Thursday, October 21, 2010

A Date with Priscilla and some Skulls

This morning I toured a variety of churches. I got to see the Capuchin Crypt with the bones of 4,000 friars elaborately used as a massive church decoration. I also stood in front of the Ecstasy of St. Teresa in the Church of Saint Mary of the Victory. I wandered into a few other churches and walked through the Baths of Diocletian again. My plan today was to stay around the Termini train station so that I could hop on the train at 5:30pm to ride to Ravenna. The churches I saw today was my first part and then I was thinking of going to the National Museum.

However, since today was remarkably cool and beautiful, I couldn’t get myself to spend the next few hours inside. When I looked through my guidebook I found that the National Museum had many interesting things to see, but I felt a bit done with looking at bits of marble and stone. So I sat down with the map and contemplated my afternoon. I really want to see the Jewish Museum which is south of where I was, but that would be open next Monday when I’m back in Rome (when most of the churches are closed). The Appian way and the two famous catacombs nearby were even farther south of where I was sitting. I needed something that was within an hour’s walk…

That’s when I came across a small description in my guidebook. I was about to toss the book away, taking from it the pieces I thought I’d need when I returned to Rome, but not wanting to carry it around anymore. So I went through the book page by page to make sure I had gotten everything out of it that I could. There, amongst the endless detail of north Rome was a small paragraph about a different catacomb… the catacombs of Priscilla.

Now Priscilla was mentioned by name in Acts 18:1-2 “After this Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. And he found a Jew names Aquila, native of Pontus, recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome.” Priscilla was thought to be one of the first female leaders of the Christian movement. An Aquila and Prisca are mentioned throughout Paul’s letters to Rome and Corinth as well as his second letter to Timothy. There is a good chance that while in Rome, Aquila and Priscilla gathered Christians nearby for worship.

However, the Priscilla of the New Testament is not the Priscilla that these catacombs are named after. Since Priscilla was revered name among the Christian community it was passed down through the generations. The catacombs that I saw today were built in the 2nd century and used throughout the 5th. In 155 A.D. there was a Priscilla who joined Montanus in the declaration of continual revelation. This declaration was deemed heretical by the church although famous people like Tertullian thought highly of Montanus’ theology.

The tour was informative but rushed. I had gotten there during the lunch break and spent some time writing while I waited for the nuns to come back. When they did, the tour guide insisted that I wait until there was a large group. A few more Americans came in to the convent and then a group of 25 Germans. Our little group was bypassed in favor of the larger group and directed to another tour guide. The other two Americans got fed up, demanded their money back and left. The nun chewed out the tour guide who had orchestrated the mess and I ended up getting a tour again by myself. Although, this time the tour guide did not like me and wanted the whole thing to be over as soon as possible.

It was great to be underground again. When I return to Rome after my little excursion I intended to see more of the layers. There are 13 km (x0.6 for the number of miles) of tunnels that consist of these Catacombs and many graves that have never been open. Some of the oldest Christian art is in these tunnels: Jonah, the phoenix, the feeding of the 5 thousand, the three boys in the fire (Book of David), doves and olive branches. Never a picture of the cruxifiction… again, Brock and Parker seem to be right.

For more about the theology of Paradise that I’m reading about in Brock and Parker’s book Saving Paradise and my theological musings of the churches that I’m visiting feel free to glance at my other blog:

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