Marie and I went to Rome for our twentieth wedding anniversary. I like to say that because our oldest son is 20, so it raises eyebrows. Marie and I have actually been married 22 years, but we just never got around to doing anything special for our 20th, so we declared this our celebration.
This one question that gnawed at me during trip: Were we making a pilgrimage? A few people asked us that, so I looked it up in Hardon’s dictionary when we got back. A pilgrimage is a “journey to a sacred place undertaken as an act of religious devotion.” I don’t think our trip qualified, since we went primarily as a gift to one another, but then again, we chose Rome because it is the font of organized Christianity, and religious veneration framed our itinerary (though wine, food, and pagan Rome also played a large role). So heck if I know.
We were there seven days and pretty much did everything on the tour checklist. I could write a narrative of everything we did, but that would hardly fit the typical blog post format. Lists, however, fit the blog format well, so, in my order of enjoyment:
1. St. Peter’s Basilica. We took a group tour, a private tour, and a casual “on our own” tour. Amazing place. Plus, a priest friend said a private Mass for us, at which I served (an adult convert, it’s the first time I’ve served at Mass). I am including St. Peter’s Square here, but if I “broke out” the Square separately, it’d rank in the Top 10 by itself.
2. The Vatican Museum. Jaw-dropping.
3. Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi. Okay, it’s not really Rome, but a day-trip away and it was probably the best church we visited after St. Peter’s Basilica (and that’s saying a lot, since we visited 36 churches, all of them stunning).
4. The Coliseum. Enough in tact to allow the imagination to run wild.
5. The Roof and Cupola of St. Peter’s Basilica. For a guy with a touch of vertigo, it was a bit intense, but definitely worth the five euros and quickened heart rate.
6. The Capuchin Crypt. You have to see it to believe it. Click on that link for a description.
7. Our Lady of Victory. This is more of a personal thing. On our last night in Rome, we decided to hit the northeast area, which featured the Capuchin Crypt. Even though we had been devouring guidebooks, this area had largely escaped our notice. We saw this church and popped in. While kneeling in the front pew with a Rosary, the statue toward my left caught my eye. I walked up and saw it was Bernini’s Saint Teresa in Ecstasy. I don’t know a lot about art, but I’ve long been acquainted with and drawn to that sculpture, and now I had accidentally stumbled across it. Incredible.
8. Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels and the Martyrs. This spot was on our tourist radar but fell off for some reason. We stumbled upon it right after leaving Victory, and I was again blown away. Diocletian’s Baths, Michelangelo’s last great work (the entire building), giant head of John the Baptist, situated in front of the Piazza della Repubblica. What’s not to love?
9. The Trevi Fountain. A celebration of Roman engineering and its aqueduct system. I drank vodka and Coke on our first visit. On our second visit, we walked by it quickly since we were running late for dinner with our priest friend.
10. Archbasilica of St. John’s Lateran. From where grace flows. The only building that gets its own feast day. It would probably rank higher, but I was exhausted during our visit.
11. Basilica of St. Paul’s Outside the Walls. Massive, tomb of St. Paul (pictured here to the right). Amazing.
12. Roman Forum. It was closed when we got there, but we had earlier walked around three sides of it and took pictures from the street. The Coliseum tour also featured an “aerial tour” of it for about fifteen minutes. Pretty cool.
I’m going to stop the list at a dozen, but here are a few honorable mentions (the second-team dozen): The Spanish Steps (pretty neat, and it almost cracked the Top 12, but I’m not sure what all the fuss is about), the Borghese Gardens, Church of the Holy Spirit in Saxony (where I had the honor of doing the first reading on Sunday; someone else was going to do it, but I ran up there ahead of him and got there first), the Bernini Plaza, Trastevere (with its Piazza Santa Maria, where a local woman yelled at me for eating pizza instead of spaghetti for lunch), Basilica of Mary Maggiore (the last of the four “majors,” contains the relic of the Holy Crib (first picture of this post); might rank higher, but I was dropping from tiredness), Piazza del Popolo (we kept running into this place; at least four trips through it), Trajan’s Column (magnificent), walking the Via del Corso with the locals at night, while drinking vodka and saying decades of the Rosary at all the churches along the way, the Capitoline Hill, the Jewish Ghetto, and Campo de’ Fiori with its statue of Giordano Bruno (one of the few men in history to be executed largely for being an ass, but still a significant piece of history).
All in all, a very good trip. Three recommendations: For a tour of the Vatican and St. Peter’s, ask for “Luigi” at When in Rome Tours. For an economical but clean and quaint place to stay near the Vatican, Arches Bed and Breakfast. When eating out, order the house wine. It’s cheaper and often made from grapes cultivated in the restaurant’s own vineyard. Great stuff.
And if you’re going to Rome for the first time, feel free to email me with questions. After seven days, I feel like I know it pretty well.