Monday, March 9, 2015

What did Stephen see First in Rome?

As my plane from Budpest approached an airport in Rome I had a great aerial view of the Vatican and the Coliseum's ruins. I knew I was going to be visiting both of these remarkable buildings but I also had decided that these were not my priorities in why I had come to Rome.
I study and teach the Bible. I had just finished teaching 2 Timothy to 62 college students and I knew that where I wanted to start was where the Apostle Paul ended. I have been reading about Paul being "poured out like a drink offering . . . and I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have kept the faith." I wanted to see the place where Paul finished.

So I bought a metro ticket and rode the subway to the end of the line. Then I began to walk, about a half mile I imagine. I was trying to find a church that is not on most tourist maps. Wayne Stiles, on his blog "6 Christian Sites in Rome You Should Know About" ( had alerted me to this church. It's called  "Tres Fontaine Abbey" not to be confused with the popular Tres Fontane (how could anyone confuse those two!). I didn't get lost (God has given me a wonderful sense of direction that doesn't fail me too often) although I did use my very, very limited Italian (primarily what I have picked up though watching old Mafia movies) about half way just to be assured I was heading in the right direction. I'm sure the two Italian men had a good conversation after I left!

And there it was. Really no good space for bus parking, just a small area for about 15 cars. And what was of importance to me - a church commemorating the place where the Apostle Paul was beheaded for the gospel and Lord he believed.

However, the tradition for this place is not great. From what I can ascertain, Santa Maria Scala Coeli is a 16th century pilgrimage church at the Abbey of Tre Fontane, and is only the legendary site of the martyrdom of St Paul the Apostle. Nevertheless, Paul did die somewhere near Rome and I took time at this spot to pray and thank the Lord for the Apostle Paul. We, as believers, are so indebted to him for his writings and modelling. I was moved as I thought of him lonely here in Rome; many believers had forsaken him and he desperately wanted his young protege Timothy to come to him before winter and to bring the scrolls and parchments. Paul was a student to the end!

From here it was off to the church that commemorates Paul's burial, a place that is about 2 miles from the traditional place of his execution. It's called "The Church of St. Paul Outside the Wall [ie of the ancient City of Rome]." Today the traditional ancient tomb of Paul is contained in a magnificent basilica that is huge and ornate. 

A section of ancient chain is also here to observe, the type Paul would have had on his body (I personally would take this display of chain and move it to the Mamertine Prison [see below] where Paul was actually in chains
but apparently I don't appreciate all the church politics that would make such an intelligent action completely unthinkable). I didn't feel sad here, I know what Paul wrote about "being absent from the body and present with the Lord." If his body was placed here Paul was already with Jesus. However, in the resurrection . . . 

By now I was hungry, sobered, full of deep thoughts so I had lunch at McDonalds!
Then off to the area around the Coliseum to find the traditional prison cell/dungeon that Paul was held in during his second imprisonment in Rome (2 Timothy) called the Mamertine Prison (the Catholic Church places a great deal of emphasis that Peter was held here too - but this is not stated in Scripture - or that Peter was even in Rome. In his first imprisonment Paul apparently was under
some form of house-arrest (Philippians) although chained to guards. I had to seek some help from an Italian policeman to find this site and it was somewhat hidden by on-going construction beside it. 
Today I was able to walk down some steps into what was a circular dungeon prison cell (some of this circular cell was later damaged and so it is not a complete
circle today). In Paul's day he would have been let down through the hole in the ceiling and then left in this dark,
damp cell. How he wrote 2 Timothy from such a place is almost beyond me. I can get distracted from writing if I need a coffee! He was able to have purpose even in the suffering he experienced for the gospel.

Up at 3:30 am today, by mid afternoon I was ready for a cold drink and a nap. I'm on vacation — so I did.


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