July 10, Sunday Worship St Peter, Ghetto, Night Wandering

We were able to sleep in a little bit this morning with a general improvement of all of our health and moods.  We left the hotel and walked ten minutes to St. Peters, where we encountered a huge line to go through the metal detectors to enter St. Peters.  After standing in line for 25 minutes and being inspected for proper attire, no shorts, no tank tops, no bare shoulders, we were finally admitted.  St. Peters is the largest church in the world and the art, the statuary, the decoration is overwhelming.  Just taking pictures does not do justice to the experience.

The high altar is used only when the Pope is celebrating Mass which is only for special occasions.  Most Sunday mornings a Cardinal celebrates the Mass at the Altar of the Confession that is deep inside the church, all the way to the back wall.  Ray pointed out some inscriptions on the floor, that told us where other churches would end, emphasizing that St. Peters is larger than all the rest of them.

The Mass was just beginning as we made our way to the area of seats that had been set up for worship.  There are no permanent pews in the sanctuary.  We sat down and watched and listen as the liturgy was celebrated in Italian.  There were no bulletins, prayer books, no folders with explanation in English.  If we didn’t know what was going on, well then that was our problem.  Everything about the church communicated power, raw naked power and wealth.  When we met with David Richardson the Anglican representative in Rome the next day he said:  “Many people visit St. Peters and come out saying, ‘now I know why there was a reformation.’”

The music was classical but good.  I contrasted my surroundings with St,. Francis whom we had been studying on Saturday.  Religion, power and wealth are an incongruous mix, at least for Christians.  Or maybe I should say spirituality, power and wealth are an incongruous mix, for all too often in the history of the world religion has been co-opted into the service of power and wealth.

After the Mass we wandered a bit in St. Peters.  We visited the tomb of Pope John XXIII.  He is on display at a side altar.  Ray was a very good guide pointing out the area of the sacristy and other monuments inside the church.  He also kept commenting that the security and the efforts at crowd control were more than he had ever seen before.

When we were finished looking through the church we walked back to the hotel, where we had a few minutes to freshen up, while we waited for our guide Mikilah, who came to take us on a tour of the Jewish Quarter.  We traveled by bus.  In Rome you buy a ticket at many different stores or vendors and then validate your ticket once you get on the bus.  We noticed that only about 20% of the passengers were bothering to validate a ticket.

We got off the bus at the huge monument to Victor Emmanuel II, who liberated Rome in 1880.  He did not have good relationships with the Pope, because up until that time the Pope had ruled Rome.  It was under Victor Emmanuel that the church’s holdings collapsed to the few acres of Vatican City.  In the Square before the Victor Emmanuel monument we saw where Benito Mussolini had had his offices and the window from which Mussolini had often addressed the crowds.

We then walked to the area of the Jewish Ghetto.  Even today Romans refer to this part of the City as the ghetto, where a large part of the Jewish population still lives.  Jews began living in Rome as early as 161 B.C.E., when the Maccabean King of Israel sent ambassadors to Rome to try to negotiate an alliance with Rome over against Israel’s enemies.  Beware of negotiating with Rome.  In 63 B.C.E. Pompei conquered Jerusalem and the Jewish population of Rome began to grow significantly.  Augustus gave Jews complete freedom in Rome and also gave them the Travestre neighborhood, where they had begun as early at 161 B.C.E.   When Rome destroyed Jerusalem in 70 A.D. and again in 133 A.D. many Jews were brought to Rome as slaves.  But many of these slaves were purchased by their fellow Jews already in Rome and then set free.  In 212 A.D. Caracalla issued an edict granting Roman citizenship to Jews and all free inhabitants of the Empire.

In 325 A.D. Constantine embraced Christianity began building churches and from then on there was discrimination against the Jews.  But still the Jews were respected for their learning, especially medicine.  Several of the Popes employed Jewish physicians.  In 1215 A.D. the fourth Lateran Council decreed anti Jewish legislation.  But in 1406 Pope Innocent VII granted citizenship to some Jews especially the physicians of Travestre.

In 1492 the expulsion of the Jews from Spain brought a wave of Jewish immigration to Rome.  Many of these Jews had been forcibly converted before expulsion from Spain.  So their families would face further persecution in Italy later.  At the beginning of the 16th century there were 10 Synagogues in Rome, Sephardic, Ashkenazi, and Roma.  This marked the last period of toleration for the Jews.

In 1542 the Holy Office of the Inquisition was started, and in 1555 the Jewish Ghetto in Rome was established.  The Ghetto was confined to about 4 blocks, walled off from the rest of the City, with gates that opened at dawn and closed at dusk.  Every Jew must be inside the Ghetto by night fall, when the gates were closed.  Jews were only allowed the vocations of cloth making, carpentry, second hand merchants of cloth and metal goods.  Six thousand people lived inside this tiny area.  At first the Jews were only allowed one synagogue, but then they were granted permission to have five synagogues inside of one building.

When Victor Emmanuel seized the City in 1870, the Ghetto was finally abolished.  Jews could live anywhere, but most of them continued to live in the Travestre neighborhood, where many still live today near the present Grand Synagogue that was built in 1904.

In 1943 the Nazis deposed Mussolini and took over Italy.  In September the Nazis told the Jews that if they would come up with 50 Kilos of gold, none of them would be harmed.  They met the ransom, but in October of 1943 2090 Jews were deported from Rome to Auschwitz anyway.  Only 16 of those Jews returned.  Fortunately the Italian people were able to hide 7,000 Jews from the Germans.  Today about 35,000 Jews live in Italy, 16,000 in Rome most of the rest in Milan.

Mikilah led us on our tour of the ghetto.  One of our group commented that at Yad Vashem it was possible to say, “oh that was just those crazy Nazis, it was an aberration.  But here in Rome it became clear that anti-Semitism has been deeply ingrained in European Christian Culture, and so it offers a greater challenge to Christians.  The Nazis did not invent anti-Semitism.

After the tour of the ghetto we walked to the Pantheon, where we found a restaurant, and enjoyed the Sunday Summer evening of Rome.  Street musicians, jugglers, mimes, all kinds of entertainment can and went in the Palatzo of the Pantheon, while we ate dinner.  It was great fun.  Some people even got up and danced to the music of the street musicians.  I noticed a lot of Frank Sinatra music was very popular.

After dinner we started to walk back to the hotel and we took a route that went through the Palatzo Navona.  Here there were many, many artists.  Also more street musicians, some of whom had cycled over from the Palatzo of the Pantheon.  There were more entertainers, and lots of people just having a good time.  Wandering in Rome on a summer evening is great fun.  Ray tells me that a Christmas time the Palatzo Navona is full of Christmas decorations and vendors as well as the entertainers.  Thus ended a wonderful day.


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