Planned spontaneity. 3/10/18

We have sometimes been criticized for being overplanned when we travel. Really this is all on me. I am the kind of person that likes to know what is happening next and be early for it! But even though I have had the hotels locked down for ages, have tickets for special events, and generally have an idea of what I want to do, there is still plenty of time to do extra things. I call it planned spontaneity.

Today we want to visit the Basilica of  St. Clement, the Monastery of the Four Crowned Martyrs, and Basilica Of Sts. John and Paul. I get a note in the morning that Sarah has researched the Basilica Sts. John and Paul and it appears that the entire interior has been redone. Oh, Churches, I bet you regret getting rid of all the wonderful old decorations that would have made your church irresistible!

We start the day at the Basilica di San Clemente (St. Clement) and we will have to play it by ear afterwards. The Basilica, built in the 12th century, is pretty unimposing from the outside but pretty fabulous on the inside. There is a wonderfully intricate mosaic behind the altar.

Church interior San Clemente

I have only two pictures because you are not allowed to take pictures in here. I guess it cuts down on their postcard revenue. I get caught by the guard taking this one and sternly admonished. I pretend that I don’t understand all the warning signs and react humbly apologetic. He does not throw me out. My other picture is more detailed. Sarah and John huddled around me so I didn’t get caught on this next one. Stupid rule!

Close up of the San Clemente mosaic

The mosaic is wonderfully detailed. The tree of life is sprouting up from an acanthus plant. Legend has it that the cross is made from the tree of life. All the tendrils (the circular bits) ends in a flower or some other benign aspect of life. In between the tendrils there are birds and saints. Along the bottom edge above the sheep there are charming scenes of farming and husbandry. Plus there are some very robust sheep here. I know all about Christ being the shepherd of his flock but I have never seen so many big sheep!

This church is also referred to as the lasagna church because there are two additional older layers under this one. John and Sarah buy the ticket to go exploring. I must remain above because of my wonky knee and the stairs and uneven pavement. I amuse myself while they are gone by playing with my phone and taking the aforementioned illegal picture.

Next we head to the Monastery of the Four Crowned (anonymous) Martyrs. Built in the 400’s it was destroyed, rebuilt and burned down twice and rebuilt into its final form in the 12th century. Alas, a lot of the interior has been redecorated.

Redecorated altar area

But wait! There are some old fragments of frescoes on the side walls.

On the right is St. Bartholmew. He was flayed with the wicked knife he is holding. His skin, at least from the neck down, is flung over his shoulder.

There are a cloistered group of nuns who live here in silence. We are supposed to be silent too. Going through a side door we are confronted with a sign in Italian. We think it means we are supposed to go knock on some door and a silent nun will give us entry to a chapel. Fortunately some tourists walk out at that moment and we slip in. It is like walking into the 13th century!

Frescoes in the Chapel of St. Sylvester

The narrative panels depict the Emperor Constantine refusing to bathe in the blood of children to cure his leprosy. He dreams in the center panel that Sts. Peter and Paul are advising him to contact Pope St. Sylvester who is in exile so in the third panel his envoys ride out to find the Pope.

Continuation of saga

In the first panel on the next wall, the envoys climb a mountain to find the Pope. Next the Pope returns to Rome and shows an icon of Sts. Peter and Paul to the Emperor.


The Pope baptizes the Emperor and then the Emperor grants temporal Sovereignty to the Pope.


The Pope and the now cured Emperor have a big happy parade to celebrate.

This is not as innocuous as it seems. The work was painted due to the confrontation of Pope Innocent IV and the excommunicated Holy Roman emperor, Frederick II. The church wanted to show with these cartoon-like frescoes that the Church has sovereignty over the Empire.  After all, they did not have Twitter to show their bravado.

We have completed the scheduled portion of our programming and now it is time for some planned spontaneity! John sees some statues in the distance on a building. Maybe it is something we might want to see. We head off in that direction and come to a large square.  It is the Piazza S. Giovanni in Lateran. We know that the the church has to be here somewhere. We walk around. Where could a giant church hide.

In the meantime we enjoy looking at the tallest obelisk in Rome. It is from the temple of Amun of Karnak. It was built in 15BC and transported to Rome in 357. It is covered in hieroglyphics.

Lateranense Obelisk in Piazza di San Giovanni in Laterano

Parts of the Roman walls are here as well. Here is a section left standing between two houses.

Old Roman wall

Finally we find the church. It is not merely a church and not merely a Basilica, it is an arch-basilica headed by an arch-priest, which seems kind of villain-y. San Giovanni in Lateran is an enormous church and is the Cathedral of Rome and since the Pope is the bishop of Rome, this is his church.

San Giovanni in Lateran

The arch-basilica was consecrated in 324 and pre-dates St. Peter’s. All the Popes lived here until the French Pope, Clement V, who  transferred the seat of the papacy to Avignon. After a couple of fires and refurbishes, this is what the interior looks like now.

Interior of San Giovanni in Lateran (picture from Wikipedia)

There are twelve enormous statues of the Apostles. Each Apostle has with him an identifying icon i.e. St. Peter has keys. There is an apsidal mosaic created in 1291 depicting the miraculous appearance of Christ in the basilica apse at the time of its re-consecration  by Pope Sylvester.

Apsidal mosaic in San Giovanni in Lateran

So this has been some pretty sweet spontaneity. In addition to our two planned churches we have also gotten to see part of the wall of Rome, the obelisk, and the arch-basilica of St. John Lateran. I think we deserve some lunch! We grab a taxi back to the hotel to wash up and then find a place for lunch.

Today we dine at Elettra around the block from the hotel. It is an okay lunch but not as good as yesterday’s. John wins best lunch choice.

Mary’s lunch – Spaghetti with clams (gritty)
Sarah’s lunch – polenta with boar stew (not enough sauce and dry polenta)
John’s lunch – grilled squid (perfetto!)

Now as everything shuts down that we want to see, we shut down to for an hour’s nap. All of us basically sleep for the entire time without moving. We’ve been up a significant portion of the night and are really tired. Thanks, jet lag!

Remember yesterday we saw the weird painting of St. Pudenziana collecting martyr’s blood with her sister St. Praexedes? Turns out that St. Pudenziana’s sister also has a church in Rome and it is not too far from our hotel. It really doesn’t look like much from the outside but it has some great mosaic work inside. There is a little chapel dedicated to St. Zeno with mosaics from the late 13th century.

Entry to the Zenon chapel, a funerary chapel for Pope Pascal’s mother, Theodora
The two martyred sisters flank the madonna and child
The madonna in blue and the two sisters along with Theodora who was not dead yet and so gets a square halo

We are done sightseeing for the day. We choose a restaurant for pizza. John and I share a pizza Margarita and Sarah has a Calabrese and Roma pizza to herself. They are good but not quite as good as Jersey shore pizza. I will need to keep searching for the perfect pizza!

John and I share a pizza Margarita
Sarah has a pizza called Calabrese and Roma

Once again we pledge to stay awake until 10 PM. Tomorrow is the dreaded third day of jet lag so we will see how everyone has fared in the morning.

2 thoughts on “Planned spontaneity. 3/10/18”

  1. Maybe the best way to vent our political and personal frustrations would be to “publish” them in a tiny room in an obscure cloistered convent where you must get a key to enter from a silent nun!

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