Victor Emmanuel and 3 Churches

The Victor Emmanuel Monument wasn’t in my original thinking for this afternoon. My tentative plan was to visit two or possibly three churches and then play it by ear as to what else to do to fill the remaining time that I’d undoubtedly have after that.

At lunch, I checked the opening times for those churches. I know; I know. I should have checked that before. But I don’t like planning that far ahead. You probably have a general sense of where this is going.

All of the churches closed at noon and then didn’t reopen until 3:30 or 4:00 depending on the church.

I finished lunch a little after 2:00. That left a lot of time before the churches opened. I thought it wise to not make a decision on what to do with that time until I saw if the showers were still coming down steadily.

They had diminished to a light drizzle. Thus, I decided to take a longish walk and do something I’d never done during this or my previous visits to Rome. I opted to walk to and up the steps of the Victor Emmanuel Monument to take in whatever view there was to be had on this cloudy day.

By the time I got to the monument the rain had stopped. But the clouds persisted.

Victor Emmanuel Monument

If you’ve been to Rome and done any wandering around you’ve no doubt seen the Victor Emmanuel Monument. It’s a gargantuan, garish, heroic white building with a huge horse and rider statue out front.

I read in a few places that the locals find it tacky. They’re not wrong about that. But to my mind, it is so over-the-top in gaudiness and so out of place for Rome that it transcends tackiness to achieve a strikingly absurd beauty of its own.

But that’s not what drew me to the Victor Emmanuel Monument today. I’ve seen it a number of times from street level on this and previous trips. But I’ve never climbed the steps to the viewing terrace surrounding the building about halfway up.

In spite of the clouds, I still got good views of old Rome. And it was free. So there’s that.

While walking up to the viewing terrace and talking in the views is free, there’s also a lift that can take you to a viewing platform at the top of the building. There’s a fee for that.

The price was 17 euros. That includes entry to a couple of museums in the building on the unification of Italy. That didn’t interest me. It apparently doesn’t interest a lot of people because multiple signs say, in all-caps, that they don’t sell lift-only tickets.

I didn’t think it was worth 17 euros just to get a little closer to the not particularly high clouds, so I didn’t go up.

With seeing Rome from the viewing terrace of the Victor Emmanuel Monument crossed off my list, it was time to move on to my regularly scheduled churches.

Church of Santa Maria degli Angeli

The Church of Santa Maria degli Angeli has what I think is a unique history. The building didn’t start as a church. That, in itself, is not what makes it unusual. Plenty of church buildings started as something else. It’s the building’s original purpose that stands out.

It started life as a Roman public bath. But not just any Roman public bath. It was a particularly grand one. According to my guidebook, it was a whole complex that covered 30 acres. Apparently, 5,000 people could bathe there simultaneously.

Long after it stopped being a Roman bath and fell into considerable disrepair, what remained was converted into the Church of Santa Maria degli Angeli with the help of …

Wait for it …

Wait for it …

I suspect at least one reader didn’t have to wait for it because she already knew. Yes, that’s right. It was Michelangelo. There’s no escaping him in Rome, is there.

The old brownbrick curved exterior of the church is quite plain, but interesting nonetheless. I found the interior quite simple too. There are lots of curves and attractive lines, without an over-abundance of decorations. Not that that’s a bad thing. It’s a nice old church, even if the most spectacular thing about it is its history.

The Church of Santa Maria della Vittoria

The Church of Santa Maria della Vittoria (yes, another of St. Mary’s franchise holders), is not very far from the Church of Santa Maria degli Angeli. The former is a small and somewhat ornate church. What sets it apart is that it houses what my guidebook says is “Bernini’s best-known statue, St. Teresa in Ecstasy.

I’m getting the following from the guidebook, so if it’s wrong don’t blame me. But the statue apparently depicts St. Teresa just after she was stabbed with God’s arrow of fire and the arrow was plucked out by a cherubic angel. I don’t get that. Aren’t angels supposed to be in the employ of God? I mean, I don’t know if they’re his salaried employees or if they do gig work for him. But I think there’s supposed to be some sort of relationship like that.

So why would St. Teresa get stabbed by an arrow from God and then the angel comes along and plucks it out? Why didn’t God just not stab her with the arrow in the first place, or not supply the arrow so someone else could do the dirty work if that’s what happened. That would have saved the angel the bother of pulling it out. The angel probably billed God for that.

The guidebook goes on to say that it’s claimed that St. Teresa later talked about the sweetness of the intense pain and the oneness with God that it brought her. I don’t know. It sounds a tad convoluted if you ask me.

Church of San Giovanni in Laterno

The Church of San Giovanni in Laterno was the backup sight that I was going to visit only if I had time. My guidebook described it as kind of barren, so I didn’t put high on my list. And because I wasn’t sure I’d go, I didn’t bother looking on a map to see where it was. But it almost immediately followed the Church of Santa Maria della Vittoria in the guidebook, so I figured they were close.

Bad move on my part. If I had checked it out I could have organized my day a lot better if, indeed, I did end up going, which I did. It’s a little over a half-hour walk from the Church of Santa Maria della Vittoria. And that walk included a lot of backtracking on the rest of my journey from this afternoon.

Yes, travelling can be a lot easier with more, or at least some, advanced planning. But that would take more or at least some advanced planning, which I’ve already said I don’t enjoy. On the bright side, the rain held off. I enjoy walking. And walking in Rome is mostly enjoyable. (More on that in an aside below.) Plus, visiting the Church of San Giovanni promised to deliver a bonus too. Again, more on that later.

My guidebook says that the church opened in 318 AD and was one of the first places in Rome where Christians could worship openly without the persecution they suffered up until then. Yeah, like they were the first religion to be persecuted. Their experience to that point taught them how evil brutal persecution can be so, centuries later, they ran the Inquisitions. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

I don’t know why the author of the guidebook called the church kind of barren. I found it quite attractive and well decorated. Five sets of two decorated columns line each side of the central nave. Between the two columns of each set and facing the central nave rests a large statue. There are also two similar double column sets at the back of the church. The other side of the panel where the statues are, the side facing the side aisles, is also decorated. And there is a brightly and attractively decorated flat roof over the central nave. Hardly barren, I’d say.

The Holy Stairs

I mentioned that visiting the Church of San Giovanni in Laterno came with a bonus. Across the street is a building that houses “The Holy Stairs.” Legend has it that the stairs used to be in Pontius Pilate’s residence in Jerusalem and Jesus had to walk up them on the day he was sentenced to be executed.

According to the guidebook, hundreds of the faithful still come every day to climb up the stairs on their knees. The stairs, which are marble, are protected with walnut wood, but there are apparently some sections with glass panels so the faithful can see the blood of Christ on the stairs. At the top of the stairs is a chapel that, according to the guidebook, was once considered to be the holiest place on Earth.

Indeed, when I was there, the stairs were filled with people climbing up them on their knees. And a sign said in large letters, in multiple languages, that you could go up only on your knees.

On either side of the Holy Stairs is another marble stair case (the unholy stairs?) that the faithless can use walking upright and the faithful can use to come down. Although, when I was there, three people were kneeling on the unholy stairs used by people such as myself to walk up.

The “Holy of Holies” chapel didn’t look like much to me and you could only look at it through a screen. There is also a less holier than the Holy of Holies chapel off to the side. I didn’t go in because there was a service going on at the time.

When I was at the bottom of the stairs, despite being totally irreverent, I didn’t think it was appropriate to take a picture of the Holy Stairs with all of those people reverently climbing them on their knees. But there was no sign forbidding it. And, while I was there, a few people took pictures of the stairs while standing right in front of a booth where an attendant was renting audioguides. The attendant saw them, but didn’t say anything. So I snapped a picture.

There is, however, a sign at the top of the stairs forbidding the taking of pictures from there. I guess they don’t mind people taking pictures of worshippers’ backs, but not their faces. That makes sense to me.

And that concludes today’s activities.

This is my last day in Rome until I return to catch a flight back home. I think four nights, three days was an appropriate time to be here considering I’d been here a few times before. However, if this had been my first time I’d definitely want to add a few days so I could go inside the Colosseum and visit the Vatican and, particularly, its Sistine Chapel.

Before I sign off, here’s a general aside.

Aside

Street Art

I seem to recall seeing this program in one or two other cities I’ve visited and writing about it then, but I can’t remember where that was. And I’m too lazy and tired to search my journal to find it. So I’ll just repeat myself.

Rome has an extensive program of street art. At many intersections, signalized and not, they paint sets of plain white bars, across the street, with the bars aligned with the direction of vehicle traffic. In this way, a pedestrian foolish enough to want to cross the street can step across the full set of bars.

In other cities, these would be crosswalks. But here they are purely decorative.

I’ve tried signalling with my hand that I want to cross, but the drivers don’t stop. I’ve edged into the street up to within millimetres of the point where I would likely die if the drivers don’t stop. But, still, they don’t stop.

Even at signalized intersections, turning drivers seem determined to do you in. I think they make turns even if they want to go straight just to challenge pedestrians.

I did learn how to use these artworks by watching other people, probably locals. The trick is to wait for a gap large enough such that a driver can stop without hitting you if they want to. (On the main streets, gaps large enough that you can cross all the way before a car comes along are exceptionally rare.) When you see such a gap, just walk out and challenge the drivers to hit you. They usually won’t.

I saw a number of people do it and tried it once myself. I got across safely, but the margin of error was such that I was within millimetres of needing a change of underwear. Or a hospital. Or a mortician.

After that, I only did it when other people were crossing the street too. On one-way streets I positioned myself so that they would bear the brunt of any cars that didn’t stop. On two-way streets, I’d look at where the dominant flow of traffic was coming from and position myself accordingly to lessen the chances of me taking the full force of the car.

Hey, don’t look at me like that. They were determined to cross anyway, whether or not I did too. There’s no point in all of us dying.

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