Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Back to Santa Maria del Popolo

We have finally made up all the snow days, juggled a few site visits and combined a few lectures, and we're back to normal. Class this week was on the book of Acts and we visited Santa Maria del Popolo. Last semester, I blogged about the art and the class. This time around, I'll point out something different. There is something that is true of just about every church in Rome, but Santa Maria del Popolo illustrates it in a particular way. These churches have stood for centuries in this crossroads of the world, and they carry that history in some interesting ways.

One of the fun little facts to know about Santa Maria del Popolo is that it was run by Augustinian monks for centuries. And so, when a young German Augustinian named Martin Luther traveled to Rome in 1511, it was natural that he stayed with his brethren right here at Santa Maria del Popolo. And, of course, it is no accident that, eighty years after Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of the church in Wittenburg, Caravaggio was being asked to fill this space with imagery of Peter and of Paul. Such art serves as a reminder both of the scriptural roots and authority of these two men, and--especially The Crucifixion of Peter--as a reminder that they both met martyrs' fates in the city of Rome. The century following Luther's visit to Rome saw not only the flourishing of art like Caravaggio's but also the renewal of interest in the catacombs surrounding Rome and devotion to the martyrs throughout the area. These stories are the stories of the church, formed and nourished by the scriptures, but also real stories of faith on their own. The city of Rome is a space on which these stories are written, in architecture, art, and tombs--in all the relics of the people who lived here, and even some who only passed through.

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