A christian martyrdom is never an accident,
for Saints are not made by accident.”

T.S. Eliot

“What Saint has ever won his crown without first contending for it?”
St. Jerome

(The Basilica of San Pietro in Vincoli / the Basilica of St Peter in Chains / Rome, Ialy /
Julie Cook / 2018)

So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him.

The night before Herod was to bring him to trial,
Peter was sleeping between two soldiers,
bound with two chains, and sentries stood guard at the entrance.
Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared and a light shone in the cell.
He struck Peter on the side and woke him up.
“Quick, get up!” he said, and the chains fell off Peter’s wrists.

Then the angel said to him, “Put on your clothes and sandals.”
And Peter did so. “Wrap your cloak around you and follow me,” the angel told him.
Peter followed him out of the prison,
but he had no idea that what the angel was doing was really happening;
he thought he was seeing a vision.
They passed the first and second guards and came to the iron gate leading to the city.
It opened for them by itself, and they went through it.
When they had walked the length of one street, suddenly the angel left him.
(Acts 12:5-10)

The bonds, according to tradition, once held fast the limbs of St. Peter the Apostle
and have been cherished by Christians since the first century.

The story of their veneration first appears in the ancient Acts of Saint Alexander,
an early pope who died as a martyr in AD 115.
As he awaited his own execution, he received a visit from Quirinus,
the nobleman who oversaw the prisons in Rome.
The man’s daughter Balbina was desperately ill,
and he had heard that Pope Alexander had the power to heal her.
She was completely cured when the pope touched her with his chains.
Balbina wanted to kiss the chains in gratitude —
but Alexander instructed her to find the chains of St. Peter and honor them instead.

Balbina became a Christian–and, according to some accounts, a consecrated virgin–
and she arranged for the construction of a shrine for St. Peter’s fetters.
It would be rebuilt and moved and expanded through the centuries.

As Rome’s Christians honored Peter’s chains from the Mamertine,
so the Church in Jerusalem kept his chains from the Herodian prison.
In the fifth century, the Christian empress Eudocia, the wife of Theodosius II,
sent a length of Peter’s Jerusalem chains to St. Leo the Great.
According to tradition, Leo held it beside Peter’s chains from the Mamertine Prison,
and the two miraculously, inseparably fused together.

There are abundant testimonies to the presence of these chains in Rome.
St. Gregory the Great, who reigned as pope from 590 to 604,
was intensely devoted to the relic and often sent small filings as gifts to dignitaries–
to Constantina Augusta, the Byzantine empress; to a bishop named Columbus;
to King Childebert of the Franks; to King Rechared of the Visigoths; and to Theodore,
the court physician at Constantinople.
He would place the filing in a key-shaped reliquary–
the key representing Peter’s authority.
He sent each particle with a prayer
“that what bound [Peter’s] neck for martyrdom, may loose yours from all sins.”

The chains are today exposed for veneration in a gold and glass reliquary in the
Basilica of San Pietro in Vincoli, on Rome’s Oppian Hill,
a church built in the fifth century during the reign of Leo the Great.
(Catholic Education Resource Center)

The Basilica of St Peter’s in Chains is what we consider, by Catholic Chruch standards,
as a minor basilica…meaning it is not one of the four Major Basilicas in Rome…
Rather it is a church of perhaps lesser significance but, in my opinion, it is still
significant none the less.

Say what you will about the Catholic Chruch, there is simply no denying that our roots,
our Christian roots, run deep in and through Rome.
That which had become known as the Latin West Chruch.

In the very dust of this city that is oozing with a vast array of sensory overloads,
rests the shadows of those who went long before us, all helping to create the history
we hold dear to this day.

At the time of Jesus’ birth, life, ministry, and eventual death, Rome was considered to be
the center of all that was and is.

A great and mighty empire who’s arms reached far and wide…even to the obscure
desert outpost of Judea.

The Roman Empire and the life of a Jewish carpenter were on a collision course.

Rome was considered the epicenter of this once mighty Empire…the seat of its government.

Scripture tells us that both Peter and Paul traveled to, preached throughout,
were each imprisoned in and were both eventually executed in this once important
center of all of humankind.

Yet today’s chaotic, trendy, chic and often very dirty city is a far cry from the city
that once “ruled the world.”

Just this past weekend there was a massive citywide protest as demonstrators took to
the streets showing their disdain for Rome’s crumbling infrastructure,
its overflowing trash and the fact that rats and even wild boar now roam this once
orderly city seeking out the overflowing trash.

Decades of inept and governmental corruption has taken its toll of what was once
Imperial Rome

Yet Rome remains a rich treasure trove of our human history.
From art to architecture, from the sacred to the mysterious, Rome offers the curious a
fantastic feast.

The Basilica of San Pietro in Vincoli is but one treat in this Roman feast.

Many people come here not so much to see a box of old chains but rather they wish
to see a masterpiece of marble and craftsmanship–
up close and personal, that of Michelangelo’s Moses.

(all images by Julie Cook, Rome, Italy / 2018)

The statue of Moses is only a part of what was to be the massive tomb for Pope Julius II—
the same pope who had a lifelong love-hate relationship with Michaelangelo

The Pope had charged Michaelangelo to construct a massive tomb to be used after his death.
Yet during the same time, the Pope had commissioned Michaelangelo to paint the Sistine Chapel.

As Michaelangelo never considered himself to be a painter but rather a sculptor only, he felt
a deep sense of angst over having to work on such a massive undertaking of painting.

A painting that millions of people now flock yearly to see.

He actually ran away at one point, attempting to escape the demands of the man who history
now attributes to be the pope who brought St Peter’s to the glory that we marvel over today.
The Pope actually sent his soldiers to Florence to retrieve Michaelangelo…
bringing him back to finish his commission, of which they did and Michaelangelo in turn
eventually did.

Fortunately or unfortunately, however, Pope Julius II died before Michaelangelo could finish
the massive tomb. Yet luckily today for both the curious and the tourist,
we may view this lesser monument here in the Basilica.

The statue of Moses is the central figure that draws all attention.
It is a single massive piece of Carrara marble.

Looking closely one sees that Moses has what appears to be horns protruding
from his head. But the horns are due to a mistranslation.

Michelangelo’s Moses is depicted with horns on his head.
He, like so many artists before him, was laboring under a misconception.
This is believed to be because of the mistranslation of the Hebrew Scriptures
into Latin by St Jerome.
Moses is actually described as having “rays of the skin of his face”,
which Jerome in the Vulgate had translated as “horns”.
The mistake in translation is possible because the word “keren”
in the Hebrew language can mean either “radiated (light)” or “grew horns”.


And whereas I will always stand in awe and marvel anytime I have an opportunity to stand
and gaze on a massive piece of marble that a seemingly otherworldly gifted man managed to
coax out an unbelievable miracle of vision and craftsmanship,
it is to the box of chains that held my fascination on this most recent visit.

Those who are jaded or who scoff over the significance afforded to something, that may or
may not be what it claims to be, may certainly be that way and question.

And whereas I cannot say yay or nay as to the authenticity of these chains…
Were these the actual chains that held Peter?
I don’t know if any of us can ever say, and  yet to me,
it is not whether they are or are not what they claim to be which is important
but is to where they direct my thoughts.

They have been on display since the year 115,
roughly 47 years following Peter’s execution in Rome.

I have sat in the Mamertine prison.

Sitting in the dark, on a small ledge, contemplating the fate of those who
were once kept in this underground dungeon.
It is, as it was then, a dark enclosed outcropping that now sits at the
foot of Capitoline Hill. A Christian church now sits atop this prison.

Prisoners were lowered by ropes down into this pit of a prison.
It is the prison said to have once held both Saints, Peter and Paul.

Peter was bound in chains when he held as a prisoner in the Herodian prison
as well as the Mamertine prison.

So as to this miraculous union of two separate sets of chains binding together as one,
again, is beyond my ability to say…

But what I do know is that these mysterious chains draw me back to scripture,
they draw me back to a mighty God who uses simple men and women to do mighty works.

No chain, no boundary, no weight, no limitation exists that can hold our Mighty God.
Small things such as a box full of historical chains are but a physical reminder of this.

Sometimes we need, I need, those physical reminders because my mind, our minds,
are so limited whereas our God is so limitless.

And so as Pope Gregory the Great reminds us…
“that what bound [Peter’s] neck for martyrdom, may loose yours from all sins.”


Rome, Wine and a wee bit of Incontinence

One of my most favorite cities in the world is Rome. I know, I can hear the reverberations of the “are you kidding me”, “are you crazy”, and “anywhere but there”!!
But it is true. I love Rome. Roma. Maybe it harkens back to the whole Sophia Loren love child incident (see the post an Ironic memorial—and yes I know she is Neapolitan, but Italian she is) or the whole adoption issue (see the post Sylvia Kay and yes, adoption gets its mileage worth of blame ☺)

It is a huge city. A noisy city. A dirty city. A crowded city. A very chaotic city. And no, I don’t think one can apply organized chaos to Rome, but I love it just the same. From the animated residents; the name calling, the shouting, the finger gestures, the kissing, the gesticulations of hands and arms as intense conversations abound….—to the wafting aroma of garlic and basil wending throughout the labyrinths of nooks and alleyways in the summer, to the darting vespers that are indeed like annoying wasps….I love it all.

I have been to Rome 4 times throughout my life with the longest visit lasting almost 3 weeks. Never enough time. But I have been known to tire and cut the visit short. I blame it on sensory overload. Rome will do that to a person. Sights, smells, sounds, touching, feeling…it has it all—in tremendous excess. A glorious amount of excess.

For all of its tremendous history, the birthplace of republic governments, it is today, a bit rough around the edges. It is no Paris—the epitome of refinement and decorum. No, Rome is explosive with emotion—good and bad. And I love it all.

There is one trip in particular that stands out in my memory—it was the summer following the death of Pope John Paul II. I had mourned his death so very much that Spring. I, along with an entire world, had watched the once energetic and vibrant Pope slip into frail old age and gracefully leave us. If you read my post on the Passport fiasco you remember that my passport at the time was not up to date and I could not personally go to say “good-bye”.

It was the intense attention on Rome that Spring which got my dad to thinking. My son, at the time, was 15 and Dad thought that while he was still able, he’d like to take my son, his only grandchild, on a special trip. He and my step-mom got my aunt and me in the bargain as well. And somehow, for some reason, Rome seemed to be the point of destination. Wonder where he got that idea 🙂

The trip was a comedy of errors to be sure. My dad at the time was still “walking” if that is what you call a snail’s pace shuffle. My son, a ball of adolescent hormones, my step- mom probably wishing she’d stayed home (especially after she tripped over the corner of the Pantheon sending my son to find medical help but more on that later), my aunt, wondering what she was doing hanging out with this odd bunch and then there was me, wondering what’d I’d gotten us all into.

I had gone on line, well before our trip date, and made reservations for us to go on a small, semi-private tour of, what I call, the bowels of the Vatican. You have to request an “opportunity” for the Catacombs underneath the Vatican. You have to list all those in your party, your country of origin, ages, birthdays, language, your place of “residence” while in Rome, phone numbers, etc. Submit the form and hope you’re accepted. This trip, we were lucky. We had to show up at the left side gate to St. Peter’s at a specified time—if you’re late at all, you can forget the trip. We were to print off the “ticket acceptance” and show it to the Swiss Guard at the gate.

It was our first full day in Rome. We were staying but a few streets over from the Vatican. I knew that my son needed to wear long pants when we went to St. Peters just as my aunt, my step-mom and myself needed to have shoulders covered. I knew this. But it was mid July. Rome in mid-July is a sauna. The temperature was in the upper 90s our entire time in Italy. It was hot and it was humid.

That morning, worrying about getting all of us up, fed and out the hotel door, making certain that my snail father would/could keep a quick step as we huffed our way to the Vatican, it totally slipped past my stressed mind that my son had put on shorts—long shorts mind you, but shorts just the same.

We arrive at the left gate right on time. I feel so proud to be able to walk past the myriad of people, right up to a soldier of another time, and present my “golden ticket”. It was as if I had an appointment to see the Pope. In reality, it was a ticket to basically tour the basement, but to me, it was a moment in time that stood still.


The guard looked at the ticket, checked our passports and stepped aside allowing us to pass into a different dimension in time. Next we had to go to the office for the Catacombs. I’m just about to explode, I’m so excited and in total awe of this most surreal moment. Suddenly, without warning, jolted back to reality, the lady at the desk looks at my son, looks at me, and in Italian, proceeds to tell me NO!

“What?!” “What do you mean NO?!” “Your son is wearing shorts. Panic sets in and I suddenly think I’m going to be sick. There is no time to run back to the hotel. There is no time to find a store. NOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
But by what I like to think was Divine intervention– the lady decides my son must be only 10 years old– she allows the long shorts. Thank God for his latent growth hormones! Our tour director greets us and immediately admonishes me for the shorts. I hang my head and acknowledge the faux paux and promise to say a multitude of Hail Mary’s (I’m not Catholic but at this point I’ll do anything for anyone!)

We enter into the area of the Pope’s tombs by a side door. We slip past the tourists viewing the beautiful array of tombs and sarcophagi. We descend down and down—leaving behind the crowds of tourists, down past the tombs of century’s worth of popes. Down to where the air is cool and the light is dim. The sounds of the massive numbers of tourist above us, up in St. Peters, is but a muffled breath. We find ourselves suddenly in a maze of stone and dirt alleyways. Niches line the walls, some are open, bodiless, while others are still sealed and marked with various designs—our guide points out that some of the symbols are pagan and some Christian. Some of the niches are marked by ash and charcoal—thousands of years old ash and charcoal that looks as if someone just took a burnt piece of charcoal out of a grill and smeared it on the wall—amazing!

The alleyway opens and several elaborate “rooms” come into view. These were burial sites for families who had money. Mosaic tiles, still beautifully brilliant and colorful cover the floors as elaborate paintings grace the walls. Names are etched into the walls informing all who pass by, of whom, what family, is buried here and there. I am simply amazed.

We wend our way to the end of the excavation of the catacombs. The culmination of research and digging—the culmination of those of us who are the “pilgrims of the basement” has appeared before us. It is the tomb of Saint Peter. A heavy hush falls over all of us. The sheer magnitude of what we are seeing, what we are standing before is almost impossible to process.

There are extensive stories about the tomb of St. Peter. Why the basilica is built where it is built. It’s proximity to the Circus of Nero. The existence of St. Peter’s tomb and how the many little shrines came into being, eventually growing into what we see today as St. Peter’s Basilica– two thousand years in the making is a story worth investigating. I will leave that to the history books but you should take some time to read about the history of the Basilica, as it is most fascinating.

Our tour guide tells us of the “hallowed” ground on which we stand and that we should all take a moment of silence for prayer and/ or reflection. We are all in awe; there are 4 other people with us besides my family. There are tears and such tremendous reverence that the air is almost heavy and difficult to breath– this important moment is suddenly broken by my father who begins having one of his oh so famous coughing attacks. He fumbles for a cough drop…the sound of his tearing into the cellophane wrapper of the cough drop, reverberating off this cave like area, absolutely crushes the moment for us all. Embarrassing. First the shorts, and now my dad, who is obviously not impressed by a stack of bones in a cave….. UGH…

Part II of the Vatican:
I did manage to pack two small American flags. My son and I carried these with us to the tomb of John Paul II. It was before they had his tomb complete so he was interned in a temporary grave in St. Peters. The line was long but we waited our turn. As we approached his tomb, there were many kneeling. The guards were doing their best moving along the crowd. I asked, or actually gestured, if we might be able to place our flags on the tomb. He nods. Ours were the only two American flags amongst as sea of flowers and flags. I felt happy.

I won’t go into the Coliseum in 100-degree heat. I won’t go into the day trip down to Naples and Pompeii—gawking a poor people frozen in time, in the moment of a horrific death, certainly not my cup of tea but oddly Dad thinks this is great. The 3-day trip to Florence is for another post as I met and made a life long friend there in Florence. A sister soul mate I was so fortunate to find…..

As I told you we were staying near the Vatican. We spent a good bit of time walking up and down the Borgo Pio. A really touristy strip until you make your way down towards the end of the street, away from the Vatican. Two special things happened to us on this street.

We wandered into a small store. Grazie a Cielo. It was an artist co-op of sorts. There was a kind priest/padre working the store. It was so hot that he had his collar unbuttoned and the sweat poured down his face. The artwork was done from various missions throughout the world. Christmas ornaments, wooden carvings, rosaries of every size and description, etc .,with all proceeds going back to the various missions.

We attempted talking with the priest but he spoke no English and we spoke no Italian. It is amazing, however, how we did manage to communicate. There is a great deal to be said for tone and gestures. His name was Padre Andrea. He was greatly moved when he realized that my son was buying all of his friends back home small rosaries. My son asked Padre Andrea to please bless the rosaries. Without understanding one another’s language, however, we could join together in prayer—so universal. He blessed the rosaries and he blessed my son. I was greatly moved.

Further down the street we found a wonderful restaurant. Normally the Borgo Pio is not a place one wants to eat. The top end of the street, closest to the Vatican, is crowded with cheap tourist traps. However, down on the opposite end of this ancient of streets, is one of my most favorite restaurants in the entire world. Il Papalino. It is home to the best waiter I have ever known—Antonio. Antonio is my age, mid 50s and he’s worked at Il Papalino for almost 28 years, his entire working career at this one restaurant. He took such good care of us. He is shy and unassuming yet flits about taking care of the throngs of diners with steely precision.


Every time I’ve been back to Rome, I make a beeline for Il Papalino and my dear Antonio. He always remembers me and asks “how is the boy who loves Coca Cola” (my son). In the evenings, once the throngs of tourists have departed the area, the street, becomes a family atmosphere as the local residents come out to walk their dogs and push strollers full of children. Everyone seems to know one another as the locals come to eat, drink and laugh together. Antonio knows them all …but he also knows me. That makes me happy.

There are the morning walks down by the Tiber. As one descends the stairs, which leads down to the river walkway, there is no mistaking the stench of human urine that rises to hit those wishing to walk or run by the river, smack in the face. Rome has a large homeless population. I have seen more than my share of human and animal waste on the sidewalks, as well as people popping up out of dumpsters. Dumpsters, whose stench marks their presence long before they are seen. These dumpster divers are carrying discarded watermelon rinds.

I don’t think there is anything that is not covered in graffiti in Rome. When you first arrive in Rome you are overwhelmed with the graffiti, appalled that this most ancient of cities is so shamelessly defaced. However, after a few short hours in town, it all seems to meld into the massive mix of chaos known as Rome.

The history, the art, the monuments are all an amalgamation of Roman, Christian, Pagan, Renaissance wonders—a plethora for the senses…to realize that one is walking on the ground that Julius Creaser, Marc Anthony, saints Paul, Peter all traversed…it is difficult to comprehend.

There is, however, one most special “monument” that many tourists may miss. It is found up the steps at the far end of the Forum and the Capitoline hill. If you weren’t looking for it, you’d never know it was there. The Mamertime Prison. It is located on what is the side of a church.

It is in this ancient, old, cave-like cistern prison, which once housed the criminals of Rome, as well as the political prisoners. Political prisoners such as saints Peter and Paul. It is believed that Paul was actually held here just prior to his execution and that perhaps Peter had been here on several occasions. In 90 degree plus heat, it is a nice respite allowing time to sit for a quiet moment. But then the enormity of the fact that I was sitting on a carved out outcropping in the wall, the very area that Paul and Peter most likely sat/ slept overwhelmed my heart. It is from the cistern and spring, that it is still very much full of water, that Peter used to baptize the guards and fellow prisoners. It is dark, damp and very cave like. It is hard imagining a worse place to be held before one’s execution.

The most memorable of events, however, during this “family” trip was not a grand monument or museum. Nor was it the fact that I had had too much wine to drink this particular evening—it was rather that I should have visited the “ladies room” at the restaurant before we decide to walk back to the hotel.

We had had dinner at Il Papilino. It was a marvelous meal of Sea Bass, prepared tableside, complete with several bottles of good Roman Wine. We decided that Dad could walk the short distance through the alleyway, which connected the Borgo Pio to the street where our hotel was located rather than the hassle of a cab. Now mind you that while we were in Rome I felt perfectly safe. I felt safer in Rome then I have ever felt in my hometown of Atlanta. I have always felt safe in Rome, even when I was traveling with just one other female friend…no worries. My dad however, is old school and is not as Que sera sera as I tend to be.

My aunt and I are strolling along, full of good food and wine, listening to my step-mom retelling some marvelous story. My snail like father lags far behind and my son is hanging back with “Pops”. It is a perfect night… Rome, family, history, and magic. A group of young people is behind us, laughing holding hands, all equally satiated with the magical evening… We are all just using the alleyway to cut through to the other street.
No worries.

Suddenly, we see my father darting past us as if he has been shot out of a starting block for the race of his life–my son in hot pursuit. My dad, it seems, has decided that these kids behind us are a group of hooligans—which they aren’t but you couldn’t tell this Octogenarian any different. He’s mad that we wont hurry along and decides to leave us eating his dust.

The insanity of what we were witnessing, an 80-year-old racing as if his life depended on it, followed by his 15-year-old grandson, fussing that the women would not “wise up” to the lurking danger from behind, was more than we could contain.
The 3 of us burst out laughing. And we continued laughing—belly laughing. Doubled over laughing. It was just a priceless spectacle to behold. You have to know my dad—Mr. Mole as we call him.

Do you know what happens to ladies of a particular age when they have consumed a great deal of liquid and have not been to the ladies room for a while? I was wearing a black sheaf dress and black sandals…suddenly there is a trickle. I’m laughing so hard and now telling my cohorts that things are about to get serious. They can’t believe it and are laughing as well at my plight when my aunt suddenly finds herself in the same predicament. Now there are two ladies laughing with trickles. I could take you to that very street corner in Rome to this day, the street corner I baptized with back-up help from my aunt. Needless to say, we threw those shoes away as they were a bit soggy once we got back to the hotel ☺

I have so many stories of Rome—too many to attempt to recall here. But may it be known that I love Rome. And obviously I fit right in.