We had decided the day before that we hadn’t got in quite enough time at St. Peter’s on Tuesday (see Day 2) and since we knew the doors were open at 7:00am we asked Fr. Stuart really nicely if we could get up early and spend a little more time there before our train left for Assisi. Of course he didn’t have a problem with this plan so we ordered our breakfast from the hotel to-go and were off the subway and in St. Peter’s square by 7:30am.
One thing I wanted to do but hadn’t had the chance for earlier was to go tour the Tomb of the Popes and especially to see the tomb of Pope JPII. However, that part didn’t open until 9:00am so I had to occupy myself until then. (What could there possibly be to do inside the largest church in Christedom?) I spent time admiring the details of the building in light of the now in-pouring sunshine we didn’t have the luxury of the first time. The view from behind the main altar facing east toward the front of the church is amazing.
Also, the sounds of people singing Tantum Ergo or Alleluia’s echoing through the floor grates from masses being held in the chapels below the main floor added to the experience of this holy place.
While I was waiting for 9:00, I found the chapel where they had the Blessed Sacrament reserved and thought that a good place as to spend time. While I was there I noticed a Japanese couple come in, genuflect, kneel etc… all the things a Catholic that knows what they’re doing and the real purpose of this place would do. This was important because one of the things that has been really tough for me for most of this trip is seeing people that come into these churches with very little to no understanding of the place they are. The come in and irreverently snap pictures of anything that seems to be artistic/important and then stroll on elsewhere as if they were in a museum or out on the street.
For perspective, I know why the church is there and try my best to treat it as such. It is a house of God and a place of worship that happens to contain beautiful things so religious affection should come first. Therefore, it was good for me to see the Japanese couple, as members of a group that personifies the stereotype that bothers me so much, defying the stereotype. It made me feel better and reminded me to not be so quick to judge.
When the Tombs of the Popes opened at 9:00am I went in and straight for JPII. I knelt and prayed a rosary and tried to ignore the voice of the poor guard that had to constantly remind people ‘no photo. No photo. No photo’. The rosary, I thought, was appropriately prayed there because JPII had a strong devotion to the Blessed Mother, and I must say, it was one of the best rosaries in awhile. Fr. Stuart finally peeled us away at 10:30 and we headed toward our final church in Rome.
The Basilica of Santa Prassede, aside from the resting place of St. Prassede and her cousin is where the post that Christ was chained to when Pilate had him scourged is kept. There, in a small side chapel in a glass case is the stone upon Jesus was whipped before he was crucified. Honestly it doesn’t quite register yet, but in the future I bet it will, probably next Lent the first time I do Stations of the Cross.
Finally it was back to our hotel to pick up our luggage, a quick trip to the grocery store for lunch and then to the train station to catch the 1:30pm train to Assisi. Like I said before, Rome was good to us with lots of things to see, but I was ready to get out of the huge city. The train was the quietest place I’d been in 4 days and so I fell promptly asleep before we even left the platform.
I woke up some time later to smoothly gliding along past green, gently rolling hills. What a welcome sight/sensation! I marveled out the window and then went to reading the book I had been given by Mike Pratt and the NAC on Tuesday. We arrived too soon at Assisi (I really liked riding in that train.)
A bus from the train station took us to the base of the town halfway up the hill. Our traveler’s house seemed to be the rest of the way up the hill. The roads and stairs we had to drag our luggage up were only worth it because they were surrounded by a beautiful medieval-style town. (Assisi was founded as a Roman town in the 3 century B.C.)
So as to not overdo the first day, the only church we visited in Assisi was the Basilica of St. Frances of Assisi. He body is there as well as those of St. Martin of Tours and St. Anthony of Padua; also some Giotto paintings. My two favorite things were the tattered patchwork robe of St. Frances and his tomb, both shown in the sketches below. The robe is at left. All those shapes are the patches on it. Actually, it’s hard to say really if the patches were on it or if it was made entirely of patches. The shapes seen are not arbitrarily drawn by me but are the real shapes, sizes etc of the patches. His tomb is in a chamber under the main altar that had been sealed off quite intentionally after he died to prevent people from disturbing his tomb and its exact location had been forgotten. Those alive presumed it was under the main altar as is traditionally done. Excavations in the last hundred years have rediscovered his tomb and shown it to be where it was always thought.
Another long day done, we had some dinner at a local restaurant and retired eager for a night’s sleep absent of busses, trash trucks and drunk people outside the window. I think I like Assisi more than I even expected to like it!