Following the Audience, a quick lunch and off to the Cathedral Church of Rome - and the world - St. John Lateran.
Prayer: O God, who from living and chosen stones prepare an eternal dwelling for your majesty, increase in your Church the spirit of grace you have bestowed, so that by new growth your faithful people may build up the heavenly Jerusalem. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.
The Lateran Basilica is called “mother and head of all the churches of the city and the world.” In fact, this basilica was the first to be built after Emperor Constantine’s edict, in 313, granted Christians freedom to practice their religion.
The emperor himself gave Pope Miltiades the ancient palace of the Laterani family, and the basilica, the baptistery, and the patriarchate, that is, the Bishop of Rome’s residence — where the Popes lived until the Avignon period — were all built there. The basilica’s dedication was celebrated by Pope Sylvester around 324 and was named Most Holy Savior; only after the 6th century were the names of St. John the Baptist and St. John the Evangelist added, and now is typically denominated by these latter.
Initially the observance of the feast of the dedication of the church was confined to the city of Rome; then, beginning in 1565, it was extended to all the Churches of the Roman rite. The honoring of this sacred edifice was a way of expressing love and veneration for the Roman Church, which, as St. Ignatius of Antioch says, “presides in charity” over the whole Catholic communion (Letter to the Romans, 1:1).
As we gather in this church, we are reminded of an essential truth: the temple of stones is a symbol of the living Church, the Christian community, which in their letters the Apostles Peter and Paul already understood as a “spiritual edifice,” built by God with “living stones,” namely, Christians themselves, upon the one foundation of Jesus Christ, who is called the “cornerstone” (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:9-11, 16-17; 1 Peter 2:4-8; Ephesians 2:20-22). “Brothers, you are God’s building,” St. Paul wrote, and added: “holy is God’s temple, which you are” (1 Corinthians 3:9c, 17).
The beauty and harmony of the churches, destined to give praise to God, also draws us human beings, limited and sinful, to convert to form a “cosmos,” a well-ordered structure, in intimate communion with Jesus, who is the true Saint of saints. This happens in a culminating way in the Eucharistic liturgy, in which the “ecclesia,” that is, the community of the baptized, come together in a unified way to listen to the Word of God and nourish themselves with the Body and Blood of Christ. From these two tables the Church of living stones is built up in truth and charity and is internally formed by the Holy Spirit transforming herself into what she receives, conforming herself more and more to the Lord Jesus Christ. She herself, if she lives in sincere and fraternal unity, in this way becomes the spiritual sacrifice pleasing to God.
Our visit celebrates a mystery that is always relevant: God’s desire to build a spiritual temple in the world, a community that worships him in spirit and truth (cf. John 4:23-24). But this observance also reminds us of the importance of the material buildings in which the community gathers to celebrate the praises of God. Every community therefore has the duty to take special care of its own sacred buildings, which are a precious religious and historical patrimony. For this we call upon the intercession of Mary Most Holy, that she help us to become, like her, the “house of God,” living temple of his love.
— Benedict XVI, Angelus Address, November 9, 2008
Following our visit to St. John's - we went across the street to the Holy Stairs - brought here to Rome by Constantine - the very steps that Jesus walked up when he was tried by Pontius Pilate.
It was in this building that the first known All Saints’ Day was celebrated by Pope Hadrian IV in A.D. 609.
In 30 B.C., the young nephew and adopted son of Julius Caesar, Octavian Caesar, defeated his enemy Mark Anthony in a naval engagement off the coast of Turkey. Taking the title of Augustus, or the “revered one,” Octavian Augustus Caesar quickly set up shop as the unofficial king of Rome, calling himself by the military title of emperor. In poetry, in hymns to the gods, in new legislation, he presented himself to the Roman people as a savior and the champion of Roman greatness.
BEGINNING OF THE ROMAN PANTHEON
Augustus’ ally and supporter Marcus Agrippa built a lavish temple dedicated to “all the Roman gods,” known by its Greek title, the Pantheon. Here were altars to the various gods of ancient Rome, meant to show the piety of Augustus and the support of the pagan gods of Caesar’s new imperial regime. Agrippa’s temple was burned to the ground in A.D. 80 and rebuilt, burned again in A.D. 110 and finally rebuilt by the Emperor Hadrian in A.D. 128. Hadrian’s temple to all the gods is the one tourists visit in Rome today. It is the best preserved Roman-era temple, and it has survived probably because of the church.
Hadrian’s Pantheon is impressive. Unlike most other ancient temples it is round, not rectangular. A huge done surmounts the temple, making it the largest Roman dome to survive. At about 142 feet round and 142 feet tall, it is half of a perfect sphere. Made of poured concrete, ranging from 20 feet thick at the base of the dome to 3.9 feet at the top, it is impressive. Studies have shown that the concrete is made of different sands at different heights, placing more of the lighter materials at the top than at the bottom. Almost 5,000 tons of concrete were used.
It also was the model used in the 19th century for the American dome of the Capitol buildings in Washington, D.C., and it is the largest unreinforced concrete dome in the world.
But the best known aspect of Hadrian’s Pantheon is the Oculus, or the eye. At the top of the dome is a large circular opening, open to the sky, about 30 feet wide. This open space provides the light which, as the day and years go by, illuminates the various altars to the gods. The stone walls retain the heat of the day, and so a slow draft of warm air moves out of the oculus and prevents rain from falling in, and what rain did get in was drained off by good plumbing in the floor. That same marble floor was trod on by the Emperor Hadrian, Martin Luther, the kings of Italy and the majority of the popes.
PANTHEON BECOMES A CHURCH
In A.D. 609, the Byzantine Roman Emperor Phocas donated the old pagan temple Pope Boniface IV, who dedicated the church to “St. Mary and all the Martyrs,” which is the official name to this day. The statues to the pagan gods were removed and the images of the Apostles were put in their places. In this manner it became a church dedicated to all the saints and not all the gods. Masses are celebrated there on a regular basis. Various worthies have been buried in the church, including the renaissance artist Raphael and the modern Italian kings Victor Emmanuel II and Umberto I.
We later had Mass at Santa Maria sopra Minerva - where the body of St. Catherine of Sienna is beneath the Main altar. It was a wonderful gift that Cardinal O'Brien came to celebrate Mass for us. What a great moment for our group! At the conclusion of Mass (and after our photo with the Cardinal - and another Proximo tour group who joined us for Mass) we took the opportunity, here in the presence of the body of St. Catherine of Sienna, to pray asking her intercession.
Heavenly Father, your glory is seen in your saints.
We prais your glory in teh life of the admirable St. Catherine of Sienna,
virgin and doctor of the Church. Her whole life was a noble sacrifice
inspired by an ardent love of Jesus, your unblemished Lamb.
In troubled times she strenuously upheld the rights of His beloved spouse, the Church. Father, honor her merits and hear her prayers for each of us. Help us to pass unscratched through the corruption of this world, and to remain unshakably faithful to the Church in word, deed, and example.
Help us always to see in the Vicar of Christ an anchor in the storms of life, and a beacon of light to the harbor of your Love, in this dark night of your times and men’s souls.
We ask this through Jesus, your Son, in the bond of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
St. Catherine of Sienna – Pray for us.
The only Gothic church in Rome, the Basilica Santa Maria sopra Minerva (Basilica of St. Mary over Minerva) is so named because it was built directly on the foundations of a temple to Minerva, the goddess of wisdom. The basilica that stands today was begun in 1280. Architectural changes and redecorations in the 1500s and 1900s stripped it of some of its magnificence, but it still includes an awe-inspiring collection of medieval and Renaissance tombs.
History of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva
Not much is known about the ruined temple to Minerva on this site, built by Pompey about 50 BC and referred to as Delubrum Minervae. A temple to Isis and a Serapeum may also underlie the present basilica and its former convent buildings. Some Roman ruins can be seen in the crypt. The ruined temple is likely to have lasted until the reign of Pope Zacharias (741-752), who finally Christianized the site, offering it to Eastern monks. The Christian structure he commissioned has disappeared.
The present building owes its existence to the Dominican Friars, who received the property from Pope Alexander IV (1254-1261) and made the church and adjoining monastery their influential headquarters. The Dominican Order administers the area today. The old Romanesque basilica was not splendid enough to serve as the chief Dominican church in Rome, so two Dominican monks, Sisto Fiorentino and Ristoro da Campi began the present structure in 1280. This pair of monastic architects had worked on the Gothic church of Santa Maria Novella in Florence, which served as the model for this church in Rome. The church was completed in 1370. It was later renovated by Carlo Maderno among others, given a Baroque facade, and restored in the 19th century to its present neo-medieval state.
It was in the Dominican monastery adjoining the church that the astronomer Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) was tried by the Inquisition for teaching that the Earth revolved around the Sun. He was forced to recant and retire.
What to See at Santa Maria Sopra Minerva
Just behind the Pantheon is the Piazza della Minerva, whose focal point is an endearing sculpture of a cheery baby elephant carrying a small Egyptian obelisk on his back. It was sculpted by Bernini in 1667. It is said to represent Pope Alexander VII's reign and illustrate the moral that strength should support wisdom. The Egyptian obelisk is much older - it was found in the ruins of a temple of Isis that once stood nearby. Nothing visible remains of the Temple of Minerva (or Isis) over which the present church was built.
Santa Maria sopra Minerva has a remarkably plain facade (17th-century), with three small entry doors and three round windows. This belies the richness and size of the interior beyond. Inside, the viewer's eye is immediately drawn to the arched vaulting, painted blue with gilded stars and accented with brilliant red ribbing. The former is a 19th century restoration in the Gothic style.
I asked our tour guide if we could make one special stop on this, our last day in Rome - at the tomb of St. Francis Xavier in the Gesu. Unfortunately, the church was "closed." None the less... praying for everyone at home...
Prayer asking the intercession of St. Francis Xavier (at the Gesu)
You have sent us to proclaim the Gospel to all nations,
and have promised to always remain with us.
Look upon us gathered here at the relic of St. Francis Xavier.
Pour out the abundance of your Spirit upon each one of our brothers and sisters especially on those who are called to ponder
upon the journey made and to plan what has still to be done,
so that we may offer a more authentic service to mission.
Grant that we may ever be faithful to the Gospel and to give an answer to the hopes which the world places before your church today. Stay with us, Lord, when we gather around the table of your Bread and your Word, and when we walk the paths of the world side by side with our brothers and sisters.
Grant that we all find ourselves in heaven, our homeland,
after having been members of the same family on earth.