> SlowTrav > Italy > Travel Notes > Lazio and Rome
Chills and Thrills in the Eternal City
They have gazed at the Sistine's ceiling, envisioned spectacular battles
in the Colosseum and thrown their coins into the Trevi Fountain. Now, are
your children looking for some chills that gelato just won't give them? Rome
is full of treasures for the history and art buffs, but a visit to some of
the following sights may be the most memorable part of a kid's visit to Rome.
Incorruptible Bodies and Skeletons
Rome's numerous churches contain masterpieces of art and architecture.
But if your children are tired of looking at frescoes and start whining "not
another church", bring them into one of these and have them hunt for the body.
St. Peter's Basilica
The body of Pope John XXIII is in an ornate glass case in the right aisle.
Also of note, the tombs of many Popes are contained in the Vatican grottoes,
underneath the Basilica. For children age 15 and older, you can make an advance
reservation to tour the Necropolis, otherwise known as a "Scavi Tour," which
takes you through an ancient Roman cemetery to the tomb of St. Peter.
Santa Maria Concezione, Via Veneto 27
The crypt underneath this church just up from Piazza Barberini contains the
skeletons of over 4000 capuchin monks. Some of the bones have been "artfully"
arranged into designs. Can be very frightening to young children.
Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, Piazza della Minerva 42.
Located behind the Pantheon, the Piazza in front of the church has a very
cute elephant sculpted by Bernini that holds up an obelisk. Inside, Rome's
only Gothic church has a chapel frescoed by Lippi, Michelangelo's sculpture
of Christ and the tombs of St. Catherine of Siena (her image is sculpted in
wood on her coffin) and the artist, Fra Angelico. Kids will remember the body
of Santa Wittoria, dressed in white and slightly propped up in her glass reliquary,
she looks out at her observers.
San Crisogno, Viale Trastevere at Piazza Sonnino.
Body (face and hands lightly covered with a wax coating) of the Blessed Annamaria
Taigi, a Roman housewife who devoted her life to helping the poor and sick;
she died in 1837.
Santa Maria Nuova (aka Santa Francesca Romana), in the Forum, near
Go down into the crypt and you will find the saint for whom the church is
named, St. Francesca Romana. Her skeleton, clad in the white habit of the
Oblate Sisters, rests in a glass reliquary.
Chiesa Nuova (aka Santa Maria in Vallicella), Via Vittorio Emanule
II and Piazza Chiesa Nuova.
In a chapel in the left transept is the tomb of St. Philip Neri who died in
1595. Although his body was embalmed after his death, his face is not well
preserved and is covered with a silver mask of his likeness.
San Salvatore in Onda, Via dei Pettinari, between Campo di Fiori
and Ponte Sisto.
The body of St. Vincent Pallotti lies underneath the high altar.
Il Gesu, Via d. Plebiscito and Piazza de Gesu.
Rome's largest Jesuit church, the tomb of St. Ignatius Loyola is here although
his remains cannot be seen. However, opposite the Saint's tomb, there is a
silver reliquary containing the arm of St. Francis Xavier.
San Silvestro in Capite, Piazza San Silvestro
In a small room to the left of the entrance, a reliquary holds the head of
St. John the Baptist.
Santa Croce in Gerusalemme, Via Carlo Felice and Via di Santa Croce
St. Helen was the mother of Rome's first Christian emperor, Constantine. St.
Helen made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land and returned with many relics of
the Passion, now housed in a chapel in the lower level of the church. Among
these relics are the cross of the "Good Thief", nails from Christ's Passion,
a thorn from the Crown of Thorns, the "INRI" sign from Christ's cross, pieces
of the Cross, and the finger of St. Thomas, or "Doubting Thomas."
San Clemente, Via San Giovanni Laterano and Via Querceti.
A fascinating church built on three levels. The street level has beautiful
mosaics; on the level below are frescoes from the Carolingian period and finally,
in the lowest, moldiest, darkest level you will find a small chamber in which
a Mithraic altar stands. It was here that bulls were sacrificed during the
2nd to 4th centuries.
Santo Stefano Rotundo, Via Santo Stefano Rotundo 7.
Not far from San Clemente, up the steep Celian Hill, is the round church of
Santo Stefano Rotundo. Decorated with frescoes from the 16th century depicting
various means of torture and martyrdom.
Santa Maria dell'Orazione e Morte, Via Giulia.
Only open on Sundays and public holidays. This was the headquarters of the
Society of a Good Death, which was dedicated to the burial of the poor. The
interior was formerly a storage hall for corpses and the church has easy access
to the Tiber where floating bodies were retrieved from each morning. The facade
of the church is especially morbid. Be sure to see the plaque near the door
where a skeleton announces "Hodie Mihi, Cras Tibi" or, "you are next."
Piccolo Museo del Purgatorio, Church of Sacro Cuore del Suffragio,
Lungotevere Prati 12.
In a small hallway off the sacristy, this little "museum" consists of a glass
case that contains objects to make you wonder if purgatory does, indeed, exsist.
There is a description, written in several languages including English, of
the items in the case. The items have been marked by the deceased in order
to urge their relatives to pray for the deceased's souls and release them
from purgatory. Lots of eerie burned finger and handprints on books, nightcaps
Museo Sanitario, Santo Spirito Hospital, Lugotevere in Sassia 3.
Open only Monday, Wednesday and Fridays from 10-12, but call ahead (06-68352353).
Not for very young children. Housed in a working hospital, enter the Sala
Alessandrina and wait for the custodian to take you up to the museum. Dr.
Lenci, a retired OB/GYN, who speaks several languages, will show you the collection
of wax models of organs, early surgical instruments, and finally embryos,
fetuses and skeletons depicting various gruesome birth defects. Also of note,
on a wall outside the hospital, you can still see a revolving chamber or "rota"
in which mothers could place babies for which they could no longer care.
Museo Criminologico di Roma, Via Gonfalone 29.
Housed in one of Rome's old prisons, this museum traces the history of the
prison system in Italy, the way crimes are solved, and the various means of
punishment used throughout European history. Many instruments of torture,
weapons and execution are on display. There is also a cage containing the
skeleton of an unfortunate Sicilian prisoner.
San Callisto, Via Appia Antica 110,
San Sebastiano, Via Appia Antica 136.
They don't contain skeletons anymore, at least not the portions that are on
the tour, but you will be able to see the wall niches that contained the bodies
and, at San Sebastiano, there are mausoleums that are excellent examples of
Ancient Roman burial architecture. Be sure to stay with the guide as the catacombs
are vast and there are many dark and narrow passageways.
Mamertine Prison, Clivio Argentario 1, located in the Forum under
the church of San Giuseppe dei Falegnami.
This is where both St. Peter and St. Paul were imprisoned and was originally
a cistern. An underground spring still exists here and many pilgrims pause
to dip their finger into it and make the Sign of the Cross. Prisoners were
thrown into this dungeon from a hole in the ceiling, but now you enter by
a set of narrow and winding stone stairs.
Unless otherwise noted, most churches are open two times during the day,
usually from 7 or 8 in the morning until noon or 1 in the afternoon. They
close for a few hours and then reopen at 4 or 5 p.m. until about 7 p.m. St.
Peter's Basilica is open daily from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m., however, between
October and March, it closes at 6 p.m.
When visiting churches, catacombs and other holy places, remember that
shorts are not allowed to be worn by men, women and older children. Also,
no very short skirts, bare shoulders, midriffs or low cut shirts are permitted.
If mass is being conducted when you arrive at a church, do not wander around
the church until it concludes. While entrance into churches is free, it is
thoughtful to leave a small donation. Have a supply of coins with you in order
to operate the lights in some of the chapels of the darker churches.
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