We are in Roma! It is blisteringly hot and completely wonderful all at once, and today was packed full of life and learning.
My hope is to give brief updates and photos while on the trip, and then offer a series of reflections that dive deeper into each of the experiences of this fellowship once I’m stateside again. So here is update #1!
We started our morning by visiting the Church of St. Prisca that Rena Pederson highlights in her book The Lost Apostle on her quest to find Junia. (Yesterday we strolled through Trastevere- the neighborhood she speculates Junia lived.) I read the book last fall and devoured it: rarely in life have I read much about the women of the early Christian Church and I couldn’t get enough. As I began mapping out my FFT proposal on the female voice, I did everything possible to include this small chapel.
There are a lot of legends surrounding the chapel and its namesake: we know it was built on the site of pagan worship, some legends say before this it was also the site of Priscilla and Aquila’s house church. Most scholars agree that “Saint Prisca” is not Priscilla of the New Testament, but rather a first century martyr by the same name. And there are those who theorize that this martyr quite possibly was the daughter of the early Christian couple, as first names were passed generation to generation.
Whether legends are true or not, your breath catches when you round the corner of a set of steps off of Via di Santa Prisca to see a 17th century facade tucked between two more modern buildings.
The interior is beautiful: large paintings of biblical stories and on the alter a large piece commemorating the baptism of Prisca by Peter. It’s simpler than most churches of different names, but still provides rich narratives to lean in to, invites you in to sit down and be at home.
After taking in all that is this little church, we moved on to the Catacombs of Priscilla (believe it or not, a DIFFERENT Priscilla, named for an early Christian woman who donated land to serve as burial grounds for early Christians.) In the catacombs we heard the whispers of stories told about women from the 2nd century in the paintings of the vaults and tombs: a woman at the table taking the Eucharist; Susanna, defended by Daniel and serving as the symbol for those treated unjustly*, the fresco of an early Christian woman during her marriage, motherhood, and surrendering to Christ, and the earliest known image of the Madonna.
Our guide shared that over 300 martyrs had been buried in this set of catacombs, and later we learned that St. Prisca, whose chapel we visited earlier, was one of them. (We had NO CLUE before!! HOW CRAZY AND FANTASTIC.)
Our final stop of the day was the Vatican. It’s been interesting to learn about the places women have been allowed voice within the church and how they’re represented, and I’m sure I’ll write more on this later. For now, it was enough to wander the galleries of the museums, meeting a new grandmother named Alice Lok Cahaba and her work titled No Names in the Contemporary Religious Art galleries.
After some research, we learned Alice is a Holocaust survivor and has spent years from her adopted home in Houston creating art around her experience and offering her collage pieces as a memorial to those who saved Jewish lives and those who perished in the Holocaust.
Y’all, I cannot BELIEVE this was just the first day! Tomorrow we journey to Florence and meet Artemisia Gentileschi’s work in the Uffizi Gallery.
*When our tour guide shared that one of the frescos in the Greek Chapel of the catacombs was of Susanna, the elders, and Daniel, I nearly FLIPPED because this story was the first that Artemisia painted in Rome and many art historians believed she was channeling the pressure she felt from the tutor who would sexually assault her. Many believed the work she created was too accomplished for a young girl of only 17, but she painted it and it’s powerful. Look it up!!
••Disregard any and all typos along this post, iPhone and spotty wifi, y’all.••