Europe in January 2017 – The Sixth Day

Today was a day for travelling, as your intrepid travellers were up bright and early – before the sun even! (which I may have mentioned isn’t difficult at this time of year in Madrid when the sun isn’t above the horizon until about 8.30ish in the morning) – in order to get to the airport in preparation for our departure from Madrid and our arrival into Rome.

Today was a day to say Adios, Madrid! and Buon Giorno, Roma!

Having made the flight with ease, and crossed the Mediterranean Sea courtesy of Alitalia, we arrived into Rome’s Stazione Termini, and then walk the very short walk to our next tiny apartment to be greeted – very enthusiastically – by Nicole, our hostess. The warmth of the greeting – which included a small plate of (very yummy) cakes – is probably down to the fact that my fellow travellers stayed in the very same time apartment when they spent a fortnight in Rome two years ago. But I’m just guessing!

After getting settled, we departed for a little stroll to a couple of local churches: the first was a little, insignificant number called the Basilica Papale di Santa Maria Maggiore, which is, quite literally, one block over from where we’re staying. It is an impressive building with a grand facade, and a traditional basilica-style interior, very open, very spacious, very Roman.

The sanctuary and baldacchino of Santa Maria Maggiore

The history and lengthy life is quite clearly written on the walls of the Basilica, and walking around the interior of the building it is possible to feel the prayers that have been said in that space for over 1,500 years. There is a real sense of connection with the story of faith that has gone before and which now finds itself being lived out in so many different ways.

Just down the road the Santa Maria Maggiore is the Chiesa di Sant’Alfonso di Ligouri all’Esquilino which houses the original 15th-century icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help (or Succour). Visiting this church – and this icon – has a particular significance for this intrepid traveller, since Mary, under the title of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, is the patroness of the diocese in which I serve. It was a wonderful experience to visit this icon, and to spend a few moments in prayer before the icon for my diocese and its needs.

But that was only part of the reason we visited Sant’Alfonso di Ligouri this afternoon: the other reason was as a scouting trip for the ‘secret mission’ I have been entrusted with while here in Rome. But more of that later in the week.

The third and final church we visited this evening – and one which my fellow travellers were keen to share with me – was the Basilica di Santa Maria devil Angeli e dei Martiri (St Mary of the Angels and Martyrs). Walking up to this building on the opposite side of Termini I was met with this facade:

The facade of Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri

Nothing, however, could prepare me for what lay behind this rather non-descript, some might say ancient (they’d be right!) facade. I was dumbfounded once I walked into this remarkable and awe-inspiring building. It was simply beautiful, and large – so very very large. One of the architects who worked on this building, which was built inside part of the Baths of the Emperor Diocletian, was none other than Michelangelo himself.

I’m told that visiting this church during the fall of evening doesn’t allow the true beauty of be seen – God help me when we visit again during daylight, cause I was pretty much blown away by the sheer grandeur as it was. If, dear reader, I don’t survive another visit to this holy church, know that I have died a happy and contented man in having been able to visit this sacred place at all.

After these three churches, it was time for dinner, and then a return to our tiny apartment to sleep and prepare for tomorrow… Florence!