Sound of Lions; Smell of Burning Flesh

by Steve Ray on May 17, 2006

 

I am told a book will burst into flame when it reaches a temperature of 451° Fahrenheit. I am not sure how hot it must be for a human body to burst into flame. In the time of the early Church they didn’t measure heat with Fahrenheit or Celsius but they knew how hot to build a fire to burn a martyr to a crisp or to fry a deacon on a gridiron.

The Romans also knew how sharp a sword must be to remove a Christian’s head with one swipe and how many days a lion must starve before it would attack a human being and tear him to pieces and gulp down his flesh.  Women suffered equally with men and even children did not escape the horror of the persecutions.

Many churches in rome have artwork portraying the suffering. One painting has St. Barbara tied with her arms stretched over her head while her breasts are cut off.

St. Stephano Rotundo is an amazing church, circular in shape. All around the circumference are huge paintings of the suffering saints – every conceivable torture and execution is diplayed in graphic image and color. Imagine celebrating Mass there every Sunday!

Such things will be a part of our next project since our goal is to transport today’s Christians back to the time of our early brothers and sisters in the faith who paid the ultimate price to hand on the tradition to us.

The Eternal City is aptly named, not only because it has been around for a long time but also because it would take an eternity to explore the whole place both above and under the ground. I have heard – and I believe it is true – that there are over 800 churches in Rome. Then add to that all the catacombs, museums, libraries, ancient ruins and much more. Stepping outside the city boundary is whole other adventure!

Janet and I have been to the Eternal City so many times we lost count long ago, but even now we feel we have only scratched the surface. We have our favorite places but there are many more to explore.

On this trip our goal was twofold: 1) Learn and arrange everything we can for filming at sites related to the Apostolic Fathers; and 2) to acquire as much art as possible for the next 4 DVDs. The churches and museums are loaded with great art, statues, and paintings and my camera is loaded with great pictures.

We especially love the Church of San Clemente just below the Coliseum. Under the high altar rest the remains of my heroes St. Ignatius of Antioch and St. Clement of Rome. Even a tooth of St. Ignatius is contained within the mosaic of Christ in the apse, along with a tooth of James and a Relic of the Cross.

The church has three levels: the 15th century basilica, above the 4th century basilica, above the ancient rooms of Roman houses and pagan shrines. It is believed Clement may have lived in the subterranean rooms (though they were not underground when he lived there).

There is a Mithraic altar and school, alongside walkways, storage areas and housing. We are literally walking along 1st and 2nd century streets and walking through peoples homes.

The artwork is stunning and will definitely show up in our documentary. The life of Ignatius and Clement are colorfully displayed in frescos above the columns. Ignatius is tried by Emperor Trajan, says farewell to St. Polycarp – a fellow bishop and fellow student of St. John – and then a graphic image of lions tearing into Ignatius in the Coliseum in Rome.

Which reminds me, after spending hours in St. Clemente, we went to the Flaviun Amphitheatre, commonly know simply as the Coliseum. I could hear the cheers of the crowds and the roar of hungry lions caged beneath. I could hear the moaning of prisoners, the clanging of swords, and the chanted songs of the condemned Christians. It sent shivers up my spine. I always ask myself: How would I have reacted had I been condemned or if I had to watch my wife and kids and our priest friends led to their bloody deaths while the crowds cheered?

We had to get a sense of how to portray ancient Rome and the martyrdom of Ignatius and many others. We spent time just looking out over the remains of the majestic structure that has stood through the centuries. Ironically, it was built by slaves, presumably Jewish and Christian slaves and convicts but now it is a Christian shrine adorned by a huge cross. Filming here will be a real challenge since the passageways are filled with thousands of tourist and visitors. We will have to be very creative when it comes to filming here.

Oh, one last thing! As is our custom, when we arrived in Rome we headed for St. Peters to go to confession and to walk slowly through “our” church looking for new things we haven’t seen before and enjoying our old favorites. But St. Peters was blocked off and we could not enter. We discovered there was a special event. We saw the helicopter deliver the Statue of our Lady of Fatima – from Fatima – and a large procession entering St. Peters Square. It was the anniversary of assassination attempt on the life of Pope John Paul II and the anniversary was marked in a very special way – including the release of hundreds of helium balloons and fireworks accompanied by music. Rome never does things in a small way.

We returned to St. Peters the next day for confession and Mass and bumped right into our friend from our home parish of Christ the King in Ann Arbor Michigan. It was Lorie Anderberg who was visiting her daughter Christi who is studying in Rome. Lorie had gone with us on our pilgrimage to Israel last year. We talked for a long time – very nice. What a small world.

That’s enough for now. We will be heading home soon to gather our wits about us and to catch up on a thousand things – then to begin writing the script in earnest.

Please pray for our friend Sally who will have both breasts removed on Friday. God is granting her amazing graces as prayers are being offered for her. We are anxious to give her a rosary we bought for her at Mary’s House at Ephesus – blessed by our friend and caretaker of Mary’s House Fr. Tarsy, inside the house-shrine with a little water added from Mary’s Spring. May God bless Sally and hold her hand, and heart and mind.

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