Friday, June 22, 2012

An Underdog Story in Rome

Arch of Titus depicting sacking of Temple
by Rev. Laura Barclay

I recently went on family vacation with my husband’s family on a Mediterranean cruise with stops in Rome, Athens, Crete, Sicily and Turkey. It was the trip of a lifetime with great religious and cultural significance. My favorite stop, Rome, also held some unexpected revelations.

Inside the Colosseum
In the Roman Forum, our guide Leah, had us sit near the base of the Arch of Titus. She asked us if we noticed anything familiar. We noted the depiction of a menorah. Leah related that this arch marked the sacking of the Second Temple in Jerusalem by Titus in 70 A.D. The treasures of the Temple, as well as Jewish slaves were brought to Rome. The treasures financed the building of the Colosseum and, as further insult, the Jewish slaves were forced to build it. In the 1940’s, Adolf Hitler and Italian Dictator Benito Mussolini walked under the Arch of Titus to symbolize a second conquering of the Jews. After World War II and the creation of the state of Israel, peaceful relations between Italy and Israel were instituted only after Italy agreed to rope off the Arch and never allow anyone to walk underneath again, which would be a symbolic recreation of the destruction of the temple. Everyone who tours the Forum with a guide hears this story, as the Italians are very aware and eager to educate about the disastrous rule of the cruel emperor Titus and the terrible dictator Mussolini.

Altar at St. Peter's Basilica

Later in the day, our tour guide Massimo told us on the way to the Vatican that Christians were not martyred in the Colosseum, but in various arenas called “circuses,” one of which was Circus Vaticanus. According to tradition, Peter the Apostle was crucified upside down in the Circus Vaticanus and buried nearby. As the car pulled to a stop, it hit me that the place where countless Christians were martyred had been transformed into the center of the Christian Religion.

Statue of St. Peter

Peter’s broken body, laid to rest 2,000 years ago on this spot, now served as the spiritual heart of the Church. As I walked into St. Peter’s Basilica, sunlight streamed onto the altar while a hauntingly beautiful mass was taking place in a side niche. To the left of the altar, a giant statue of Paul clutched the keys to the Church while giving a sign of blessing to all who looked up on him. The stunning beauty of the place served as a transformational witness to all who entered. Crucifixion is not the last word. Just as Circus Vaticanus was once merely a place for chariot races and martyrdom at the whim of an emperor, it is now a place of hope and wonder, open to all who desire to enter.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Laura! I would love to speak with you, and learn more about your comments on the Arch of Titus (about which I am writing a book), and perhaps being in touch with the tourguide.

    You can find some of my articles posted at:
    and I can be reached at or through the academia site.
    Many thanks! --Steve