When in Rome…

Jessica Smith

artwork by: Jessica Adams

I do not know that I have ever waited for something for so long and with such
anticipation. Last February, I travelled to Rome, Italy as a part of Trinity’s junior trip.
Beforehand, people all around cautioned me, fearing that my enthusiasm was too idealistic and that I would be disappointed, but Rome fulfilled and exceeded my expectations. It was a trip filled to the brim with laughter and wonder, and we carried back with us a wealth of memories and inside jokes. I can’t think of anything that could have made our trip any better; we students were well prepared to enjoy all that Rome had to offer. Because there is not room to tell all of the stories from the trip, two of the best will have to suffice.

As our group of jet-lagged travelers approached Santa Maria Maggiore on our first day,
we did not know what to expect. What we found was a dazzling basilica from the 400’s AD: the ceiling was of gold brought back from the Americas by Christopher Columbus. The nave was lined with mosaics, each depicting its own Old or New Testament scene in glittering gold and bright colors. The triumphal arch was adorned with notable biblical figures, while the apse boasted a vast mosaic depiction of Mary and Jesus, joined on either side by such saints as Francis, Paul, Peter, John and Antony. I spent most of my time in that church standing under the apse with Dr. Mrs. Scholl, because just under Mary and Jesus was a Latin inscription, built into the mosaic itself. As we stood reading the dead language, I stepped back and realized, “I am reading Latin in a mosaic of a basilica in Rome from the 400’s!” Standing under the apse, I was thankful I knew Latin; I was participating in something in that church that people have been studying and enjoying for more than fifteen centuries. In my journal entry that night, I wrote, “I
know it’s only day one, but this is definitely on its way to being one of my favorite things.” It is my favorite even now because of that moment.

Several days later, something claimed second to Santa Maria Maggiore. It was the
Vatican museum, which includes the pope’s apartments and the Sistine Chapel. Walking through the Vatican Museum one joins a river of people, passing through the extravagant halls, admiring what’s displayed on the walls, whether tapestries or maps, but constantly flowing forward. The river’s course travels through the pope’s apartments, where one can take a distributary to view Raphael’s famous frescoes that cover the walls. One of the most famous, perhaps, is The School of Athens, which depicts such famous figures as Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, Euclid, and Ptolemy.  Had we not studied this painting in school, this room would have meant nothing to us, but
instead we were eager to see it in person. It did not disappoint. That room was our longest stop before we reached the chapel; we enjoyed studying the painting and pointing out who was who.  My friend even bought a mug later with The School of Athens on it. The mouth of the river, where it ends, is the Sistine Chapel. If the halls of the museum were rivers of people, the Sistine Chapel was a lake. If one can find a seat, it is a spectacular view. On the ceiling and altar wall are works by Michelangelo, including the famous Creation of Adam. Lesser known paintings, though admirable in their own right, line the walls and show biblical scenes, though they are a bit harder to decipher. The Sistine Chapel is the most beautiful room I have ever been in.  It is still hard to believe that in February I was in Rome with my classmates and teachers.  I remember the cobblestone roads glistening after it rained, the nuns and friars walking the streets, and SPQR stamped on every manhole cover. From walking around the seats of the Colosseum to walking on the Via Sacra through the heart of the Roman forum, from the Circus Maximus to the steps where Julius Caesar was assassinated, Rome put images to our understanding of history. It truly lives up to its name as the Eternal City.