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).

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