today when we walk in and see it in person.

But let's talk a bit about the history of this church's entourage.  500 years back, during the Italian Renaissance, the Colonna family lived next door to this church, one of the most powerful in Rome.  They were quite famous for their lavish parties with fountains of wine and gleaming gold and silver decorations.  The spacious piazza in front of this church and the family mansion (Piazza Santi Apostoli) made for good times and large crowds.  So they used to do some other interesting stuff to entertain themselves, like throw barnyard fowl from the Colonna palace loggia (loggia is a central upper-story balcony) onto the crowd in the piazza below.  The piazza was also famous in this time as the place of all the best street fights between battling factions of the city struggling for power.

Centuries later in the early eighteenth century, the Stuart family -- the last Catholic royal family of Great Britain -- lived in exile in Rome right next to Santi Apostoli after a failed attempt to retake the throne.  King James III took up residence at the Palazzo Muti for 40 years, where his son Charles III would be born.  He would pray in this basilica every day and at his death he was laid here in state, afterward being buried in Saint Peter's!

Besides Ss. James and Philip, we find lots of martyrs buried here: Ss. Sabinus and Clement; Ss. Eugenia and Claudia and companions; and Ss. Diodorus, Marcian, Chrysanthius, and Daria.  Always a beautiful testimony that reminds us our home is not here, and it's worth giving everything to receive the kingdom which is not of this world.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Friday of First Week: Santi Dodici Apostoli

Hey, we made it!  We're at the end of the first full week of Lent.  Phew!  This weekend I'm heading out of town with my 60 classmates to the little town of Spoleto, about a 90-minute drive north of Rome.  It's our fraternity weekend, which means I'm taking zero homework along.  I'll be sleeping in, listening to some good tunes, taking a walk or three around town and enjoying the company of brotherhood.  It shall be, as they say, good times!

But the thing is, we're leaving right now.  Ain't nobody got time for nothin' more.  So I shall be finishing this post when I return on Sunday.


Thursday, March 13, 2014

Thursday of First Week: San Lorenzo in Panisperna

Today's church is in the exact same direction as St. Mary Major, except about a block closer to the College.  No worries, though, that's still a fair 40 minute walk!  Although we do a bit of a speed walk in the mornings (no use entering a station church during Lent without perspiration) so we got there in about 34 minutes.  I only know because I checked my watch at departure and arrival.

This little guy is just a small chapel compared to yesterday's church.  In fact, we didn't even all fit in it for Mass!  Half of us were standing along the aisles and in the back, and about 20 guys were standing outside the front entrance.

San Lorenzo in Panisperna

This church is named after the deacon St. Lawrence who was martyred on this very spot on the 10th of August in 258 AD under Emperor Valerian.  I believe I may have told this story before, but it's good to recall it again.  Lawrence was given administration of the Church after the arrest of Pope Sixtus II and four of his fellow deacons in the Catacombs of Callixtus on the 6th of August.  He met the pope as the group of five were being led to prison and execution, begging to be able to accompany him.  The pope declined, giving Lawrence charge of the Church's temporal goods while telling the deacon that he would follow his bishop in four days' time.

So Lawrence went forth and distributed all the material goods of the Church to the poor of Rome, and himself was soon arrested for being Christian.  Brought before the magistrates who demanded that he hand over the Church's treasure, he went and gathered the poor of the city and presented them to the Roman officials, saying that they were the true treasures of the Church.  Well you can imagine how that went down!

The magistrates were enraged and threw him in a dark prison cell nearby, whereby he proceeded to convert the jailer and his family to Christianity.  In utter frustration they demanded that Lawrence be burnt alive over a gridiron, which was subsequently set up on the site of today's station.  So on the 10th of August, as his bishop had prophesied, the deacon Lawrence was martyred, burnt alive for his steadfast faith in Christ.  But not to be outwitted even til the end, his final remarks to his executioners were the words, "Turn me over, I'm done on this side."

Ok I broke my rule again.  But I had to!  This is a reliquary room located behind the sacristy of the church with a whole wall full of the bones of saints.  You can see a few skulls above.
Records of a church on this site exist from at least the late 800s, then called St. Lawrence in Formonso, so-called because of its association with Pope Formosus, who led the Church from 891 - 896 AD.  The current church was built to replace the original one in the period 1565-74, and a restoration in 1757 gave the church the appearance it has today.

One neat thing, the fresco behind the main altar which you see above is the second largest in Rome, behind only the Final Judgment fresco of Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel.  It is the scene of Lawrence's martyrdom on the gridiron while the emperor looks on.  Also in this church is the original sarcophagus of St. Brigid of Sweden and the relics of the brothers, Ss. Crispin and Crispinian (martyred 285 AD under Diocletian).  You may recognize their names from Shakespeare's Henry V, where the famous 'St. Crispin's Day' speech ("...We few, we happy few, we band of brothers...") was given on their feast, the 25th of October.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Wednesday of First Week: Santa Maria Maggiore

Today we encountered one of the most prominent churches in Rome, the Basilica of St. Mary Major.  This is a beautiful and impressive church, and is one of the four 'major' basilicas, the highest-ranking churches in all of Christianity (together with St. John Lateran, St. Paul Outside the Walls, and St. Peter).  All other churches which are named basilicas are called 'minor'.

This term (major basilica) was first used by Pope Boniface VIII in the year 1300 in reference to the churches of St. Peter and St. Paul Outside the Walls, where these two greatest of apostles are buried.  Pope Clement VI in 1350 added St. John Lateran to list, since it is the first and oldest church in all of Christianity, and in 1390 St. Mary Major was also named to round out the list.  St. Mary is the oldest Christian church dedicated to the Blessed Virgin.

Basilica of St. Mary Major

The construction of this church began in 352 by Pope Liberius after a miraculous snowfall occurred on the site of the Esquiline Hill (one of the seven original hills of the city of Rome) on the 5th of August.  After the Council of Ephesus in 431, where Mary was officially recognized with the title of Mother of God, then-Pope Sixtus III began construction on a second, larger church about one block behind the first one.  It is this second church which has come down to us and which you see in the pictures below.  Relics from Christ's manger were brought from Bethlehem in the 7th century and enshrined in this church, at which time it took on the name St. Mary Major.

Sunrise!  Sorry, I couldn't fit it all in one shot so I stitched a few together.  The perspective is somewhat skewed.

I decided I was allowed to post three pictures today because this is such an important church.  It goes without saying that they don't do the real thing justice, you gotta see this thing in person!

In 1295 the rear wall and apse were demolished and a transept and new apse were built.  New side chapels were constructed for this church in the thirteenth, fifteenth, sixteenth, and seventeenth centuries.  The campanile, which is the tallest in Rome, was built in the late 1300s, and Pope Alexander VI and St. Charles Borromeo were pastors of this church in their day (for a basilica, the term is technically not 'pastor' but 'archpriest').  One other interesting note, some may know that Ss. Cyril and Methodius (lived in the mid 800s) are well-known for their missionary work and the conversion of the Slavic people to Christianity.  As part of their mission, they created the Cyrillic alphabet and translated the Scriptures into a new Slavonic language.  It was in this very church that Pope Hadrian II approved Ss. Cyril and Methodius' translation of the liturgy into Slavonic for use on their missionary journeys.

I'm tuckered out and will stop writing here, although there is tons more to say about St. Mary Major.  I'll have to save it for next time!  On to bed and to our next church tomorrow.  Keep praying for me!

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Tuesday of First Week: Sant' Anastasia

Good news, we made it to our church today and the doors were even open and welcoming!  Woohoo!  It's good to be back on track.  Had some blah-looking clouds in the sky this morning, but thanks be to God no rain.  I'd like to keep that streak alive as long as possible.  Today's station church has probably been my favorite church yet.  Just beautiful on the inside.  Reeally wanted to take more pictures, but I am keeping myself to a strict 2-3 shot regime, else things will quickly go haywire and I won't have time to choose and post every interesting detail.

Sant' Anastasia

This church sits right next to the Circus Maximus and, like the other ones we have visited, was constructed very early on.  The spot of this church used to be a district of Roman houses and shops which were demolished in order to build a small Greek-cross-shape chapel (like a plus sign, a cross with equal length sides) at the request of Pope St. Damasus in the late fourth century.  It was re-dedicated to St. Anastasia about a century later when veneration of her life and martyrdom spread to Rome from Constantinople.  Anastasia did not live or die in this city but was martyred in Sirmium, located in modern-day Serbia.

An interesting note, St. Anastasia's feast day is December 25, which is why in the back apse of this church there is an image of the Nativity.  It's also why you probably never remember celebrating her feast day at church, because you were always celebrating Christmas instead!


There is a tradition that when St. Jerome would stay in Rome, he would say Mass at the chapel that stood here (+420 AD, Jerome is super important; he translated the Hebrew OT and Greek NT into Latin, which we still use today).  Right around 500 AD, the nave was extended so that the church's dimensions approximated those of today, which you see in the photo.  Refurbishments and additions occurred subsequently in the ninth century (Pope Leo III), thirteenth century (Innocent III), and fifteenth century (Sixtus IV).  The 1500-1700s saw the addition of some side chapels and the current facade (1634-40), as well as its most recent renovation (1721-22) which gave it the appearance it has today.

This church is worth checking out if you ever visit Rome, especially for the stunning marble statue of Anastasia sleeping in death underneath the high altar.  The ceiling above the altar contains an inscription appropriate for a church located so close to the circus where Christians were routinely executed:

They fought with the Lamb, that the Lamb would conquer.

The Circus Maximus and the empire that built it have long since been buried.  This church still stands.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Monday of First Week: San Pietro in Vincoli

Well here we are.. it's the start of the first week of Lent.  And our first stop this week took us all the way across town to San Pietro in Vincoli.  In English that would be, Saint Peter in Chains -- so called because this church contains the the chains that bound St. Peter during his imprisonment in Jerusalem (Acts, chp. 12).  Neato!

San Pietro in Vincoli

Perhaps the best way to describe this church is to begin with the photo op:

What you see here is the full extent of this morning's experience with this church.  This photo was taken at about 6:40ish a.m. when I arrived; duly note all those patiently waiting for the gates to be unlocked (this is about a 20% of everyone that showed up).

Well you see, what happened was that the folks who were supposed to open this station church for us this morning were not in fact present to open it.  We all stuck around until about 7:10 and then couldn't wait any longer (people had class and other schedules to keep), so many of us walked back to the Casa Santa Maria (the graduate house for student priests of the NAC, located in the middle of Rome, right next to where I go to school at the Gregorian) and we had Mass there instead.

I was thinking to myself, yes there is just one day in the whole year when this church needs to be open.  But then I remembered, no this is all just part of the experience.  Whoever it was that forgot to be there has officially received the All-Italia Award.  Only in Italy..  lol!  Sorry I don't have much more than this for you today, folks.  I'm going to bed and we'll try again tomorrow.

I'll leave you with two of today's spiritual lessons that God was looking to teach me.. 1) Be merciful.  We all biff it pretty bad sometimes in life, God needs me to take things in perspective and give others a break.  We're all fighting our own battles.  2) Sometimes in life, my best laid plans go awry.  And then life goes on.  Let me always be thankful that God walks with me through every unexpected change.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Friday after Ash Wednesday: Santi Giovanni e Paolo

It was another crisp walk to our station church this morning with mostly clear skies, so we walked in the twilight while the undersides of the scattered clouds slowly turned red, then yellow.  We also continued to stay on the south side of the city and east of the Tiber, except a bit further today, so about a 40 minute jaunt.  We strolled silently past the ancient Circus Maximus on our way and crossed the street a little further on to make our way to this beautiful church.

Santi Giovanni e Paolo

The basilica of Saints John and Paul (the John and Paul who we name when we pray Eucharistic Prayer I in the Mass) was a wonderful place to have our Friday morning Mass; it is the biggest church we have been into yet (though by no means a 'big' church in this city).  This one was originally built in the late 300s and early 400s through the generosity of a Roman senator, later saint, named Pammachius.  He built it over the former house of the two patrons who were martyred on that spot in the mid 4th century.

John and Paul were Christian Roman soldiers who were chosen to serve as functionaries in the Imperial household.  For a time they were able to hold to the orthodox Christian faith despite the emperor often falling into heresy.  Alas, this changed with the ascension to the throne of Julian the Apostate in 360 (who was not only a heretic, but as his title demonstrates, an apostate as well).  Julian declared that those who did not follow his pagan religion would be declared traitors to the empire and executed.  John and Paul refused to cooperate, so were put to death in their home and buried nearby.  Execution of Roman citizens like this within the city walls was actually an illegal thing for the emperor to do, but it seems that Julian wanted to be as discreet as possible about this bounty because of the unpopularity of his command that Christians apostatize (meaning, that they publicly renounce their faith).

The basilica was heavily damaged in 1084 by a Norman army that laid siege to the city of Rome and was largely repaired in the following century.  It went through more restorations through the centuries, but the most striking (or at least the most interesting) is the one carried out in 1948-50 by Francis Cardinal Spellman (+1967) of New York.  This basilica was his titular church in Rome; he restored the facade to its medieval appearance and added a series of chandeliers to the interior which were taken from the Waldorf-Astoria hotel in New York.


It was hard to get a good picture in here with the low lighting.
A couple cool little things.  In the bottom picture on the right side of the aisle you'll see some red candles on the floor of a small gated square.  It was directly underneath this spot where Ss. John and Paul were martyred.  The foundations of this church have been excavated so that it is possible to see some of the remains of the home where John and Paul were posted.

The church is run by the Passionists, a religious order whose founder, St. Paul of the Cross (+1775), is buried under the main altar in front.  I was pleasantly surprised to discover that if you enter the basilica and turn immediately left, the first side chapel you'll come to is dedicated to one of the saints in my personal arsenal, St. Gemma Galgani (+1903).

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Thursday after Ash Wednesday: San Giorgio

Well today we have reached a new milestone..  We can now begin speaking about blog posts "in a row".  Small victories are victories nonetheless!  Thanks for the prayers.  So today was perhaps a bit more tiring to wake up, but what I really can't wait for is when we hit the approximately three week, four day mark.  I'm sure I'll be feeling like a million bucks as soon as I throw my alarm clock at the wall.  But in the meantime, onward we march!

San Giorgio

San Giorgio is in the same general direction as Santa Sabina, but not quite as far -- about a 30-35 minute walk from the College.  It is on the south side of the city just east of the Tiber.  I'm gonna have to get a map up and start marking these things for you so you have a better idea.

The full name of the church is St. George in the Velabrum.  Back in the day this part of Rome was called the Velabrum for all the yellow sand that seemed to be gathered there (from the Etruscan word velum for 'marsh', and the Latin word aurum, 'gold').  It was nearby the cattle market of ancient Rome (the Forum Boarium).  St. George himself was a late 3rd century Roman soldier and martyr who was tortured and decapitated at the decree of then-Emperor Diocletian for being a Christian and refusing to make a sacrifice to the Roman gods.  He is the patron saint of at least eighteen countries and is one of the most prominent patrons of soldiers.  His traditional sign is the red cross on a white background.  The central red cross on the flag of the United Kingdom is the Cross of St. George.

Actually, this church used to be named after both Ss. George and Sebastian, particularly because of its location nearby the Cloaca Maxima (ancient city sewer--which, by the way, still functions today) into which Sebastian's body was thrown after his martyrdom.  The first Christian building on this site was not a church but a deaconry; it was built in the late 5th century and served as a distribution center with supplies for Rome's poor and needy, although the site did include a small chapel.  Pope Leo II undertook a major restoration of this building in 682-683 and dedicated it to Ss. Sebastian and George.  A relic of St. George's skull was placed in this church by Pope Zachary in the early 740s and has been there since--today you can see it behind a piece of glass under the main altar.

So what's the deal with relics anyway?  Catholics seem to love displaying body parts of saints or important Christian objects (the manger, the true Cross, the nails, the crown of thorns etc.) in glass cases under the altar or in little niches of our churches all over the world.  Are we super wacko?  Well every family has some of those!  But there are a few things going on here worth mentioning, I suppose.

Seeing the dead reminds us that one day we're going to die, and that's prolly a good enough reason in itself.  The 'Last Things' are so important to think about!  (If you've never really done this before, a great way to start is by pondering, praying about, and imagining every day what heaven must be like.)  Mortality makes us realize how important the important questions are: what does life mean, how should I live it, where am I going and what happens when I die, does it all matter, can I hope in something that lasts, why is death and suffering so hard?

Seeing the bodies of the saints also helps us take courage from those who have gone before us and have "won the imperishable crown", "fought the good fight, finished the race, and kept the faith".  Since we are 'enfleshed' souls, our bodies themselves are sacred -- in fact St. Paul calls our bodies temples of the Holy Spirit!  And so we honor and give our respect to the body even after the soul has left it.  And a big reason Catholics love relics is that as Christians these relics remind us of our belief in the final bodily resurrection.  We're going to get these babies back in perfected form, friends!  So as good stewards we keep them with care while the body sleeps in death until the final and definitive coming of Jesus.

So now back to our church!  The exterior porch and campanile (bell tower) of this church which we see today were rebuilt in the 13th century from an original addition during the medieval period.  Inside, above the apse you can see a fresco with the figure of Christ flanked by the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Peter, St. Sebastian and St. George (on a white horse).

One last interesting note is that this church used to be the titular church of Blessed John Cardinal Henry Newman (+1890) and Otto Colonna (+1431), the man who became Pope Martin V.  Sweet!

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

It's Ash Wednesday, People, so Here We Go.

Aaannd we're back!  (Again.)  Hey, happy Ash Wednesday and happy Lent everyone!  Long time no see!  By the way, go and get your ashes today.  What have I been up to the last six months?  Oh man, tons of stuff.  Tons.  Thousands of pics galore and too much to put down here in this post.  But in anticipation of the glorious Resurrection which is moving fast upon us, it is time to resurrect this blog and start again.

Well actually, the good motivation for this has been in the works for some time now.  But what has pushed it over the edge is a special little something that starts to happen in Rome about this time of year.  Cue down the house lights and bring up the spots.

So, every year during the liturgical season of Lent (the 40 days before Holy Week, which culminates on Easter Sunday) there is a loong long standing tradition in Rome called the Station Churches.  What are the Station Churches and where do they come from?

The roots of this tradition go as far back as the late second / early third century in Rome.  The bishop of Rome (the pope) would celebrate different liturgies of the liturgical year at various churches throughout the city (at that time, churches were still 'underground') as a way to unify the Christian community, particularly in the midst of sometimes bloody Roman persecution.  After Christianity became legal in 313 AD with the Edict of Milan, these 'stational' liturgies by the pope became much more public and began to take on a more formalized structure.  St. Lawrence's feast day at the church where he was buried, St. Paul's feast day at the church where he was buried, Christmas at St. Mary Major which holds a relic of Jesus' manger, etc...  Well the Lenten station churches in particular have stood the test of time, and so even today 17 centuries later this yearly tradition continues.

Every day during Lent, the Christian community celebrates the Mass at a designated station church somewhere in the city of Rome.  For the past several years the North American College has been participating in this tradition: many of us (it's optional) walk en masse from the College to the day's church (sometimes near, sometimes on the other side of the city! sometimes in the cold or rain) in time to celebrate a 6:45am Mass for ourselves and whoever else shows up.  It means sacrificing a little bit of sleep each day to get up earlier and make the walk, but you have to take advantage of these things while you still can!

So anyway, I have decided this year that as part of my Lenten practices of prayer, penance, and almsgiving, I will be participating in all the weekday station church liturgies.  Prayer because.. well that's obvious.  Penance because getting up earlier is a huge penance for me.  And almsgiving because I will be daily posting on this blog a picture or two and a short description of all the station churches I attend.  How's that for creativity!

Good, now part of your Lenten practice of prayer will be to ask for the grace that I make my daily post.  Seriously!  I'm serious, give me.. approximately one Hail Mary a day.  For Pete's sake I'm clearly not able to blog with consistency, so let's help me out.

Today is Ash Wednesday, the first of 40 days of Lent, so let us begin yonder Roman Station Church journey.  Most of my commentaries on these churches will come from a little book with a Latin title called Procedamus in Pace which the NAC has put together.  All informational credit is due this book and the seminarians / priests who put it together.

Ash Wednesday: Santa Sabina

Walking in.  Extra chairs are outside because Pope Francis is going to celebrate Mass here later on today.

Santa Sabina is located on the Aventine Hill, one of the seven original hills of Rome.  It was originally built during the last days of the Roman Empire, and is believed to be located near the house of the Roman matron St. Sabina, a widow who was converted to the Christian faith by her slave, Seraphia.  Around 126 AD they were both condemned to death and executed for being Christians.

The current church was built by the priest Peter the Illyrian during the papacy of Celestine I (422-432) and has undergone major restorations several times through the centuries (820s, 1560s, 1910s).  Santa Sabina was given over to the Dominicans by pope Honorius III (1216-1227) and it now serves as the mother church and world headquarters for this religious order.

One significant thing about this church are the main doors which are made from cypress and are original to the church (!).  These wooden doors are generally agreed to be about 1600 years old.  The uppermost left panel of the left door contains one of the oldest depictions of the Crucifixion in Christian art.  Whoa!

As it says in my handy book Procedamus, one of the tombs along the right aisle has an inscription which is appropriate for the beginning of our Lenten journey:

Ut moriens viveret, vixit ut moriturus
That dying he would live, he lived as one who was to die