Friday, April 11, 2014

Friday of Fifth Week: Santo Stefano in Monte Celio

IT IS HERE.  Well, for me anyways... Easter break is here!  During Holy Week and Easter Week all the universities in Rome are closed.  So we have a bit of space now to lay low, rest, and pray.  When we go back to class in two weeks it's going to be a mad dash all the way to June 13 when I step foot on that Delta flight headed for America.  I can't wait for that day, but I also can't wait to chill out in this holy time and recharge the tanks.  Next week we will have station churches on Monday and Tuesday and then will finish off our journey together with Wednesday's Seven Church walk.

The Seven Church walk was made popular by St. Philip Neri (+1595) as a preparation for the principal Christian feasts of the year (Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost) and consists in making a pilgrimage to all of Rome's major churches in the same day.  The Holy Week walk in particular has remained popular due to its easy association with Lenten sacrifice and as a way to walk the difficult road with Jesus carrying his Cross.

Our Wednesday will begin with 7am Mass at the day's station, Santa Maria Maggiore (which we've already seen), and continues on a walking journey to the four major basilicas (Maria Maggiore, John Lateran, Peter, Paul Outside the Walls) and three minor basilicas (Lawrence Outside the Walls, Santa Croce in Gerusalemme, Sebastian Outside the Walls).  The whole thing takes about half a day, so we should finish at St. Peter's sometime in the late afternoon.

In the meantime, let's talk a bit about today's church:

Santo Stephano in Monte Celio

Walking into St. Stephen on the Caelian Hill, you'll see what makes it immediately unique: this church was built in the round; in fact it is one of three remaining ancient round churches in Rome.  The vast majority of Christian churches are built as a long nave and sanctuary, or otherwise in the shape of a cross.

The church takes its name from St. Stephen (whose relics remain in Jerusalem), the first Christian martyr who is mentioned in the seventh chapter of the Acts of the Apostles.  It was built on the site of an old Roman military camp during the pontificate of Pope Simplicius I (+483), then was subsequently restored in the eighth century, again in the twelfth century, and again in the fifteenth century by Pope Nicholas V (+1455).  In the following century Pope Gregory XIII (+1585) commissioned all the frescoes around the entire outer wall which depict the variety of martyrdoms suffered by the early saints of Rome (appropriate for a church dedicated to our proto-martyr).  Gregory also constructed the octagonal chancel screen that now surrounds the central altar.
I also swung by yesterday's station church, Sant' Apollinare, on my way home from school.  St. Apollinaris was a martyr and founding bishop of Ravenna, an ancient city about 200 miles north of Rome on the eastern coast of Italy.  His church in Rome is quite beautiful, and also happens to be the university chapel of Santa Croce, which is one of the three universities we at the NAC attend for our theology studies (along with my school, the Gregorian, and the University of Thomas Aquinas, also called the Angelicum).  Take a look, and enjoy the weekend!

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