Last Day in Rome
Day 8: Sunday, May 26. We were leaving on the train for Venice at 12:15PM. Since this was Sunday, we needed to find a church; this was not a big problem in Rome. We wanted to attend Mass at St. Peters with the Pope, but once again just did not have the time. During breakfast we discussed how we could get to Mass before leaving.
As I was settling our bill with the desk clerk, I heard church bells pealing. I asked the clerk what church it was and where it was located. I was informed that it was Santa Maria Maggiore and that it was two blocks away. This was one of the churches that I had heard about for years and we were right next door to it. We had plenty of time to attend 9:30AM Mass and still catch our train.
Santa Maria Maggiore
Santa Maria Maggiore or Saint Mary Major was constructed in the 5th century under the direction of Pope Sixtus III. This was after the Council of Ephesus in 431 accepted as dogma the fact that Mary was the Mother of God. According to legend Pope Liberius was told by a vision to found a church in a location designated by immaculate snow. The church has been changed and added to over the years. Following the directions from the hotel desk clerk we walked up a hill to the church.
Mass was being celebrated in the Pauline Chapel constructed by Flaminio Ponzio in 1611 and named for Pope Paul V of the Borghese family. The Main altar was surrounded by magnificent marble columns about 30 ft. high, capped by beautiful gilded angels. In the center of the wall in back of the altar was a large painting of the Madonna and child in a frame protected by glass and surrounded by four gold angels. The painting is purported to have been painted by St. Luke but the work has actually been dated to the 11th century, 1,000 years later.
After Mass we walked around the church; at the far end of a long hall was an altar. The design of the altar was very similar to the main altar in St. Peters. I had no idea to whom it was devoted. We descended some stairs at the side and found a small silver urn. Whose ashes did the urn contain? Nearby there were some confessional booths. I saw a priest emerging from one and hurried over and asked if he spoke English. Imagine my surprise when he informed me that he was from Boston and was there to study. I questioned him about the altar in front of us and the mysterious urn. He told us that we were looking at the holiest part of the church.
The main altar was surrounded by a huge baldacchino (altar canopy) which was modeled after Bernini’s masterpiece. He further explained that the altar protected the Crypt of Confession that houses the silver urn containing five pieces of the manger that once held Jesus at his birth. What a rush that was!
We said farewell and visited the gift shop where we purchased a few souvenirs. It was time to return to the hotel, check out and catch our train to Venezia or Venice.
Rome to Venice with Good Company
We walked to the Roma Stazione for the last time, checked the train schedule to see if there had been any track changes and approached our train, which was waiting for departure. We searched several compartments looking for a place to sit and found a compartment with two unassigned seats so we exercised squatter’s rights and grabbed them. We placed some of our luggage in the overhead rack and the rest immediately outside our compartment where we could watch it. We then waited to see who our travel mates would be for the five-hour ride.
Our companions soon entered the compartment. It was a man and woman and their daughter. He was a professor at Georgia State University and his wife also taught school. They were on a four-month teaching assignment in Heidelberg and had taken some time for a brief holiday in Italy.
We spent the rest of the trip talking to our companions about their experiences in Germany. They had traded homes with a couple in Germany for the duration of this assignment and swapped both homes and cars. They had obtained access to a Mercedes-Benz. Such a deal!
As we glanced out the window, we saw the train was moving across the causeway and pulling into the Santa Lucia Stazione in Venezia.
This is an excerpt from my book “Fulfillment is a Place”, a trip taken by my son and I to fulfill my desire to travel Europe. The book is available through Amazon Books