Friday, April 2, 2010

The Seven Church Walk

The route of the Seven Church Walk. (Note: Right-click and open in new window/tab to enlarge).

A Happy Holy Week to all, and happy April as well. This is the most important time in the Church's calendar, and beginning last evening, we've now begun it's most important feast. The three-day Easter Triduum commemorates the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ and, through him, the very mystery of our salvation. It's what we've spent all of Lent preparing for, a time for earnest prayer, consideration of what we hold most dear in our lives, and an invitation to draw ever closer to our Savior, before whom all pales in comparison. As St. Paul said, "I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ" (Php 3:8).

On Wednesday, the day before the beginning of the Triduum, I participated in an ancient pilgrimage here in Rome, and one which for me was a nice way to cap off the station church practice I undertook throughout Lent. Known as the Seven Church Walk, the path was first laid out in the mid-16th century by St. Philip Neri and his friends as a way of visiting the four major basilicas of Rome (above: B: St. Mary Major, E: St. John Lateran, G: St. Paul Outside the Walls, and H: St. Peter's) as well as three important minor basilicas (C: St. Lawrence Outside the Walls; D: Holy Cross of Jerusalem; F: Saint Sebastian Outside the Walls). In the succeeding centuries, it's been a way of gathering to worship with friends, spend some time in the fresh air, and see some of the beautiful religious and cultural sights of Rome all in one day. These same things were what appealed to those of us who undertook the walk on Wednesday. Our group included priests and seminarians from the NAC, American college kids studying abroad for the semester, some lay men and women who work here in Rome, and a few other colorful individuals.

Rather than disturb your Triduum with long and detailed descriptions of each place, I thought I'd let the pictures do the storytelling for a change, together with the map at the top and the links to articles about each church throughout. Note that you can right-click on the map to enlarge it a bit. If you do so, you should be able to see our path pretty well, starting at the North American College (A on the map). We left the College at 6 a.m., had Mass at St. Mary Major (B) at 7, and then began our walk. We took a short lunch break after visiting St. Sebastian (F) and then continued our journey to St. Paul's and finally St. Peter's. We finished about 4 p.m., having walked about 14 miles in total.

Crossing Piazza Venezia, heading out in the morning to start with Mass at St. Mary Major.

Along the Via Panisperna (lit. "Ham Sandwich Road"). You can see the dome of St. Mary Major in the distance.

The Basilica of St. Mary Major. After Mass and a quick bite to eat, the Walk commences.

The Basilica of St. Lawrence Outside the Walls. It houses the tombs of St. Lawrence, St. Stephen (the first martyr), and Bl. Pope Pius IX, founder of the NAC.

Crossing through the Porta Maggiore of the Aurelian Wall.

The Basilica of the Holy Cross of Jerusalem. It contains relics of Christ's passion, including part of the cross, a nail, and the I.N.R.I. sign.

The Archbasilica of St. John Lateran, the cathedral of Rome and the premiere church in the world.

Translation: "Most Holy Lateran Church, mother and head of all the churches in the city and in the world."

Waiting to start up the walk again. This obelisk is the tallest in Rome.

Along the Via Appia Antica, or Appian Way, one of the oldest roads in Rome.

Sheep? This stretch doesn't really feel like Rome at all.

Still on the Appian Way, near several catacombs. This is also roughly the spot that Peter experienced the "Domine, Quo Vadis?" vision of Christ.

The Basilica of St. Sebastian Outside the Walls. It houses the relics of the martyr St. Sebastian and more than 200 other saints.

Walking now along the Way of the Seven Churches.

The Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls, containing the Apostle's tomb.

Nearly there. Having been on our feet now for some 8 hours, the knees were really starting to ache at this point.

At last, our final destination, the Basilica of St. Peter.

Thus concludes my Lenten pilgrimage blogging project. Many thanks for reading along! I hope you found it insightful and helpful in deepening your prayer experience of Lent. Maybe some of you will find yourself one day in Rome during Lent, and you'll have the opportunity to visit the station church of the day or make the Seven Churches Walk yourself. For those who won't or can't, I hope this has given you a taste of what it's like.

Have a blessed Triduum, friends. May the Risen Lord bless each of you!