Reflections by: Dillon Lim, Gzenn Low, Lynette Koh, Ashwin Pandiyan, Eden Leow

1. Church of Santa Maria in Ara Coeli 

The Basilica of St. Mary of the Altar of Heaven (Latin: Basilica Sanctae Mariae de Ara coeli in Capitolio, Italian: Basilica di Santa Maria in Ara coeli al Campidoglio) is a titular basilica in Rome, located on the highest summit of the Campidoglio. It is still the designated Church of the city council of Rome, which uses the ancient title of Senatus Populusque Romanus. The present Cardinal Priest of the Titulus Sanctae Mariae de Aracoeli is Salvatore De Giorgi.

The church’s rich history is incredibly varied. It is such a unique and beautiful place, and recycling was the culture in the century that the church was built. Every column in the church hall is different, the flooring is made up of a variety of materials, including recycled circle mosaic tiles and stone tomb covers! It also houses paintings from different ages such as medieval, baroque etc. The church is made up from pieces from many different places. This reminds me of Jeremiah 23:5-8 which says: ‘As the LORD lives, who brought up and led back the descendants of the household of Israel from the north land and from all the countries where I had driven them.’ Then they will live on their own soil.” 

2. Colosseum and Fori Imperiali

After that, it was time for some sightseeing! We walked by the Colosseum, the main symbol of rome. The Colosseum began its construction in the year 72 and was finished in the year 80, during the rule of Roman emperor Titus. At that time, it was the largest Roman amphitheatre of its time, measuring 188 metres in length, 156 metres in width, and 57 metres in height. It allowed more than 50,000 spectators to enjoy its exhibitions of exotic animals, public executions, and most famously gladiator fights. The Colosseum served the Romans for over 500 years, and the last recorded games held in its compounds were dated to the 6th century. One interesting fact we learnt today was that the Colosseum was partially destroyed as people took away the iron weldings between the stones to repurpose them, which caused the structure to become unstable. I remember peering through one of the arches and looking at the visitors of the Colosseum standing on the steps within it and realising just how massive and grand it must have been in its day. 

Just a little way down, we reached the Fori Imperiali or the Imperial Forum. They are a series of monumental piazzas built between 46 BC and 113 AD. This area of the city was at first the market square, and later the civic centre of ancient Rome, and it was the central area around which ancient Rome developed. Here commerce, business, market, religious activities, and administration of justice took place. The Forum consists of the Forum of Caesar, the Forum of Augustus, and the Temple of Peace which lies between both forums. The Forum of Nerva and Trajan’s Forum make up the rest of the space of the entire compound. It was refreshing to imagine how life as an ancient Roman would have been, and how this would have been the place to gather and run errands, instead of Ang Mo Kio Town Centre that we are used to.  

3. Church of San Luigi dei Francesci 

Church of San Luigi dei Francesci

After a scrumptious lunch at a quaint little restaurant called La Fiaschetta recommended by our local guide Fulvio (amazing steak and wine by the way!), we journeyed to the next church – Church of San Luigi dei Francesci (Church of St. Louis of the French). This church was built in 1589 and was dedicated to Rome’s French community. This church houses Baroque artworks, in particular, the celebrated trio of Caravaggio paintings: the Vocazione di San Matteo (The Calling of Saint Matthew), the Martirio di San Matteo (The Martyrdom of Saint Matthew) and San Matteo e l’angelo (Saint Matthew and the Angel), known collectively as the St Matthew cycle. Amongst the large crowd, I admired these masterpieces. The middle art piece featured an angel appearing to Saint Matthew and inspiring Him to write the Gospel.

The celebrated trio of Caravaggio paintings: the Vocazione di San Matteo (The Calling of Saint Matthew), the Martirio di San Matteo (The Martyrdom of Saint Matthew) and San Matteo e l’angelo (Saint Matthew and the Angel)

Caravaggio used the technique of chiaroscuro (an Italian term which means ‘light-dark’), portraying the clear tonal contrasts with the bright angel and Saint Matthew against the black backdrop. I enjoyed appreciating this artwork as I imagined the different authors of the Bible that were writing the words of the Lord inspired by the Spirit. Little did they know that these letters would one day be compiled into the Bible, the greatest book of all time. 

4. Pantheon

We then returned to our journey through ancient Rome and found ourselves before the majestic Pantheon. Pantheon translates to “the temple of all Gods”, and had its construction ordered by Marcus Agrippa in 27 BC, but was only completed in 118 by the then emperor Hadrian. Interestingly, Hadrian did not want to be credited for the structure, and hence the facade reads in bronze characters “M.AGRIPPA.L.F.COS.TERTIUM.FECIT” meaning “Marcus Agrippa, son of Lucius, third-time consul, has built this.” The original purpose of the Pantheon is still unknown today, but it was given to Pope Boniface IV as a gift by emperor Phocas in 608. After which, it was repurposed into a Catholic Church named “Santa Maria ad Martyres”. It was a real pity that we were unable to go into the Pantheon, but it was still a marvel to look at from the outside. Compared to the numerous taxis whizzing past it and the rows of souvenir shops that line the streets around it, it really looks like a monolithic time capsule frozen in time since ancient Rome. I could only imagine ancient Romans gathering around it, or even possibly entering it for a time of worship. 

5. Chiesa del Gesù 

Chiesa del Gesù (Church of Jesus)

As the sun began to set on the eternal city, we headed to our next stop, the Chiesa del Gesù, or “Church of Jesus”, and is the mother church of the Society of Jesus, a Catholic religious order also known as the Jesuits. The founder of the Jesuits, St Ignatius of Loyola, passed away in Rome in 1556, and his remains were buried in a church known as the Maria della Strada Church. In 1568, the church was demolished and the Chiesa del Gesu was built on its grounds, and it is in this church at St Ignatius’ remains lie today. Upon entering the church, I was immediately drawn to the tomb of St Ignatius, which lies on the left of the altar. The shrine was immensely beautiful, and generously decorated with precious metals and stones. As a member of the RCIY ministry in the Church of St Ignatius back home, it was truly humbling to kneel before the very tomb of St Ignatius. Across the church from the tomb of St Ignatius was the altar of St Francis Xavier, another significant figure of the Jesuits. The altar features an oil painting of St Francis Xavier’s death, and it has a silver reliquary with part of the saint’s right arm. As we are on Franciscan pilgrimage, I did not expect to encounter such heroes of the Jesuit order on our journey. Ignatian spirituality invites us to see God in all things, and spending this time with St Ignatius and St Francis Xavier truly reminded me to open my eyes to see God in all parts of this pilgrimage. 

6. Church of St. Andrea della Valle 

Next, we visited the Church of St. Andrea della Valle, one of the minor basilicas of Rome and dedicated to Andrew, brother of Peter. As with all churches in Rome, the main hall was incredible but the icon of this church was definitely the enormous painting of St Andrew’s martyrdom. The painting had a voice of its own, so articulately saying so many things all at once. There were so many things to marvel at, the vividly captured image of St Andrew’s pained expression, the clearly excruciating “X” cross used to martyr him and even the colours of the painting. It was another strong reminder of the incredible strength of will of many of the Saints of the past 2000 years. All I can hope for is that one day, I too may have it within me to give my life for Christ. 

Inside the Church of St Andrea della Valle with the painting of St Andrew’s martyrdom

7. Church of St. Augustine 

Exterior of Church of St Augustine

Our last stop of the day was the Church of St Augustine. It was simple with three stained glass windows, the middle being a rose which represented the consequence of the hard work of reconstruction. The origins of this church dates back to the 14th century, when the Augustinians decided to build a new church devoted to St Augustine. The Church of Sant’Agostino was elevated by Pope John Paul II to the rank of Minor Basilica in October, 1999. When we entered the church, the divine office was being recited in Italian by a group of priests and nuns. It felt peaceful to hear this in the background as we admired the church. Despite the rather plain exterior, the interior of the Church was magnificent, with several great works of art by artists such as Rafael and Carvaggio. To the left of the church laid Saint Monica, one of the most admired saints who inspires many to pray for their wayward family members, as she managed to convert her husband from his pagan lifestyle to follow Christ. 

After hearing Fr Derrick speak a bit about the life and significance of St Monica, I felt an urge to adore her tomb. I had heard about St. Monica before, especially about her selfless love for her son St Augustine. However, I was reminded again by both the prayer card at the church and Fr Derrick’s sharing about the amount of tears she shed whilst being a soldier of God and trying to bring her son and husband back to the Lord. I knelt down and cried, because I was reminded of my mother and her selfless love. I might not always understand what she does for me, but I trust in God’s providence, and I trust that my mother only wants the best for me.