Today we had a free day in Rome. The bus dropped us off at the Spanish Steps at 9am, and our smaller group of 9 was going to the catacombs. Being with a tour group means that many of your needs are met: you don’t have to research hotels, the transportation is taken care of, and you just show up to meals and people serve you wonderful food. Without the structure of the bigger group it was like herding cats to try to get everyone going in the same direction. “Look! Shiny!” NB wanted to peek “quickly” into a nearby church while we figured out transportation to the catacombs, and two others went with her. We waited forty five minutes for them to return. Then RO needed to go to the bank. “I didn’t know I’d need money for public transportation!” “You mean, you don’t even have a Euro on you???” Ten minutes later we were searching for J., who had wandered off. “Look over there! A statue!” By 10:45 we were on the Metro together. I love taking public transportation in foreign cities, and Rome is easy because it’s only 2 short lined—impossible to get lost, but doesn’t go to your destination. Before we could engage a taxi, we passed a local market., ( “Bargains!! Must stop!!”), which necessitated another trip to the bank. When NB asked where the bank was, the woman said “Around the corner. Around the corner.” Around the corner we saw nothing, so we asked another person, who said “Around the corner.” I thought “That must be what people say when they don’t know where something is. But, no, it really was around the corner twice. The first woman wasn’t just repeating herself. Found the bank. Went back to the market, made the vendors VERY happy and were on our way in two taxis to the catacombs. Which were closed. It was noon, and they would reopen at two. After walking one direction, NB asked a woman pulling into her gated estate “Do you know where we could get lunch or find a supermarket?” “Oh, no English! My husband…” Points to car pulling up behind her. Yells: “Pietro, parli ingles a la signorini.” Proceeded in the opposite direction and found a sandwich shop where the waiter wrote “I heart Jilian” (or whatever your name was) in the foam of the cappuccino. We arrived at the catacombs four and a half hours later than expected, but we had had amazing, unexpected adventures on the way. I love figuring out local transportation, making myself understood by ordinary local people and shopping where they shop, and we had been able to do all of these.
The catacombs were where the earliest Christians were buried. Before the early church formed, people in Rome cremated their dead or left the bodies in the open air. Because the earliest saints believed they would need their bodies after they were resurrected, they started embalming them and burying them. And I thought all that was invented by the American funeral industry! I wonder if they were pressured into buying the gold painted vault and the marble coffin instead of the cheap brick one. They built extensive elaborate labyrinths of graves with beautiful simple frescoes of Bible stories on the walls. I was deeply touched by these believers who believed the same things I did, and yet lived almost 2000 years ago. Even though the paintings of the stories of Jonah, Moses, Jesus, and the apostles were ancient, the meaning was clear. I felt part of something that transcended time. Once a day the tears hit me, and usually I’m in some really public place. Today I was deep in the tunnels, when I remembered my dad was just buried, too. The tears are uncontrollable. I give myself permission to grieve, but wish I had some alone space to cry, too.
After we returned to the city center, I experienced the highlight of my day: we visited the tiny jail where St. Peter and St. Paul were imprisoned before they were crucified. Prisoners were kept in a dingy, rat-infested room about 7 feet square. There was a small hole in the ceiling where people could toss them food or necessities through a grate. The prisoners often died from strangulation from other prisoners, but more often they died from starvation. It was here that Paul wrote his letter to the Philippians urging them not to be anxious or worried about anything. He wanted them to rejoice in the Lord always. How difficult it would have been to rejoice about anything in his situation!
It seemed fitting on our last day to have pasta and gelato and then walk across the river to leave just as the sun was setting over the beautiful city.