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Basilicas of Rome

Rome is a destination full of excitement, history, and culture. We delve into the basilicas of Rome, their cultural importance, historical significance, and architectural beauty.

[00:29] What is a basilica?

[02:09] Four Great Basilicas of Rome

  • St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican
  • The Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls
  • The Basilica of St. Mary Major (Santa Maria Maggiore)
  • The Archbasilica of St. John Lateran (Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano).

[02:53] St. John’s Lateran

[04:03] Santa Maria in Trastevere-get a little history

[10:26] St. Peter’s Basilica

[13:19] St. Paul’s Outside the Wallsscooter time

[15:14] St. Mary Major (Santa Maria Maggiore)

[17:24] Rome and the basilicas

Dream. Learn. Plan. Prepare. Go to Guidester/Virtual-Vacation

Season 1: Episode 5

#Rome #Vatican #Pope #Coliseum #StPetersBasilica #basilica #StPaul #PopeJohnPaul #PopeJohnPaulII #VaticanII #moped #scooter #Romanempire #Constantine #Caesar #emperor #cathedral #mosaics #VaticanCity #Pantheon #travel #Europe #vacation #traveleurope

Transcript
Arnold:

Welcome to the fifth episode of the podcast, Virtual Vacation with Guidester where each week we explore European destinations with host Jack Baumann, founder of Guidester and travel enthusiast Arnold Stricker. In this episode, we'll understand the importance of basilicas to the fabric of Rome, discover where the chains of St. Paul are housed, and reveal some of the contents that are housed in the museum of the Vatican. Now let's join our host, the Guidester himself, Jack Baumann. Basilicas of Rome. I've always wondered what exactly is a Basilica Jack? Tell me, because when we go to Rome on this virtual vacation, I want to know what I'm looking at.

Jack:

So strictly speaking of a Basilica is simply a special designation from the Pope and the Vatican. These are usually designated for historical significance and or above and beyond architectural beauty. For example, here in St. Louis, the Cathedral Basilica became a Basilica when Pope John Paul, II came and designated a Basilica and he did that for the mosaics. This cathedral Basilica in St. Louis has the most mosaics of any church in the world. You walk in there every square inch of the building in the interior is covered by mosaics. So that was the reason; among other things architecturally, the structure of it is beautiful, the dome is quite beautiful .But specifically Pope John Paul, II, and then the Vatican as an entity decided that the mosaics and the beauty held within this cathedral warranted it being designated a Basilica.

Arnold:

Isn't it something special too? This is where the Bishop resides?

Jack:

No, that's a cathedral.

Arnold:

Oh, okay.

Jack:

So a cathedral is the seat of a Bishop, and this is why it's called the St. Louis Cathedral Basilica. It was a cathedral because it was the seat of a Bishop, then it became a Basilica because it was designated as such by the Pope. So now it's both. You can be a Basilica and not a cathedral. You can be a cathedral and not a Basilica. You can be both at the same time.

Arnold:

That clarifies things for me; that helps me out. How many basilicas do they have in Rome?

Jack:

Rome has many basilicas, but there's four ancient, let's call them great basilicas of Rome. St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican, the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls, the Basilica of St. Mary Major (Santa Maria Maggiore), and the Archbasilica of St. John Lateran (Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano).

Arnold:

Okay, now let's talk about each one of those, because there's a lot to the names there. Obviously I recognized Paul.

Jack:

You've heard of Paul, but St. Paul Outside the Wall is one of the most unknown Basilicas in Rome. It's absolutely gorgeous. It houses the chains of Saint Paul; you can actually go and see the chains, I've seen them. St Peter's is the most popular. Mary Major is probably the second most popular; it's right in an area of Rome called the Monti area, the Monti neighborhood.

Arnold:

So tell me about the St. John Lateran.

Jack:

That's actually an Archbasilica, the oldest and highest ranking basilica in Rome. This was given the Archbasilica because of its age, historical significance and also the architectural beauty So in this specific instance, it's the oldest in Rome, which is why probably received that designation from the Vatican.

Arnold:

So Jack, how old is St John's?

Jack:

The ground was consecrated in 324, the modern building itself dates to 1735. Now the oldest church, the oldest basilica in Rome is actually not St. John Lateran building itself. It's Santa Maria in Trastevere.

Arnold:

That's a pretty good Italian!

Jack:

Santa Maria in Trastevere! Bella! I like to speak Italian. I'm trying, and some people might make fun of me, but apparently I have a decent accent cause I've been to Rome actually on six separate trips. I have a good friend there who's also a tour guide, Patrizia and she's lovely. She might be boosting my ego a bit, but she assures me that I have an okay accent and I can pronounce certain words. But Santa Maria in Trastevere is on the West bank of the river Tiber. Trastevere is a beautiful neighborhood in Rome. It's one of the most, I would dare I say the most authentic. It's a very neighborhoody feel. It's outside the central historic district and it's outside the original city walls of Rome, which is why it was the oldest church? Even in the 300s, it was not a popular thing to be Christian in Rome. The aristocracy of Rome held onto their pagan beliefs for many centuries. The ancient Senate of Rome, the Senate of Julius Caesar and Augustus and before them; actually met and continued to convene well into the 600 and 700 AD, 300, 400 years after the Roman empire became "Christian" under Constantine the Great. So the oldest church Basilica building in Rome was Santa Maria in Trastevere built in the 340s, 350s AD.

Arnold:

Gotcha. Now, why is it important to know about these particular basilicas?

Jack:

It's part of the fabric of Rome itself. If you're interested in history, it's intrinsically interesting. It's also an important understanding of the history of that city and then the wider culture of how Christianity, blossomed, how it spread across the Mediterranean, and how it spread across the Roman empire. Each Basilica really does have something unique; something special. So let's talk real quick about Santa Maria in Trastevere. It's a really neat part of Rome. It's notable for this stunning and amazing golden mosaics on its facade.

Arnold:

Really

Jack:

It glitters, it shines; the golden mosaics on its facade it really is something to see. It's bell tower, which dates to the 12th century still standing. So you're talking 900 years that bell tower has been there Inside the building, and this is very important too it goes back to the fabric; it's divided into three naves. A nave is just a walkway. The columns that created the naves were taken from the Baths of Caracalla. Caracalla was a Roman emperor. So this is very important to understand. The stripping away of the ancient buildings of Rome created the Medieval and Renaissance buildings of Rome.

Arnold:

Very interesting.

Jack:

Yes. And so it just shifted, it just moved. This is why the Coliseum looks the way it did. During the middle ages, Rome was a population at its height of about a million people and the height of the Roman empire. In the worst part of the middle ages, let's say 11th, 12th century, at the lowest point it went down to I think, 20,000. A million down to 20,000.

Arnold:

Wow.

Jack:

There are many reasons for that; Florence, Sienna, Venice were really up and coming. The power of Rome was dead. The Western Roman Empire was sacked in the 470s, 480s AD. People say the fall of the Roman Empire happened in the 400s AD, the fifth century. It's not actually accurate, it just shifted to the Eastern Empire, which was based in Constantinople, which is modern day Istanbul. What's interesting is we call that the Byzantine Empire; it was still the Roman Empire. Res publica is the thing of the people; res publica is how the Romans explained their empire or the thing of the people, because it goes back to the Senate. That's still kept ongoing. In fact, the Byzantines never, ever called themselves Byzantines. We do that. They called themselves Romans. They still had a Roman Senate, now it was a Christian Roman Empire at that point after Constantine, but it still continued right on being Rome. So in effect, Rome did not fall until the Turks blew a hole in Istanbul in the 1400s AD, 1450s, AD I think ,so really Rome didn't fall until about the 14th, 15th century.

Arnold:

So why do we call it the Byzantine Empire?

Jack:

It's easier. That's the truth. It's much easier to designate Rome "fell" at this time, then the Byzantine empire rose at this time. Why they call it the Byzantine empire? The city of Constantinople was named Byzantium and it is beautifully located in between East and West, it basically is the crossroads of Europe and Asia. If you look at a map, it is perfectly situated to control the empire. When the empire was still whole, Constantine was looking for a new capital. Constantine was obsessed with singularities. He wanted one ruler or King or emperor. He wanted one ruler, one God, one capital. At that point, Rome as a capital was defunct for many reasons that we could get into historically, but it was defunct so he needed a new capital. He looked around; every major city, Antioch, Alexandria, Rome itself was saddled with the baggage of paganism. He didn't want that. He wanted to create a Christian capital. So he found this little sleepy village called Byzantium, which was right at the crossroads of East and West. It didn't have the pagan baggage cause it wasn't that big so it just didn't have that kind of baggage. Perfectly situated surrounded by sea on three sides. So he understood immediately that if he could build a wall, the Walls of Theodosius, that city would be impregnable. He was right. There were, I think 12, 13, 14 attempts, real attempts to take that city by the Visigoths, other invading barbarians, and then later the Ottoman empire. It was the Turks that ended up. Taking the city, he understood immediately that this was the place for the new capital. Going back to Byzantium, sorry, I'm taking you the long way around Byzantium just simply means the city of Byzantine. So the Byzantine Empire just said, oh, it was an empire built from this city. Once the Western Roman Empire fell in the fifth century in the late 400s, it really did become a separate empire. They still minted their Roman coins, they still had a Roman style of government and they still had a Roman emperor, but for historical sakes, it was just easier to say the Byzantium empire, but they never called themselves that.

Arnold:

Interesting. Very interesting. That's why it's important to listen to this podcast. Folks, you get a whole lot of information. Take a virtual vacation to Europe from the comfort of your couch. Browse popular sites, watch video tours, explore with interactive maps, discover local insights and start planning your dream trip when you're ready to travel. Once again, choose your destination and discover some of Europe's top destinations. Visit guidester.com/virtual-vacation. Now you talked about one of these particular basilicas and the importance of it. What about the other three? What are the important aspects of those other three basilicas in Rome?

Jack:

So St. Peter's Basilica is, the center of the Vatican. The significance of that is something that we would probably need an entire podcast just to discuss. St. Peter was crucified upside down by his own request. Basically that apparently was the place where St. Peter was crucified. So Constantine built a church on it. If you go underneath the crypt, you can see the pillars of the original church that Constantine the great built. So it was church built by Constantine, the first Christian emperor, and then they wanted to upgrade if you will. You have the modern building, which is built in the 15th century, don't quote me on that, but it's right in that early Renaissance stage. The Piazza itself, a lot of people don't know this, it's actually shaped like a hand. Two hands. You can only see it from the air. It was built by the sculptor Bernini. Bernini is one of the greatest sculptors in Italian history and Bernini created the St Peter's square. The square is just as significant in many ways as the Basilica itself. So there's layers upon layers, but getting back to brass tacks, St Peter was crucified at that spot. So that's the significance there.

Arnold:

And I've also read somewhere that he's buried there?

Jack:

Yes. We think so. I don't know the specifics of that. I know that's the legend; I'm not entirely positive, whether that's been proven or not. I do think there is archeological evidence to support that. But yes, there are many myths and legends that turn out to be true. Rome is the epitome of myths and legends. Getting back to your original question, why is this important? Why should I care about the structure of St Peter's Basilica? This is why, it gives you an understanding of history and the reality of the world that you're looking at right now. It's not just cool and interesting, which I think is pretty cool and interesting, but it gives you a touch and a flavor of why I should care. You can actually climb the dome of St. Peter's Basilica and get 360 degree views of Vatican and downtown Rome which is beautiful; highly recommended. You pay a few euros and you go up an elevator and you climb some stairs, it's a couple hundred stairs. You have to have a little bit of, physical stamina, but it's so worth it, it's absolutely worth it. So you see the St Peter's Basilica, the crypt, you do your tour, see the Vatican museums, and then you go up the dome and you get your view. That would be the best way to end it, in St. Peter's Basilica and actually most tours of the Vatican do end in St. Peter's, which is good. You go and, do your gift shopping and then go up the elevator. Actually do your shopping after you go up the elevator. Don't be carrying bags with you. You go up the elevator and you get these stunning views of St Peter's. Went there for the first time in 2008, and there were no barriers at all. Now there is a chain gate, if you will so people don't fall over or voluntarily go over for whatever reason. You can hang your phone in such a way to get perfect views, but it's still beautiful even with the sort of cage that they have there to protect you. So if you are worried, there's a cage. You're totally protected. It's safe. Let's get to the other one, St. Paul Outside the Walls. The reason it's called St. Paul Outside the Walls is it's outside the original city walls. St. Paul Outside the Walls houses the chains that chained St. Paul while he was imprisoned in Rome. You can physically see the chains of St. Paul. In addition there's a courtyard that's beautiful. It's a separate museum for the Vatican. The robes of Saint John Paul II are there. Vatican II, which was a very significant counselor meeting in the sixties. I think that was the ecumenical council that actually changed the masses from Latin to English. I think that's where that happened. All the documentation and a historiography of Vatican II was there. Artifacts and beautiful statues, relics, bits, and bobs from ancient Rome from the middle ages from Renaissance. It's in a beautiful courtyard that's attached to St. Paul's and you can pay a small fee to get through the museum. So you see the Basilica itself, it's magnificent and then you can go to this little side museum and see all these other things as well. So St Peter's is right there, west of the river that you can basically walk to from central Rome. St. Paul, you might want to take a cab or you can ride the best way to get around Rome in my opinion a moped. If you have just the slightest inkling of adventure and you have a little bit of courage, there is no better way to get around Rome.

Arnold:

Or a lot of courage on the roundabouts?

Jack:

The roundabouts are not the problem, it's the other drivers. Italians are aggressive drivers. They're actually good drivers because they're very aware, but man, they'll get within centimeters of you. They won't hit ya and God willing, but they really are aggressive. So you just have to play the game. You have to be aggressive. You can go from the Vatican to the Pantheon, to the Coliseum and then St. Paul Outside the Walls like that. You can get there and you can park it basically anywhere. You just find a nice little curb and you just pop it up, put your kickstand, take the key out and you're ready to rock and roll. So yeah; good way to get there is via moped. Basilica of St. Mary Major (Santa Maria Maggiore) It's probably one of the most architecturally beautiful buildings in Rome. It's in the neighborhood of Monte, which is a more local neighborhood. Monte is a living, breathing thriving city, right in the center part of Rome and Mary Major (Santa Maria Maggiore) is right there. The pillars inside the building itself are unbelievably dramatic; and the front facade of it is magnificent. I think that's the significance of those major ones now.

Arnold:

Are there services in these basilicas now?

Jack:

Yes, absolutely. There are services; Sunday services and I'm quite sure they have mid-week services as well. I've been to one; they'll have their evening hymns and things like that, but yes they're still very much operating as Catholic churches.

Arnold:

The biggest one probably would be St. Peters Basilica?

Jack:

St. Peter's Basilica is the biggest church in the world.

Arnold:

Seriously,

Jack:

15,160 square feet on the interior. 720 feet long, 490 feet wide. So it's the largest church in the world by far. The second largest is a church in Brazil; don't know the name, but it's I think, 12,000 square feet. In fact, when you walk into the St Peter's Basilica, they have this sort of graphic, if you will, on the ground showing you the lengths of other churches It shows you that the length of the nave and how it compares to other structures and it's so much bigger. When you do walk into St Peter's, you are hit in the face, you are just nailed with the awesome space. It is dramatic and that was the point. They wanted to impress upon people at that time, the awesomeness of God and that was their intent of making it so grand.

Arnold:

Are there seats in it now pews or is it like it was when it was built?

Jack:

It's both it ebbs and flows. There's events, services, yes there are pews. But a lot of the space is open. Towards the altar, you're going to have some permanent pews. But as far as I know, and as far as I remember, because I've been there a couple of times and each time I go, it is a little different. They rearrange things as needed. It's the Vatican, they have some money to move things.

Arnold:

So Jack, how did Rome end up with all these basilicas?

Jack:

Ultimately they were places of worship and at some point in history, they were designated as basilicas as we discussed. They just were built up over time as the city of Rome itself became more Christian. Again, in the 300s AD even after Constantine made Christianity legal; Constantine did not actually make Christianity the official religion of Rome that was Theodosius later, 50 years later I think. But he did make it legal, which then started the process of making the Roman empire Christian. At that time, the churches were really converted pagan areas of worship. So the oldest church in Rome, now we talked about the oldest Basilica, but the oldest church in Rome is the Pantheon.

Arnold:

Really,

Jack:

The Pantheon was built by Marcus Agrippa in the first century, AD, which was rebuilt a century later by the emperor Hadrian. It was burned down, sat burned down for a number of years, and then it was rebuilt by Hadrian. So the dome, the famous dome, it was the largest freestanding dome in the world for many centuries. It was unbelievably beautiful building. So when Rome became Christianized and really started to convert all these pagan buildings of worship, that's what you ended up getting. They either destroyed those buildings or they repurpose them and you're not going to destroy the Pantheon. So that's why today it's the oldest church in Rome because it was built 2000 years ago by the Romans and then repurposed by the Christian leadership a little bit later. So that's really, what you end up with is layers upon layers

Arnold:

I've learned that basilicas are an important part of our history and they really define the identity of Rome. They give us a big explanation of the culture that came out of the time.

Jack:

Absolutely. It's amazing the significance. Even if you're not a history person, understanding this on your visit to Rome, just having a little bit of knowledge of these places and how this fits into the fabric of Rome, you will be better off for it. It will complete your experience of Rome.

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You made our day by listening to this episode of Virtual Vacation with Guidester. If you enjoyed this episode, please consider subscribing to the podcast to keep up on all the latest episodes. Virtual Vacation with Guidester is produced by Motif Media Group. For Jack Bauman and Virtual Vacation with Guidester, I'm Arnold Stricker.

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