Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Roma, day 3

No visit to the ancient city of Rome is complete without coming face to face with the remains of some of its former citizens, and in particular the past members of the controversial Order of Friars Minor Capuchin, i.e., the Capuchin monks. Underneath the relatively normal church Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini lies the remains of some 4,000 former monks, as well as poor Romans, buried between the years 1500-1870. In four rooms, most of the skeletal components are used to create designs and pictures. A few full bodies have been kept together and donned with habits and crosses. Some of them even had skin and hair still visible. In the last room there is a plaque reading: "What you are now we used to be; what we are now you will be." To which Carla and I said, "Pshaw! Like we are so monks now." Mark Twain has visited this place in 1867 and details his experience in Chapter 28 of The Innocents Abroad.

Rome is of course built upon the remains of an old pagan society. Many of the remains remain, and some of them have been extremely well-preserved because they have been "adopted" by other groups. Perhaps the best example of this is the Pantheon, which was originally built in 60 B.C., but converted in 609 A.D. into a Catholic church. The ceiling was originally covered in bronze, but the church had it removed and melted down to construct a cannon and to fortify the nearby Castle of Saint Angelo. All the pagan statues were summarily destroyed as well. Services are still held there to this day, and the Renaissance artist Raphael is buried there.

We ended our day with a visit to the Castle of Saint Angelo, which provides a beautiful view of of standing in front of the city. Saint Peter's square is behind us. This structure used to be a mausoleum built in 139 A.D., but was later converted into a fortress (401 A.D.), and then a castle for the Pope in the 14th century. Eventually, it was used as a prison, and Giordano Bruno was held there for six years to pay in part (he was to be burned alive to pay for the other part) his heretical views that are to this day still controversial in many parts of the world.

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