Day 4: The Pope’s Rome

Who says the Pope is only at home in the Vatican? He is still, in fact, the Bishop of Rome as well. And on day four of the trip, we paid a visit to the seat of the Bishop of the Rome at San Giovanni in Laterano. This church is a huge cathedral that houses the actual seat (the chair) of the Bishop of Rome. When a new pope is elected to the papacy, he isn’t actually considered Pope until he comes to St. John’s (San Giovanni) and sits in the bishop’s chair. Because it is the official head of the church in Rome, there are tons of popes buried within the church. And supposedly, the heads of St. Peter and St. Paul are encased in an altar near the center of the church. There is a lot of great statuary throughout the building, including the husband’s favorite, an accusatory St. Andrew who could make even a nun nervous. The church is one of the oldest in Rome, dating back to the time of Constantine and the 4th century. However, what stands today is due largely to reconstruction during the Renaissance under Pope Sixtus V and later in the 1700s under Pope Innocent X and Pope Clement XII. Now, here’s a shocking piece of info: there’s an obelisk outside this church too! This obelisk is actually the tallest remaining one in the world and was created under Thutmose III during the 15th century BCE.

the exterior of the FRONT of the church — Funny story, we actually accidentally entered on the side of the church and it took us quite a while to figure out why our orientation was so off with the guidebooks!

statue of Constantine outside the church

It truly is amazing just how many of these there are in Rome!

looking down the nave from the transept

the altar at the interception of the nave and transepts, supposedly holding the heads of Sts. Peter and Paul

heads of saints (in the gold encasements)

some fresco work

Like many other churches we encountered on the trip, San Giovanni did not disappoint on the elaborate ceilings.

more ceilings

part of one organ

There were larger-than-lifesize statues of each apostle lining the nave.

another apostle, carrying Jesus’ shroud

Protestant churches take note- this is how you do an altar. 😉

the apse holding the seat to the Bishopric of Rome

THE seat

Oh, how those Romans do love a good oculus!

Whilst in the neighborhood, we walked beside the church for some views of the old city walls and ancient aqueducts before heading across the street. Across the street is another important pilgrimage site, the Holy Stairs or Scala Sancta. Back in the day, Constantine’s mom brought these stairs all the way to Rome from Jerusalem. Supposedly these are the stairs from the palace of Pontius Pilate. The same stairs that Jesus is said to have ascended and descended during the Passion. Claims are now made that the blood droplets preserved on the wood of the steps belonged to Jesus. Pilgrims from all over the world come to climb the steps on their knees.

pilgrims on the Holy Stairs

With a brief visit to the stairs done, we started a super long and hot walk down towards the Circus Maximus. The Circus Maximus was the largest stadium of Ancient Rome, built over 2500 years ago. It could seat between 150,000 and 250,000 spectators for chariot races (or for martyring Christians/criminals, etc). The Palatine Hill overlooks the Circus so the emperors always had excellent seats for whatever games or shows they were viewing. Now, little remains of the ancient structure. Instead, it’s a large open park that hosts campfires at night and picnics during the day.

current excavations at the circus

the best seat in the house- the ruins of the Palatine palace overlooking the stadium

taken from what would have been the seating area, looking down the circus (from about 3/4 down the length)

taken from the middle of the “track”

Being that it was so unbelievably hot out and we’d already walked several miles that day, it was time for our daily siesta. You know the routine: light lunch, shower, and nap. After that we were refreshed and ready to head out for the evening. We decided to stop by Santa Maria Maggiore, a large church just a couple of blocks from our hotel. We had heard that it would be worth a visit because of its decor and its manger relics. However, we ran into a special Mass and ended up standing and watching that for over an hour. Best we could tell, it was a Mass celebrating quite a few young men who were entering the priesthood. As luck would have it, we were standing very near where the processional ended after the Mass, so we were amongst the family and friends of many of these new priests who were giving and receiving hugs, kisses, and well wishes. It was really a special moment to partake in. The nave of the church was very lovely, but we didn’t really get to explore as much as we would have liked since the church was closing soon after the Mass ended. Oh, well- something to add to the list for the next trip!

altar and apse mosaics

upper nave decor

After our attendance at Mass, we realized we were pretty hungry so we headed out looking for dinner. We ended up at a place called Est Est Est Pizzeria. It was recommended by one of the guidebooks and was pretty decent. I didn’t love it as much as the previous night’s, but dinner was still pretty good. The staff was again pretty friendly and the house red was delicious. Again we shared a fritto misti antipasti. The husband had a pizza Margherita and I had a pizza primavera (with tomatoes and zucchini). The crust on these was thicker but both were still tasty. And price was excellent as well, about the same as the Taverna de Coppelle. After dinner, of course, it was time for our nightly gelato. This time we hit up La Gelateria Santa Maria Maggiore near the hotel. The portions were huge and it was delicious! One of the best of the trip…. though I find myself thinking that about several places, haha! The husband branched out and had pineapple, crema, and strawberry. I had chocolate and mint chocolate chip– YUM! Gelato in hand, we decided to walk towards the Trevi Fountain. On our way, we swung by the Fountain of Triton, and on our way to THAT, we accidentally stumbled upon the Quattro Fontane (or Four Fountains).

Triton Fountain

a close-up of Triton, riding his fish. Anyone want to break into “Under the Sea?”

Trevi Fountain


detail on the fountain

more detail on the sculpture

the crowd @ Trevi

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