When I got back to Rome after visiting Ostia Antica it was late afternoon. I spent the remaining daytime walking in and out of random churches. Everything was so awe-inspiring. I wished I had more time.
My last full day in Rome was a Sunday. So I went to Mass at Santa Susanna, the American Catholic Church in Rome. After Mass, I took a free tour of the church. There are five saints buried here (Susanna, her father Gabinus, Felicity, Eleutherius, and Genesius). Like many other buildings in Rome, the modern-day church is built over other buildings. I had the privilege of going beneath the present floor of the church into the home (ruins) of Susanna and Gabinus.
The story goes that in 284 AD, the new Emperor Diocletian enforced a tetrarchy where he appointed various people to rule different sectors of the empire. Maxentius Galerius was appointed a junior ruler with the right to succeed him, however he was unmarried. So Diocletian decided to marry him into the family and chose his cousin Susanna in 293 AD. Susanna refused because she was a Christian and had taken a vow of virginity. Diocletian was extremely angry by this and ordered her execution. She was beheaded. Her father, Gabinus, who was also Christian and supported her refusal of the marriage, was hauled off to prison where he starved to death.
In the photo above, taken in the home beneath the church, you can see Santa Susanna and San Gabinus. To the right of San Gabinus is an older woman. This is Santa Felicity, the patron saint of parents who have lost a child. The widow and her seven young sons were Christian and refused to pray to the gods so were killed by Emperor Antonius Pius. He had offered her the opportunity to save her sons but she refused to renounce Christianity.
After leaving Mass, I continued with my crusade to learn more about the various churches in Rome.
The mosaic to the left showing Christ and angels is in the Chapel of St. Zeno in the 9th century church of Santa Prassede. The walls and ceilings of this church are covered by other magnificient Byzanthine mosaics.
They include a plank which is supposed to be part of the cross of the good thief crucified with Jesus and a jar holding the Holy Nail of the Crucifixion.
At the top of the stairs is the Sancta Sanctorum (Holy of Holies) also known as the Chapel of St. Lawrence. According to medieval historians this was Rome’s most venerated sanctuary.
I guess the obelisk of Santa Maria sopra Minerva was supposed to be somewhat of a joke. The elephant was sculptured by a student of Bernini and Bernini himself designed it although the work is attributed to him. It symbolizes intelligence and piety. The obelisk itself is ancient and was found in the garden of the monastery.
Last but not least, the only way to nourish oneself when doing a mad dash of churches and sculptures is through gelato! Too many choices. I would return to Rome just for gelato. In addition to all the random little hole in the walls, carts, and street vendors, I got gelato from fine institutions such as Tre Scalini (I tried their tartufo), Giolitti (such a long line but I went back twice), and San Crispino (delicious but expensive for the amount given compared to other places). And I’m pleased to say I didn’t just have vanilla! Oh, and I should mention I visited all these places over the course of the WEEK I was in Rome.
Finally, I toured the wonders around my new home, Trastevere. Nearby is the Torre Argentina where Julius Caesar was murdered in 44 BC. But that is not what really makes it an attraction.
The ancient ruins just happen to be the site of a unique cat sanctuary. Yes, cats. There are feral cats all over Rome. This particular sanctuary appears to be below street level but still very much open and part of town.
Last but not least was the church of Santa Cecilia in Trastevere. I’ve learned so much about St. Cecilia on this trip. She was matyred by beheading in AD 230. This church was built on top of her house. However, I was unable to visit the house below because it was closed for a wedding.
Speaking of churches built upon houses, I was lucky enough to visit the church of San Clemente. Here you can easily see the different layers of the earlier structures. At the bottom is a Mithraic temple dating to the 3rd century AD as well as ancient Roman buildings and catacombs. Above this is a 4th century church. And at the top, or I should say at street level, is the 12th century church dedicated to the 4th Pope, St. Clement.