Tom McMahon takes us to Roma today. It's a city with much to tell us about the origins of religion, mythology and humankind's evolving understanding of the Divine.
Our magic carpet approaches Rome...
From Greece our auto pilot turns off the Mediterranean flying over Ostia, the Tiber's mouth or port city of Rome. Benito Mussolini uncovered this ancient town which was the commercial center for the eternal city founded by Romulus and Remus, sometime after the fall of Troy ... so they claim. These Ostians knew what community meant; there being no kitchens in the well appointed apartments. Food supplies from around the Empire were only found at public restaurants – gathering places where there were public, running water, flushed toilets, while music was played. We find no evidence of Ostia having local gods, thus the gods of downtown Rome's Pantheon were protected and used for the good of the entire Roman State. They got the idea from the Egyptians.
We are now cruising the Via Appia, passing the Forum and the temple of Saturn, the Coliseum to the right, the Pantheon just a few blocks away. Pan means all in Latin and theo is the word for god. These Romans are a clever bunch, having a temple to all the gods whereas in Rome itself there were most likely ten thousand smaller temples with as many gods. A census of people who worshiped was kept by the government; one had to show up annually at his temple of choice, the federales keeping tabs as to who was who and where one lived. Such was tantamount to our American selective service draft during WW2. Spiritual preference, e.g. throwing a nickel's worth of incense on the temple brazier of Venus was of no account. The Roman elite knew how to manipulate the population with religion and the gods. Something in the back of my head tells me such usage hasn't changed over the centuries.
Look there is a group of Legionnaires coming out of that cave-like tavern. Probably exiting from a Mifra — a drinking of blood and breaking of bread religious ceremony prized by the Roman Army. Note the legion number brand on their forearms; once a legionnaire always a legionnaire. Christian theology used the same tool, once baptized one was branded as a Christian or, in times of my youth, a life-long Catholic. This branding even in the afterlife permeates today's Seven Sacraments with a few exceptions. I wonder today if 21 year olds that were baptized in infancy pay any attention to this indelible mark? Once a priest always a priest is the same thinking, certainly a controversial issue today. Strange how the Christian church has taken Roman terminology and practices from the very empire that crucified Jesus. Even Mass vestments are Roman, the alb being the toga and the stole a sign of Roman civic power.
Standing in the Pantheon in 1967 one of our touring teens asked me about the hole in the dome and I told him that it was to let out the smoke from the burnt offering made to the gods. He stared in wonderment and then said "but there is only one god; that's what Sister Patricia taught us!"
The ceiling opening is one of the reasons why the Roman church has never made the Pantheon a Catholic church. I guess that is why Benedict the 16th had services for Good Friday at the Coliseum ... yet weren't some Christians put to the lions over in Emperor Flavian's fun place? (I am told by good authority that the idea of Christian martyrs in the Colosseum is highly exaggerated.)
The Colosseum, originally the Flavian Amphitheatre is the centre of the city of Rome, Italy, the largest ever built in the Roman Empire. It is considered one of the greatest works of Roman architecture and Roman engineering. Construction started in 72 AD under the emperor Vespasian and was completed in 80 AD under Titus,= with further modifications being made during Domitian's reign (81–96). Capable of seating 50,000 spectators, the Colosseum was used for gladiatorial contests and public spectacles such as mock sea battles, animal hunts, executions, re-enactments of famous battles, and dramas based on Classical mythology. The building ceased to be used for entertainment in the early medieval era. It was later reused for such purposes as housing, workshops, quarters for a religious order, a fortress, a quarry, and a Christian shrine.
Christmas in Rome is big...
The original holiday was called Saturnalia an ancient Roman festival in honor of the deity Saturn originally held December 17 and later expanded with unofficial festivities through December 23. The holiday was celebrated with a sacrifice at the Temple of Saturn in the Roman Forum and a public banquet, followed by private gift-giving, continual partying, and a carnival atmosphere that overturned Roman social norms: gambling was permitted, and masters provided table service for their slaves. The poet Catullus called it "the best of days".
After Constantine and the Battle of the Milvian Bridge Christians got their camel's nose under the Roman religious tent eventually overthrowing the system of gods and emerging as alpha dog, especially with Constantine's invention and approval of the Doctrine of the Trinity. Today some of us see this as the moment when Jesus and his teachings are booted out the door, a treacherous betrayal of the Nazarene by the bishops. Saturalia became Christmas Day, December 25th and everyone went straight to bed sober after Midnight Mass at the cave of Jesus' birth. Christianity after Jesus takes off like a sky rocketing roman candle,
Let take a "sonuat" at a pension over near St. Peter's Basilica. There is much to see and talk about in this eternal city. We haven't even gotten around to their rogue's gallery of gods, most of whom they stole from the Greeks, just changing the divine names ... for example: Apollo for Zeus.
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Tom in San Jose, on cruise control singing along with the Beatles on their "magical mystery tour". 14Apr2012
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