the Rooms of Ignatius (and all four major basilicas)

Today is the feast of Ignatius of Loyola.  I’m a big fan of Ignatius — his spirituality fits my personality (according to Myers-Briggs) to a T, which I didn’t realize until my spirituality classes at the Angelicum.  Until that time, I didn’t know much about him — and I suppose I wrote him off because his recent followers have been such a disappointment.  But after learning more about him and reading his writings, I’ve really fallen in love.  Perhaps some day I’ll have the leisure of taking an Ignatian 30 day retreat.

When I realized it was his feast, I was taken back a few months to the time I visited his rooms in Rome — his office, his chapel, and the room where he died.  Then I realized I never blogged about it…

Because I still haven’t finished blogging about Rome!  Jeesh.

When I had left you in suspense, Megan and I were off to Santa Maria Maggiore, or “St. Mary Major,” one of the four major basilicas.  We hadn’t seen any of the four besides St. Peter’s yet on our trip, even though the four are pretty standard pilgrimage stops for anyone in Rome.  With a free afternoon and no plans, we decided to hop on the metro and head out to see the crib of Our Lord, which is under the high altar of the oldest church named for the Mother who laid Him there.  (There are disputes about St. Mary Major or Santa Maria in Trastevere being the oldest. You pick.)

Santa Maria Maggiore was dedicated not long after the Council of Ephesus, which declared Mary could rightly be called the Mother of God, Theotokos, God-bearer.   While Mary is a creature and is not higher than God, nor did she pre-exist God, she did give birth to the human nature of Christ, which the Second Person of the Trinity had assumed.  Since you don’t give birth to a nature (“Aww, isn’t that a cute human nature?”), but a person, Mary can rightly be called the Mother of God.  So it is quite fitting that the wood of the crib be preserved there.

We hadn’t made it over to that part of the city since jumping on a bus at Termini the day we got in to Rome — partly because there had been violence and riots in that part of the city the week before, and partly because when you live in Trastevere and hang out at St. Peter’s, that part of the city is on the other side of town.  Upon arriving in the beautiful church, we headed straight down to the crib to pray.

They were restoring the Blessed Sacrament chapel, but I was still able to play tour guide for Megan, reminding her of the high points (Pius XII said his first Mass there as a priest, as did St. Ignatius of Loyola.  Bernini is buried there, under a simple marble step, as is St. Jerome- although his body is lost and they can’t find where he is.  Oops!)

We decided since we were just down the street, we should probably head over to St. John Lateran, another one of the four major basilicas.  We passed the church of Marcellinus and Peter, which was one of the churches that had been vandalized during the riots.  The only sign of the violence the week before was a prevalence of anarchy symbols, freshly spray painted on the streets, buildings, and signs.

The church of St. Alphonsus, which is right on the way from Mary Major to John Lateran, was surprisingly not closed for riposo, so we were able to duck in there and kneel in the back while a Polish tour group finished Mass.  The church of St. Alphonsus is home of the original Our Lady of Perpetual Help icon.

This poster, from the pr0-life conservative political party in Italy, was a haunting reminder of the events the week before.  I was kind of scared to be seen taking a picture of it– even though we were in no danger, I was on edge being in that neighborhood.  So I snapped this picture across the street:

“An future without God… a Italy without a future”

Just outside St. John Lateran, we witnessed a motorcycle crash.  The young man on his little motorbike must have hit a curb or something — we just saw him fly off and skid across the pavement.  It was pretty scary — a group immediately gathered around him to try to help (and Megan knew one of the guys — random!)  When we came out of the basilica twenty minutes later, the boy was standing up and seemed perfectly okay.

We knew that most of the other churches in the area would be closed for riposo, so after St. John Lateran we headed towards the Colosseum.   I thought there might be a bus that we could take somewhere, but when there wasn’t, we kept walking, stopping for lunch in a little sandwich shop.  We ate in an odd courtyard in the back that was full of fake plants, but it was nice to be apart from the busy city outside.

As we approached the Colosseum, we decided to take the metro out to St. Paul Outside the Walls, the last of the major basilicas.  I hate the Colosseum metro stop, and I hate the B line of the metro (it’s so dirty and crowded), but I love St. Paul’s.  So I’m really glad we decided to suck it up and go out there.

After visiting St. Paul’s, I had a vague memory that there was a bus stop out front that might take us back into town.  Sure enough, not only was there a bus — it was our 271, that went right along the Tiber by our house!  We had to wait for awhile for it to come, but it was worth the wait — it had a nice scenic route past the Colosseum and Piazza Venezia before dropping us off along the river.

We were now officially exhausted.  There was some thought to going back out to listen to one of my friends defend her dissertation at the Angelicum, but once we laid down on our beds… we were out.

One of Megan’s friends had told her about rooms next to the Gesu that were “‘indescribable,” with something about an optical illusion.  We had stopped by earlier in the week and seen a sign for the rooms of St. Ignatius with hours listed.  So once we rested, Megan decided that we should head out for one last adventure.  And I was up for it.

We took a different route to get there — across Ponte Palatino, past the Theatre of Marcello, and through the Jewish Ghetto.  On the way we discovered the tomb of San Giovanni Leonardi, founder of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and then stumbled upon one of the best fountains in Rome — the turtle fountain.  It’s amazing what you just stumble upon when you’re wandering through the streets of Rome.  I knew we were close, but I didn’t expect to just walk into the piazza.  So it was a nice little treat.

The Gesu is one of the major Jesuit churches in Rome and is probably one of the most beautiful in the city.  The rooms of St. Ignatius are in the building connected to the church.  For two euro, you were able to pick up a book in your native tongue and then set off on a self-guided tour.  The first floor was a series of pictures detailing St. Ignatius’ conversion, and then some maps and information about him settling in Rome and being given the property.  As we climbed the stairs, the book spoke of the present building– essentially a palace– its construction after his death, and the desire to preserve his rooms, even though it required some architectural gymnastics and clever work arounds because the rooms were so small compared to the rest of the building.

There were a series of rooms, and they looked mini compared to the rest of the palace.  You had to walk up another set of stairs to get into them, because their floors were higher than the palace floors (and their ceilings lower than the palace ceiling).  They had simple wooden floors and low wooden ceilings.  There was St. Ignatius’ study and conference room, the room where he died, his chapel, and another room.  There were a few early copies of the constitution of the Jesuit order, the vestments he was buried in, his shoes, his desk — it was really beautiful.

A letter of St. Ignatius with his signature and the seal of the Jesuits

His desk, with his icon of the Blessed Mother over it

The most powerful moment… to kneel in front of Jesus in the tabernacle in the room where he died.

 Outside the rooms was a corridor that was full of paintings depicting the life of St. Ignatius and, in true Roman style, an optical illusion that made it seem like the corridor was much longer, with an arched ceiling.

Curved walls and ceiling?  Nope.

you can see better pictures here.

It was such a great find!  I’m so glad Megan had heard about it and wanted to go — I knew there was a treasure in Rome I hadn’t seen yet!

Afterwards we walked to Tartufo to get our last gelato of the trip.  Sadness!  I got their signature flavor, tartufo, and nocciola (hazelnut).

Then we headed to Piazza Navona to people watch, one of the best activities of a laid-back Rome trip.  Two young men were starting a break-dancing/gymnastics show, so we watched that for a bit.  Then we just hung out in the piazza — fighting off scarf-sellers and watching a large group of American businessmen and making up stories about who they might be.  Then we decided to eat some dinner.

We stopped in at a little supermarket and found a few of the things we hadn’t found at the larger supermercato the day before (like a little glass jar of Nutella, specifically requested by my sister), and then headed up to Piazza Maddalena, to a pizzeria a priest from back home took my family to way back in 2001.  It’s now a chain, but it’s still delicious.

We got red wine and water, vegetables tempura (I love the batter they fry everything in, and I love trying to guess what the vegetables are before you bite into them), a Buffalina D.O.C pizza for me, and gnocchi for Meg.  Then we finished it off with limoncello. Magnificent!

Then we headed back to Piazza Navona, got nutella crepes, and made one last trip across the Bridge of the Angels to go to St. Peters.  After buying matching Vespa keychains, we sadly walked up Via Conciliazione and spent a long time in the Square.

(He never wrote me back about having breakfast with him.)

From my journal:

I know I’ll be back, but it’s still hard to say goodbye each time.  And there’s something about St. Peter’s at night… I think just knowing that the Pope is up there, you’re down below, and Jesus is inside… all is right with the world, even when it’s not.



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