>Bon giorno Roma! We arrived in Rome in the late afternoon on May 11. After settling into our much less luxurious hotel (no internet! scandal!), we set off to see the relics at Santa Croce in Gerusalemme, a church founded by St. Helen (mother of Constantine, the first Christian emperor, who made Christianity the official religion of the Roman empire and thus enabled Christians to go from being a tiny persecuted religious sect to a major religion that spent hundreds of years persecuting other religious groups) in 320 AD. Helen used the church to store the relics that she brought back from a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, where she was completely scammed. Supposedly, she bought thorns from Jesus’s crown; a few of the nails that held him to the cross; the wooden tablet stating the charges against Jesus (in Greek, Hebrew, and Latin); splinters from the cross itself; and my favorite, the finger of St. Thomas. The church became a major site for pilgrims, especially during the plague, when thousands of people would come to venerate the relics in hopes of a cure. (Of course, that just brought more disease-infested people into contact with one another, further spreading illness and death, but it was easy enough to blame it on the Jews, allowing the powers that be to further torture and kill them.)
I bought a booklet about the church and the relics in the gift shop. I know it is mean to make fun of other religions, but I figure that I also mock my own, so no need to take offense. (The booklet, The Basilica of Holy Cross in Jerusalem, cost me 3 euros, so I also contributed to a cause that I completely do not support, and I might as well make use of it.) It says:
In 1570 due to excessive humidity, the Relics were moved to the Chapel of Saint Helen to a niche that could only be reached by passing through the monastery cloister, which required special permission. This location didn’t allow easy access for pilgrims, who became more numerous in modern times. This is the reason that in Holy Year 1925, a plan was made to build a larger chapel which provided easier access… The renovations that took place between 2003 and 2005 included placing the Reliquaries… into a climate controlled environment to provide optimal conditions for conserving the Relics.
I just love that it took 80 years to figure out that they should put these precious objects into a climate controlled case that art museums has been using for years and years.
Much more importantly, the booklet also notes that:
The authenticity of the… Relics, those present in the Basilica since its construction, has been solidly based… The ancient story that a part of the Holy Cross was brought to Rome and placed in the Sessorian Basilica, is confirmed by medieval Papal rituals… The story of the nails is also ancient and unfaltering. Many historians of the IV century wrote that Saint Helena also found the nails that Jesus was crucified with…Regarding the relic of the… wooden tablet stating the charges that Pontius Pilate brought against Christ… Stefano Infessura wrote in his diary on February 1, 1492, that this relic was discovered, by chance, in the Basilica during a restoration project… it seems that [its hiding place in the church] was forgotten because the mosaic letters indicating its location, [sic] had fallen off… After paleographic and exegetic study and analysis of the text in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin, the inscription is perfectly compatible with the Biblical description, in particular with the Book of John…To complete the Cycle of the Passion, during the course of the centuries, Santa Croce has been enriched with other Relics including a fragment of the grotto of the Holy Sepulcher in Bethlehem, the Scouring Column, the patibulum of the Good Thief, and the finger of Saint Thomas.
So I am sure that you cannot wait to see pictures of these relics now that I have presented you with the strongest scientific evidence possible- er, um, - some stories that are completely uncorroborated and unreliable to verify their authenticity. And that is what is so lovely about faith – you don’t need real evidence because you know in your heart what is true. Please, if this post offends you, consider how others feel when we read writings on “infidels,” and what the heinous anti-Semitic impact of the Passion plays has been on Jews for thousands of years. (Blasphemy, I believe, is killing other people in the name of your God.)
Anyway, I am sad to say that I don’t have any of my own pictures because the church did not allow people to take their own so that they would be forced to spend 3 euros on a book (or at least buy a postcard or two) so that they may have pictures. Eventually, I will get around to scanning the pictures from the booklet. (Hopefully, “eventually” will be this weekend, but Brother-in-Law is getting very annoyed by my constant scanning requests…)
The pictures I do have are of the church itself, which is an architectural monstrosity. It has been rebuilt at least four times in the 20th century alone. I also have a picture of Saint Helen’s statue on the top of the church. There’s another statue of her in the church crypt which was created by ripping the head and arms off of a statue of Venus and replacing them with a new head and arms holding a cross, but I regret not having seen that one, as it sounds way more interesting than this one.
After moping about Santa Croce in Gerusalemme, we began walking back to our hotel on taking a route different than the one that got us there. (We foolishly let Dr. P guide us to Santa Croce, and she readily admits to being a great driver, but terrible navigator. This was evident when we wound up in a scary traffic circle with nary a sidewalk in sight on the way to the church.) I was excited because our new route led us directly past another priceless yet dubious relic picked up by St. Helen: the staircase that Jesus descended after Pontius Pilot delivered his verdict. The stairs themselves are covered by wood boards, as mortal feet are forbidden to trod them. Pilgrims seeking forgiveness can walk up the stairs on their knees (exiting normally via a regular staircase to the left). We arrived 10 or 15 minutes before the posted closing time, but the very mean groundskeeper refused to let me go up the stairs, pointing to his watch that it was closing time (or maybe he detected that I am a bad person). I was crushed because if that would not make an awesome picture, I do not know what would.
I closed out my first day in Rome by taking a picture of a condom machine that was outside a drugstore in the neighborhood we were staying in. It dispenses boxes of six or 12 dick socks. Actually, over the course of my trip I saw these all over both Florence and Rome. I am particularly intrigued by the fact that Rome, with more churches than you can shake a stick at, and the neighbor of the Vatican, has condom machines all over the place. Why is it easier to get birth control in the most fucking Catholic country in the world than it is in the US? Excellent for the public health of Italians, but a very, very sad reflection on the state of affairs in America, indeed.