Roman Holiday: Tourist, Traveler, Pilgrim

IMG_3835During our recent explorations of Naples and Rome, we saw many sights. We archived over two thousand photographs, from which we selected a few hundred to remind us of our days. But, even these only glimpse the experiences we had during these days. These will be catalyst for stories that we will relay to family and friends. While touring with our guide, Pina, in the Naples region, she made an observation, that visitors come as “tourist” or “travelers”. I would add “pilgrims” to the continuum.

As tourists, we have our guide books and bucket lists of sights to check off. While the 7 day, 6 night grand bus tour of Europe is not our style, there are limits to how many Roman ruins one can separate out.


Or 9th century mosaics…

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Or Baroque churches…

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Or master pieces of art…


As travelers, we do our research, not just to make lists, but to put the information into historical perspective. Thus, when we are viewing a sight, we are recalling the building techniques that allowed the Romans to construct their villas, or the sequence of social trends which provided the wealth to build cities, or the influence of one school of art on another school of art.

I must be careful using the term pilgrim, to avoid suggesting that people of faith have a higher calling when visiting locations which have significance for their belief systems. I will not comment on whether visiting the seven churches on a Sacred Pilgrimage of Rome (we spent time in six of the seven) is more virtuous than entering 25+ other churches along the way. Or, whether seeing a Caravaggio painting in the Palazzo Doria Pamphilj verses San Luigi dei Francesi is better. I will just postulate the a pilgrim finds additional value beyond tourist’ bucket lists and well-read travelers.

IMG_4087What I will advocate is experiencing something along your travels which you could not have anywhere else in the world or at another time. Events along our path that I will reminisce about someday will be when the waiter, who spoke limited English, brought out a platter of fresh, whole fish to help us decide what to have for dinner (yes, we pointed, and yes, that is what the chef then cooked… don’t be in a hurry for a delicious Italian meal).

P1010476Or, when on Good Friday, we stepped into St. Prassede, an 8th century church, to discover that the service had just started. Spend an hour in one place to absorb the atmosphere.

IMG_4133We were more planned for Easter Sunday, and just as enthralled to attend the service at San Giovanni in Laterano. This is the basilica of the bishop of Rome, who officiated the service.

P1010983Even more compelling was when we happened into a small neighborhood church, San Nicola dell’ Lorenesi, to discover, not only a service, but one in French.

P1010813As to those Caravaggio paintings, the setting did hold additional value to seeing a reproduction in an art book. For this image of Mary Magdalene, which was displayed by the nobel Pamphilj family to the other nobel Roman families, Caravaggio used his lover, who also happened to be a courtesan of many of the men in those same families. What better way to relay the position that Mary Magdalene held in Jesus’ message of redemption than to dare the viewer to cast the first stone.

P1010977Caravaggio’s painting of the Calling of St. Matthew by Jesus I featured in one of my blogs on the Art of the Gospels. However, while I knew that it was displayed in a chapel of a church, I did not know that along with it were two other paintings about Matthew by Caravaggio. As you approach the Contarelli Chapel in St. Luigi dei Francesi, you cannot see the Calling of St. Matthew, because it is hung on the left side, which faces the alter. Rather, you first see P1010974the St. Matthew’s Martyrdom,  which faces the nave, and the St. Matthew and the Angel (writing the Gospel), which is center in the chapel. Once you stand in the chapel, the sequence of the narrative is apparent: Calling, Writing, Martyrdom. What is more powerful is the realization that when Matthew looks up at the light coming from behind Jesus to answer his call, he is actually looking into his future to see what the result of his belief will become. Following Jesus would not be sunshine and roses. Following Jesus would be work and ultimately death, which by tradition occurred when Matthew was killed in a church.

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P1020405When traveling, we often keep our eye for posters of concerts. In Europe, many of these are held in churches. We happened to find one for our last evening in Rome. The Scholar Romana Ensemble would hold an art lecture and concert of Renaissance to Baroque vocal music in Santa Maria della Concezione, which also happens to be the site of the monastery for the Capuchin monks in Rome. Vocal music was written for churches. Better, yet, they took us back to the choir, behind the alter, for the first half of the concert. This can never be captured on CD (though I did pick up of few).

IMG_3707Take your pick. Be a tourist. Plan for traveling. Take a pilgrimage. Bypass the plastic-attractions to discover what cannot be found at any other location or time.


About hermitsdoor

Up here in the mountains, we have a saying, "You can't get there from here", which really means "We wouldn't go the trouble to do that". Another concept is that "If you don't know, we ain't telling." For the rest, you'll have to read between the lines.
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5 Responses to Roman Holiday: Tourist, Traveler, Pilgrim

  1. Barneysday says:

    The great part of traveling without the tour bus is that there is usually an adventure just around the next corner that is not in the tour books. Researching the area ahead of time is great for generating a general outline of things to see and do, but often the discoveries that occur during free time are breathtaking. It sounds like you had a wonderful time on your trip and made lots of discoveries. Thats wonderful.

  2. KerryCan says:

    Your advice is excellent and your trip has sounded amazing!

  3. Just catching up on your trip. Looks wonderful.

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