By: Janae Carter
This past weekend, the thirty honors students studying abroad in Rome were able to enjoy a memorable weekend in Venice. For me, Venice was an experience like no other because it is like no other city in the world. Instead of roads, you ride on boats through the many canals that fill in for streets. Seeing the Doge’s Palace, which was the seat of power in Venice, was incredible. During the tour of the palace, we crossed the Bridge of Sighs, which connects the true palace to the dungeons of the city. The view from the island we stayed on was breathtaking and each morning and evening I could hear the bells from St. Mark’s and the other churches tolling from the main part of Venice and see the most beautiful sunrises and sunsets. When everyone attended Sunday Mass at St. Mark’s, we were able to admire the stunning architecture of the basilica and the intricate golden mosaics which decorated the entirety of the inside of the church. When we had free time to explore, some friends and I traveled to a city in the Venetian Lagoon called Murano, known for its handmade glass objects that range from vases to intricate little figures like miniature christmas trees or any sort of animal you could name. During this excursion we happened upon a beautiful church that had a baptismal font entirely made out of hand-blown and hand-carved glass. It was also an amazing experience to walk through the center of Venice, away from the docks where most tourists stay. Inside the heart of the city, there were shops that sold intricate Venetian masks, a wonderful gelateria, and a tranquil park. One group I was a part of even had a chance to play fetch with a border collie while we were waiting to go inside a restaurant for dinner. It was a busy but deeply enriching weekend that I will never forget. When I first came to Rome, I thought that no city could ever compare; however, Venice now has my heart.
By: Karina Bursch
Throughout my life, I have often considered churches as important to Catholicism only by their service as functional spaces for the celebration of Mass. However, spending time in Rome, the city of more than 900 churches, has endowed me with a new appreciation for the multitude of ways in which churches enhance an understanding of the Catholic faith. My first event in Rome was attending Mass at the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls, a church known throughout the world for its antiquity and importance as one of Rome’s seven papal basilicas. Before Mass began, Dr. Dawson, our program director, paused to help us appreciate the significance of the building that we were entering. Dr. Dawson explained that early Christian churches, such as St. Paul’s, were designed to help people understand their relation to God, the world around them, and one another. Thus, a garden is placed in front of the church entrance to remind all who enter of the Garden of Eden and of the belief that union with God in heaven will be paradise, or a “New Eden.” The garden may often include a fountain to draw the mind to contemplation of the waters of baptism.
The church itself is composed of a long central aisle, or nave. The nave, with its long walk from front door to altar, is a structural metaphor for life’s pilgrimage towards God. Finally, the nave culminates in the sanctuary, where the altar is located. The sanctuary is often furnished with frescoes or mosaics that depict God, Christ, angels, saints, and events from the Bible. This artwork is meant to communicate that the long walk of life culminates in a glorious union with the divine. This journey is supported by the witness of the prophets and saints who have successfully entered the Church Triumphant. As Dr. Dawson concluded his introduction to the basilica, I stood in awe before the church in the middle of the garden, examining the golden mosaics on its exterior. I realized that my new ability to profoundly appreciate this particular church will similarly impact my understanding of all other churches that I will encounter in my future. Now, whenever I enter and explore a church during my wanderings throughout Rome, I am grateful for the many ways that I see the entire church as an affirmation of the Catholic faith, from its art to its architecture.