The timeless to the timely: Applying Scriptural Truths to Today
7/21/12 at 08:05 AM 5 Comments

What to See in Rome for Bible Students

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Aida Besancon Spencer
The Theater of Marcellus, Rome, Italy, which was in Rome when Paul visited it.

Would you like to see the most important New Testament archaeological sites in Rome? What can we learn about Saints Peter and Paul and Clement and Prisca and Aquila and other people mentioned in the New Testament? Since we will be married 40 years this August, Bill and I wanted to celebrate our anniversary with a special trip. I am also working on a commentary on the Pastoral Letters for the New Covenant Commentary Series and hoped to learn about Rome and its connection to 2 Timothy. Below are the key sites that we visited and we would recommend to you to read about and eventually visit. Of course, Rome offers many reasons to travel there because of its extensive art works, but our focus would be the sites that would relate to the New Testament. The sites we found most interesting to visit are starred.[1]

Aida

General:

*Ancient Rome: Palatine hill, Temple of Romulus, Arch of Titus (A.D. 81); Roman forum: Basilica Julia-likely place Paul heard his death sentence after 2 Timothy was written. The foundations of Nero’s house are in the forum. His lake is now the Colosseum. See also Domus Laurea and Oppio. (The Colosseum was built in A.D. 80, by 12,000 Jews as conscripted laborers after the fall of Jerusalem. It seated up to 70,000 people.) Forum of Augustus (Fori di Augusto), Piazza del Grillo 1, was built by Octavius Augustus.

*Next to the steps leading to the Church of Santa Maria Antigua is a first or second century apartment building, called an “insulae” (originally 6 stories). Paul probably stayed in a similar insulae when he was first under house arrest (Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon).

*Teatro di Marcello (Theater of Marcellus) was built by Augustus and seated 15-20,000.

*Ponte Sisto-a modern bridge built over Roman remains.

Pantheon built A.D. 118 on the site of an earlier temple.

Places where Paul & Peter stayed

Church of Santa Pudenziana, Via Urbana 160. Pudentiana and Praxedes were daughters of Pudens (senator or centurion) mentioned in 2 Timothy 4:21. This church was built over the house of their father Pudens. He transformed the house into a place of worship. The current church building dates to the fourth century and has the oldest Christian mosaics that survive from a place of worship. A painting has women symbolizing Jewish and Gentile communities (or Prassede and Pudenziana). The tetramorph inspired by Revelation symbolizing four evangelists appears here first. Pudens may have been married to Claudia Rufina, who was British. Peter lived in their house in July 64. Under the altar are the remains of Pudenziana. Pudens was a member of the Acilii Glabriones family. Novatus and Timothy were his sons. Remains of Titulis Pudentis (A.D. 145) are below the church. Also below the church are an ancient Roman house and baths, probably run by sons (Termae Novatii). Linus, a future pope, possibly an Italian from Tuscany, lived with Pudens.[2] Linus was probably buried near Peter (a coffin reads “Linus”). Outside the city, the Via Papa San Lino (Linus) honors the second bishop of Rome (12 years).

Church of Santa Prassede (Praxedes), Via San Prassede. After her father Pudens, brother Novatus, sister Pudentiana died, Prassede used her wealth to build this church, where she concealed many Christians persecuted by Emperor Antoninus Pius. Christian martyrs Pudens, Pudentiana and eventually Prassede herself were buried in the cemetery of Priscilla, but then the remains of Prassede and Pudentiana were removed to this church by Pope Paschal I. Thus, the church also honors Episcopa/bishop Theodora, the mother of Pope Paschal I.[3]

The Church of Saint Prisca, Via Santa Prisca 11, area of Aventino, was built over the house of Prisca and Aquila. Archaeological excavations have unearthed an early Roman Christian place of worship and Mithras worship. The legend appears to confuse Prisca and Priscilla, describing “Prisca,” as a daughter of Aquila and Priscilla, who accompanied Paul on missionary voyages, and was baptized by Peter. (Roman children were regularly called by the same name as their parents.) Most likely Peter stayed here.

Church of Saint Paolo alla Regola is built over a house where Paul lived. The house, near the Tiber River and Sisto Bridge, later was used for Christians to worship.

Church of Saint Maria in Via Lata, Via del Corso, was built over a house where Paul rented an apartment (10 c. tradition). Storerooms from the Roman period were beneath and an ancient Roman street was in front. This was and still is a major street in Rome as people travel from one site to another.

Church of Quo Vadis, Via Appia, commemorates Jesus’ exhortation to Peter not to leave the city. A marble slab with footprints are there (4 C.). *The Appian Way is well worth visiting.

Ostrian Cemetary, Via Nomentana. Peter stayed here to avoid persecution. It used to have a chair where he taught.

Events & places that relate to the deaths of Peter & Paul

*North of Roman Forum-Carcere Mamert (Mamertine Prison). Peter and Paul’s final place of imprisonment before execution. It is a former cistern connected to Tullianum springs from Tiber River. It had double level holes. The water overflows even today. The Church of San Pietro in Carcere was placed over it and over that church, the Church of San Giuseppe dei Faleguami.

*Abbazia delle Tre Fontane (Abbey of the Three Fountains), Via delle Acque Salvie, modern Via Laurentina. Paul was led out of Rome along Via Ostiensis, beheaded in Via Laurentina. The Church of the Martyrdom of Saint Paul commemorates the event and includes a marble column traditionally where he was beheaded. It is now a retreat center. The area south of Rome is still in the outskirts of Rome.

Church of San Sebastiano, Via Appia Antica 136. Remains of Peter and Paul were temporarily interred here in a marble tomb (Platonia) for a year and 6/7 months. Demasus put the memorial tablet in Platonia. Constantine built Basilica Apostolorum over the site to commemorate it. Under the church are rooms with Latin and Greek invocations to Peter and Paul.

*Church of San Paoli Fuori Le Mura (St. Paul’s-without-the Wall), Via Ostiense 186. Paul’s remains were then moved by Lucina in A.D. 69 to the Ostian Way (on the Via Valentina), where his coffin remains to this day. The high altar is above the tomb. Inscription reads: “PAVLO APOSTOLO MART…”

Church of San Giovanni in Laterano, Piazza San Giovanni in Laterano 4, cathedral of the bishop of Rome. In 1370 the remains of the heads of Peter and Paul were brought from the Sancta Sanctorum and placed in their statues over the high altar.

*Basilica de San Pietro (St. Peter’s Basilica), Piazza San Pietro in Vatican City. Constantine in A.D. 320 built a basilica on the site of the tomb of Peter, below the high altar. Near the site of the current Altar of confession is a wall on which is written in Greek letters “Peter Is Here.” Excavations are being done under the high altar (reservations are needed at least 3 months in advance (scavi@fsp.va-Scavi tours). Peter was crucified nearby on the Circus of Nero, Aurelian Way (Gianicolo Park) at his request head downward.[4]

Other New Testament People’s Sites

*Church of Saint Clement, Piazza San Clemente. Clement (Philippians 4:3) was the third bishop of Rome[5], who died around A.D. 100. The current church is built over a fourth century church built over the house of Clement. In A.D. 97 Clement was condemned to exile and forced labor in Crimea. When Emperor Trajan had Clement thrown into the Black Sea with an anchor, his body was found and buried. Cyril and Methodius, who evangelized the Slavic peoples, brought Clement’s remains to Rome. Remains of Clement’s home, an early church worship area and worship of Mithras school can be seen 60 feet below the surface.

*Catacombs of Saint Priscilla, Via Salaria 430, is property donated by Priscilla to the Christian community for burial. The pagans used to cremate their dead but the Christians wanted to retain the bones of the dead so that they would be ready to be resurrected at the last judgment. Rich and poor were buried together in an egalitarian spirit. In one of the oldest areas of the catacombs under the original villa was found a burial inscription: “M(anio) Acilius c.v. (“most illustrious man”)… and Priscilla C. (f.) (“most illustrious woman”).” “C.V.” indicates that both of them belonged to families of senatorial rank, the family of Acilius. Suetonius, in the Life of Domitian X, mentions that Emperor Domitian (A.D. 81-96) condemned to death “many senators, some of whom had been consuls, among them…Acilius Glabrione, the latter having been exiled. They were accused of wanting to introduce new things.” This general charge, akin to that of atheism, would relate to the practice of calling Christianity an entirely “new concept” “where the brotherhood of all who had been baptized was recognized, with no discrimination for reasons of social condition or of national origin.” Manius Acilii Glabriones is a relative of Pudens. The Via Salaria is an old Roman road that was used for commerce.[6]

Church of San Stefano Rotondo, Via di San Stefano Rotondo 7. When Stephen’s tomb was discovered near Jerusalem in 415, his remains were brought to this church built in his honor and modeled on the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.

Church of San Silvestro in Capite, Piazza San Silvestro, claims to have John the Baptist’s head.

[1] But, be warned, some churches are open only a few hours each day. So it’s best to check visiting hours ahead of time. Also, all these churches are still places of worship today.

[2][2] Saint Pudenziana’s Basilica (Rome).

[3][3] Paola Gallio, The Basilica of Saint Praxedes (Rome: Edicione d’Arte Marconi, 2009).

[4] Eusebius, Church History 3.1.

[5] Eusebius, Church History 3.4, 21; 5.6; Cenni Storici, San Clemente (Rome: Kina Italia/Lego, 1992).

William David Spencer
Aida at the ancient Appian Way, Rome, Italy, May 2012

[6] Sandro Carletti, Guide to the Catacombs of Priscilla, trans. Alice Mulhern (Vatican City: Pontifical Commission for Sacred Archaeology, 2007). Other helpful references were Arthur Stapylton Barnes, The Martyrdom of St. Peter and St. Paul (London: Oxford University Press, 1933; H. V. Morton, In the Steps of St. Paul (New York: Dodd, Mead, 1937); Jack Finegan, The Archaeology of the New Testament: The Mediterranean World of the Early Christian Apostles (Boulder: Westview, 1981). Holy Rome is a helpful guidebook.

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