Reflections from the Rome Experience Class of 2013

s francis receives Baby JesusTOP 5 HIGHLIGHTS OF WEEK 4

Alvaro Vega
Seminarian for the Archdiocese of Miami

Rome Experience is a doozy! Visiting majestic basilicas, visiting the tombs of the great saints of the Church and praying alongside them, learning about the rich heritage of art of the Catholic Church, and eating gelato (Italian Ice-cream)!

Here are the top 5 highlights of the week of June 9 – 15:

1. The Sistine Chapel – Visiting this chapel was the highlight of my week. It is the magnum opus of the Vatican Museum, and the very same chapel where popes get elected. It features artwork from some of the greatest artists of the Renaissance, including Michelangelo, Botticelli, Perugino, Pinturicchio, Ghirlandaio, and others. Most notable is Michelangelo’s Last Judgment as well as the ceiling he painted with scenes from the Book of Genesis, like the Creation and the Fall. We learned in class that Michelangelo’s forte was in sculpture, not so much in painting. For a guy that didn’t really paint, he really did a magnificent job! One of my favorite parts of the Last Judgment scene was of believers being pulled up to heaven by rosary beads, illustrating the power of this spiritual weapon to get us to heaven and the intercessory power of Our Lady!

2. The Vatican Museum – I loved the different paintings, sculptures, frescoes and other works of art displayed here. The Vatican Museum is quite extensive and made up of several different sections of rooms, and so I didn’t get the chance to see it all. Right when we got to the Vatican Museum I had to go to the bathroom and when I came out my group was gone and the tour had started without me! Oh well. That seemingly unfortunate incident actually turned out to be favorable as it enabled me to just see the art at my own leisurely pace and enjoy it! Among my favorite works were a painting by Pietro Berretini (La Madonna che appare a S.Francesco) of Our Lady appearing to St. Francis of Assisi, handing him the Baby Jesus who is smiling and stretching his arms out towards the friar, happy to be received into his arms. It seems that Francis was out in the woods, steeped in deep contemplative prayer, when suddenly he has this mystical experience. Pictured in the background is one of Francis’ fellow friars, who, unlike his leader, appears to be bored at prayer and is not cognizant of what is happening.

3. St. Paul Outside the Walls – It was an unforgettable experience to pray in front of the tomb of one of the great pillars of Christianity, St. Paul, especially during the time we find ourselves in, the year of faith. This church is one of the four major basilica’s of Rome, along with St. Peter’s, St. Mary Major, and St. John Lateran. This basilica is so called because it was built just outside the walls of ancient Rome, over the burial place of St. Paul. Notable about this basilica are the medallion-like pictures of all the Popes of the Catholic Church which line the walls above the columns all around the basilica, starting from St. Peter and going all the way to Benedict XVI. What a powerful testament! No other church can claim apostolic succession but the Catholic Church!

4. Santa Maria Sopra Minerva– One of the things I like most about Rome is its beautiful churches that invite you to prayer as soon as you step into them. The vaulted ceiling of this basilica is painted in a sky blue decorated with gilded stars that makes you feel like you are in the heavens. This is Rome’s only Gothic Church. The name of this minor basilica actually translates to ‘St. Mary above Minerva’. Who the heck is Minerva, you may ask? It was the name of a pagan goddess worshiped in ancient Rome. This basilica was actually built directly on top of the foundation of a temple dedicated to Minerva, showing how Christianity perfected and superseded all the pagan religions, bringing them to their true object of worship, the one and only God, Jesus Christ. How fitting to dedicate the Church which supplanted a temple to a false goddess called Minerva to the true Queen of this world, The Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God.

5. Santa Cecilia in Trastevere – This 5th century church is where the tomb of St. Cecilia, martyr for the faith, is to be found. Her tomb is in a beautiful little crypt under the church. We also saw the famous baroque altar sculpture of St. Cecilia, the Martyrdom of Saint Cecilia by Stefano Maderno, in which she is shown lying on the floor, as she was seen when they opened up her tomb. St. Cecilia is the patron saint of musicians, and so I prayed to her to help me finish my catholic music project.

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