A Pilgrim in Rome
In a city filled with sirens, shouting, traffic, construction, and everything in between, the silent churches provide a sanctuary from noise. They, of course, have their own noise if you listen hard enough – quiet footsteps, the mumble of prayers, creaking of pews. If you aren’t looking and listening intently, you might miss them. The same applies to pilgrims. The word means one who journeys in foreign lands, or one who travels to a shrine or holy place as a devotee.
Pilgrims have been traveling to Rome since before 990 AD when Archbishop Sigeric journeyed from Canterbury to Rome to be invested by the Pope. For thousands of years, people have recognized the significance of Rome and made their journey to visit the holy sites. There is a pilgrimage tradition, dating back to the 16th century, that is called The Seven Station Churches of Rome. Saint Philip Neri and his companions would travel to the four major basilicas and three significant minor basilicas on the Wednesday of Holy Week and pray at each station. These seven churches include Saint Peter’s Basilica, the site of one of the most famous pilgrimages, where pilgrims have worn the foot of Saint Peter over the centuries of touching and kissing his foot to pay their respects.
Across the entire city of Rome, there are bronze doors, statues, and monuments that have worn away from the millions of hands that are searching for answers and for salvation in God. Holy doors, that open only for jubilee years, are forever marked and changed by each touch that has come to Rome on a mission.
There is something surprising about the stillness and the awe that everyone around you has when viewing relics that have had an importance to billions of people for thousands of years. There are also the ones who are intensely focused on their prayer and the religion that is woven into every crack of a basilica.
The Scala Sancta (Holy Stairs) are unpresuming – a simple staircase covered in wooden planks.
It is believed that these were the stairs that Jesus climbed in Pontius Pilate’s palace when he was condemned. Side staircases are dotted with people climbing and ascending on their knees seeking their prayers to be heard, in the same ways that Jesus may have. Though I thought of pilgrims to be nuns and monks, I quickly realized that I was exactly what I was looking for. My journey through a foreign land to a holy place as a devotee, kneeling on the steps that have seen thousands of years of religion climbing up, made me a pilgrim. Though the original Scala Sancta steps are under renovation, the side staircase has a silence wrapped around it that allows you to be moved deeply. There are many frescos painted on the walls, and the staircase is bright, though softly lit. As I knelt on the first step, I started with an awkward prayer, but each step that I climbed forced me to listen to the silence and focus on my experience at a place Roman Catholics hold as a holy site. As my knees burned, and my back began to ache, I wondered what moments of pain someone who makes a religious journey might endure just to find their answers and grow closer to God. A pilgrimage is more than just the relics and the objects, it is the journey to venture further in your faith. Whether it is painful or joyful or anything in-between, a pilgrimage is not the end point, but is made by every experience leading up to the final destination.