Monday, April 23, 2012

Christmas in Italy: Christmas Day in Rome

After a full and eventful Christmas Eve, we slept in a little and had a leisurely start to our day on Christmas morning.  But alas, we were in Rome, so that was the end of our leisure.  After breakfast it was full speed ahead again.  There are just too many wonderful sights to see in Rome. 

The first of our many wonderful sights to see: The Basilica of Saint Paul!  After living down the road from Saint Paul's hometown, Tarsus, we have a great love for him.  It's possible that Saint Paul crossed right through our backyard during one of his missionary journeys!  I've also noticed that Peter has a special connection with Saint Paul, who has become his favorite Saint.

The Basilica of Saint Paul is the most unique of the four major basilicas in Rome.  His basilica is outside of the city boundaries, and is hence sometimes referred to as "Saint Paul's Outside the Walls".  There are tall palm trees surrounding the basilica, which looks a little out of place in Rome.  When I visited Saint Paul's in high school, I thought this basilica surrounded by palm trees looked a little funny.  But now, after visiting Saint Paul's palm tree-lined hometown in Turkey, it feels just right.  It is a gorgeous basilica and it reflects the uniqueness of Saint Paul.

St. Paul holds a sword because this was the instrument of his death by beheading.
The inside of Saint Paul's Basilica was spectacular as well.  We entered quietly, as there was Christmas Day Mass taking place.  Because of the Mass, we were unable to visit Saint Paul's tomb, which was in front of the main altar.  Fortunately, we had the opportunity to return the next day! 

Midnight Mass with Pope Benedict left a big impression on Peter.  Since we weren't able to take any gifts on the plane with us, we told Peter he could pick out a gift to celebrate Christmas.  When asked what he wanted to buy in Rome, he responded "Pope Ne'nict book".  We found a little Pope Benedict calendar and holy card for Peter, which he treasured.

Peter and Pope "Ne'nict"

Next, we stopped at the Colosseum!  What an incredible place with so much history.  It was so powerful to think of the blood of martyrs being spilled for the Faith in this very spot. 

After the Colosseum, we walked through the streets of Rome, taking in all of its sights and sounds.  The streets were alive with street vendors, music, and entertainers.

The Roman Forum

The Tiber River

The Basilica of Saint Bartholomew which was closed!  We would visit again in a couple days...

Our last stop of the day was very special to us, especially Dan.  We visited the Church of Saints Cosmas and Damian, adjacent to the Roman Forum.  After living in Turkey for awhile, Dan became interested in researching the Saints and martyrs from this country.  After endless research and late nights on the computer, Dan discovered a treasure trove of Saints and martyrs that lived in the region of Turkey where we live.  One of the most incredible discoveries was that Saints Cosmas and Damian (famous Saints mentioned in the Litany of the Saints and Eucharistic Prayer 1 at Mass) were from a little coastal town just an hour down the road from us!  We had visited this town several times and had swam in the sea there.  We felt a bond with these heroic Saints.

Saints Cosmas and Damian were twins born in Syria who later moved to the bustling coastal port city, Aegea (now the present day town of Yumurtalik, Turkey).  The twins were strong Christians who practiced the art of healing in the name of Christ and healed many people.  Upon being arrested by Roman authorities, the two men were exposed to tortures of fire and water, crucifixion, and finally beheading.  Their fame grew over centuries and they became two of the most famous Saints in the Eastern and Western Worlds.

Tragically, nothing remains in their hometown to commemorate these great churches, no statues, no plaques...nothing.  Their memory, however, continues to live on and whenever we visit Yumurtalik, we think of them fondly and are proud to be some of the select few people in the world that travel to their hometown where they were martyred to honor them.

Now, in Rome, we were at last able to see where our close spiritual friends from Turkey finally came to rest!
The Basilica of Sts. Cosmas and Damian is a beautiful, small basilica with stunning art.  The mosaic over the main altar shows Sts. Peter and Paul presenting the two martyrs to Christ.

We were very excited to be inside the church, but...where were the Saints' remains?  Where was their tomb?  We couldn't find anything in the main church that looked like a reliquary holding the Saints' bones.  We walked around for awhile and met one of the staff members at the church--she was a beautiful Filipino woman who spoke Italian and English.  I told her that we had come from the region where Sts. Cosmas and Damian lived and that we were interested in seeing their tomb if she could point it out to us.  She was excited to show us, however, their tomb was located in the crypt in the basement.  She told us that in order to go down into the crypt, we had to make an appointment with the priest in charge of the church.  At that time, the priest was away.  She gave us the phone number to the basilica and asked us to call back tomorrow to set up an appointment.  We thanked her and she asked us if we had seen the inside of the basilica yet...we told her that we had, but she insisted on showing us around more in depth.  She took us back into the church and gave us a short tour about the highlights of the basilica and its history.  After talking with her for awhile, we became very good friends with her and we were inspired by her pure spirituality and Catholic faith.  She LOVED Peter...  :-)

After about 20 minutes of talking with her, she said that she wanted to check to see if the priest in charge was back yet.  She went to check...and he was!  He was a kind, elderly priest...our guide spoke to him in Italian and told him where we had come from and that we wanted to visit Sts. Cosmas and Damian in the crypt below.  The priest smiled and said something in Italian.  Our guide told us that she would give us a personal tour of the crypt and take our family down to see Sts. Cosmas and Damian!

We went down into the crypt and walked into a small chapel.  Under the altar of the chapel was the tomb of the famous martyrs, Sts. Cosmas and Damian!  What a Christmas gift from our God to receive a personal visitation with such distinguished Saints who we had such closeness to!  We said some prayers and touched some Sts. Cosmas and Damian medals we had brought with us to their tomb.  We gave one to our guide as a token of our deep appreciation...she treasured it greatly.

It's hard to describe in words how miraculous and beautiful it was to have the honor of seeing the final resting place of these holy was one of the greatest Christmas gifts we have ever received!

After profusely thanking our friend and the religious at the Basilica of Sts. Cosmas and Damian for their generosity, we left the basilica and set out on a new mission:  FIND CHRISTMAS DINNER IN ROME!  This was actually much more difficult than you would anticipate.  Most of the restaurants in Rome were CLOSED for Christmas!  After walking around for awhile we found a quaint restaurant with some charming old waiters who had fun making Peter laugh.  We sat down after another busy day and had a delicious Italian dinner.

After dinner, we went back outside and enjoyed views of the Roman Forum majestically lit up at was beautiful.

We took the metro back to our hotel and settled in for a long winter's had been a Christmas we would never forget...

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