San Giovanni in Laterano was our destination today, and as usual we wore it out. The first picture is of the group out front, before entering:
San Giovanni was an eye-opener for the group, I think, as we hadn’t really spent much time in cathedrals yet. The massive amount of space inside, the beauty of the gold on the dome behind the chapel, and the fact that we were occasionally walking on dead people had the group tiptoeing around, trying to come to grips with the sheer amount of history available to us in one building. As Americans we probably don’t have a strong enough sense of the whos and the whats and the whys, but we’re quickly catching up, with the help of Danilo’s services as guide extraordinaire.
We then moved onto the catacomb of Domitilla, where we were led by our guide Juan. I took no video inside, mostly because of the darkness, but several of our group got some marvelous shots which I’m sure they’ll post. Juan was excellent as a guide, and he helped dispel several myths about the catacombs in general, the spreading of which he blamed on Wikipedia. I was most interested in what the presence of catacombs say about the ways that cultures treat their dead, and what these sorts of structures tell us about what makes us humans and worthy of being treated with dignity. The group expressed a little bit of distaste at being able to touch and breathe dust that might or not might contain human remains, a thought that brought a bit of the ewww factor. As Americans, we’re completely unused, I think, to the idea of being limited in space, limits that forced Romans to keep digging deeper in order to bury their dead.
We finished the day (for most of the group, anyway) with a visit to San Clemente. We were fascinated by the Basilica itself, and we also toured the temple to a Persian god below. The visible layers of history were a powerful testament to the ways in which faith arises, and this church’s place as an integrated building within a community – not standing apart from all else – gave it a special feel.
After the visit everyone went back to Castel Gandolfo, a bit worn out from weekend adventures. I took my own semi-private trip and saw Santi Giovannni e Paolo and wandered through Villa Cellimonti, glorying in the peace and quiet provided by big city parks before braving the rush hour metro and train rides to make it back in time for another delicious dinner.