Beliefs / Italy

Church Photo in Lieu of Attendance: Basilica of St. John the Baptist

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I wish I could take credit for the title of this blog, but I can’t. Joan Perry of Charleston, SC, has an interesting and fun blog that I follow, and she periodically uses this title for her posts featuring Charleston church photos. And while I didn’t attend the church in the photos, I enjoyed my visit and took a few shots of the beautiful Basilica of St. John the Baptist.

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I have visited Rome a couple of times before and, to be honest, I hadn’t heard of this basilica. Terri and I were on our way to the Coliseum, and couldn’t help but notice this prominent building. After our visit, the charming couple, Paola and Claudio, who are renting us our apartment, explained the importance of this church to Roman Catholics.

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The name in Italian is the Arcibasilica Papale di San Giovanni in Laterno. And as the Cathedral of the Bishop of Rome (the Pope), it ranks above all other churches in the Catholic Church, including St. Peter’s Basilica in The Vatican! This may sound like trivia, but to Roman Catholics, it’s a major distinction.

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It’s the oldest of the major basilicas, and the official dedication of the first basilica on this site was in 324! The present Late Baroque facade dates to 1735, but there have been a number of destructive fires, and it was damaged by a Mafia terrorist bomb in 1993. However, reconstructions have restored it to its original grandeur. On the exterior the massive Greek columns and sculptures along the roofline are classic Rome, but the interior details are so ornate that it’s dazzling.

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From the intricate tile mosaic floors, to the ornately carved ceilings, each and every part of this basilica is a work of art. When I was there a ceremony was going on with a chant echoing through the building, which further added to the mystique.

There are large sculptures along each side of the nave, and my personal favorite is St. Bartholomew. Perhaps you notice in the photo that he is holding a knife and what looks like a sheet with a face draped over his arm. Apparently there are three stories about his death, and the most popular (with artists anyway) was that he was flayed alive, and the “sheet” he’s holding is his skin. Yikes! A bit grisly, but that’s one way to get our attention.

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As I left I was reminded of the reality that confronts all travelers eventually. No matter how hard you plan, sometimes the best experiences happen by chance. This was one of those times.

Happy Trails,
James

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