Incredible sights, from art to archaeology to early church history
Wednesday - Saturday
12-15 October 2022
Rome, then, encompassed my initial pathways wandering on Italian soil in 2022. So much history is fixed here—events we all learned about (or should have) since grammar school: Romulus and Remus, Catullus, Cicero, Julius Caesar and adopted heir Augustus, first-bishop Peter, pre-Stradivarius Nero, a whole catalog of Popes, famous and infamous. It all happened here.
Much of such history leaves its own mementos in ever-present artifacts, carefully tended and explained, often with a fun mixture of scholar's acuity and imaginative humor. For myself, there is always a conflict between sites with whole hordes of visitors, standing shoulder to shoulder with smartphones held aloft toward, say, the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel ... between that scenario, as I say, and less-traveled paths through ruins with their own stories clutched between bricks held with Roman-invented mortar—exploring under the Colosseum (see below photo), for instance, rather than revisiting its more calendar-page skyline.
I saw the Coliseum from a distance, only. Truly there wasn't time to travel the mile or so on foot from my apartment, and the vehicular traffic in the area is ferocious: Roman pedestrians need to be far more agile than I felt. Not that there is the degree of hostility in ordinary drivers as you might sense it on the streets of New York or Chicago, say—certainly in Los Angeles where it is even more treacherous, things and people having become routine and impersonal in Southern California.
There must be time, of course, to visit the Palatine Hill and ancient Roman Forum, to walk around and touch the old stones—to imagine and contemplate, to try to capture what visual and audio reminders as I may be able to (a video is under mental pre-construction even now).
And this ... I wanted to spend reflective time in the presence of some shadows of my millennia-ago spiritual siblings. Not to get a shiver or buzz walking past a stash of old monks' bones piled high, as in some Cappuchin-guarded ossuary, either. No, it's more just being
in the little rooms down there in the catacombs where those faithful to Jesus assembled, where they buried their dead and declared their certainty that even mighty (pre-Constantine) Rome did not have the final authority. Not on earth, certainly never in Heaven.
Likewise the Roman Forum and the Palatine Hill remained untrod by Eric's feet. It was enough that at a distance they were postcard perfect. Because at the top of my schedule was an e-bike tour of the Via Appia and adjacent catacombs. More about that anon, but it was worth sacrificing all else to experience, had that been required. NOTE: it wasn't so required—I was simply too tired.
Here is a brief glimpse of long, winding tunnels carved many layers deep into the volcanic rock, far beneath the rolling and sunlit meadows above. It is estimated that half a million Christians were interred here, over the years since the mid-second century.
And yes, it was even more moving than I'd imagined.