Duration: 3.5 hours
Basilica of S. Pietro in Vincoli e Tomb di Julius II by Michelangelo, Basilica of S. Maria Maggiore, Basilica of S. Giovanni in Laterano
It is foolish to go to Rome if you do not have the conviction to return to Rome.
Did you know that the first Jubilee basilica was not actually in the Vatican? Did you also know that many holy relics are scattered here and there around Rome? This itinerary will lead you to discover some little-known curiosities from the “Dawn of Christian Rome”. Pilgrims from all over the world come to Rome to admire the famous chains which, according to legend, bound the wrists of St. Peter while he was incarcerated in the Mamertine Prison. These were divided into two sections, one of which was kept in Rome, while the other was brought back by the Empress Eudocia on her return from Constantinople (it is for this reason that the church is also known as the “Eudocian Basilica”). When the two parts of the chain were brought into contact, they miraculously welded together, and no force could then separate them. In memory of this event, the Church of S. Pietro “in Vincoli” (St. Peter “in Chains”) was erected in 442 A.D. We see it in its present form following its restoration by Pope Julius II, who commissioned Michelangelo in 1505 to create his great masterpiece, Moses, now displayed in the Basilica. You may notice a slight crack in the statue, and this takes us back into history and recalls a famous anecdote. The story goes that Michelangelo, having created a masterwork at the very limits of human capacity, was so overcome by the virtuosity and nobility of his creation that he struck the statue with his mallet, crying: “Why don’t you talk?” Vasari himself, seeing the extraordinary perfection of the beard, exclaimed: «It seems more like the work of the pen than the chisel!»
Everyone knows that Rome is home to the so-called “Papal Basilicas”, which enjoy the highest status in the sphere of the Roman Catholic Church. These include the Churches of S. Maria Maggiore (St. Mary Major) and S. Giovanni in Laterano (St. John Lateran), which are among the largest basilicas after St. Peter’s. Perhaps you are not aware that St. John’s was built many years earlier than St. Peter’s, and that it was the same Emperor Constantine who ceded the land of the old “castra Romani” (Roman barracks) to the Christian Church for the construction of the magnificent complex which now dominates the Piazza S. Giovanni (St. John’s Square). This is where the first Popes lived up to1309, when they moved to the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican. Opposite the complex, you will find the “Scala Santa”: the Holy Stairs climbed by Jesus to reach the room where he was interrogated by Pontius Pilate prior to his crucifixion. The stairs were subsequently brought to Rome in 326 A.D. by the Empress St. Helena, the mother of Constantine. The surprises are not over: I will now lead you to the Lateran Cloister, the Baptistery and opposite to the Egyptian obelisk, the tallest monolith in the world at a height of 32.18 m. If we walk along Via Merulana, which connects the two basilicas of S. Maria Maggiore and S. Giovanni in Laterano, we will pass right by “the gloomy mansion at Via Merulana 219”, familiar to lovers of that famous novel by Carlo Emilio Gadda, published in1946: “Quer Pasticciaccio Brutto de Via Merulana” (That Awful Mess on Via Merulana).
Inside Santa Maria Maggiore there are some precious wooden relics said to be from the “Holy Crib”: the manger where Jesus was laid on Christmas night. The initial plan for the church dates back to the famous night of August 5th 432 A.D., when snow was falling on Rome, and Pope Liberius, seeing this as a sign from the Madonna, was prompted to trace out the perimeter of the new basilica in the snow. Indeed, every August 5th, the historic miracle of the “Madonna della Neve” (Madonna of the Snow) is commemorated with a cascade of white petals fluttering from the dome of the Pauline Chapel. But there is still another surprise in store: the basilica also houses the tomb of the famous sculptor, Gian Lorenzo Bernini.