On the bus, leaving Rome on a Sunday morning, we stop briefly at Basilica di San Pietro in Vincolo (St. Peter in chains). The church is “out of the way” up a hill near the Colosseum, but not a big draw. You have to know where to go to find it. But such is the case with many treasures. It’s an early church (400s) commissioned by some Pope who mother or daughter (its complicated) came back from Jerusalem with some chains that (some claim) had held Peter. Whatever. The draw of such relics is simply not there for me. See my digression below.
But through more political intrigue centuries later, another Pope had Michelangelo create a statue of Moses (after his most famous “David,” during breaks between Sistine ceiling and “Final Judgment” on Sistine’s back wall). It was breathtakingly beautiful — totally worth the stop!
So now, with most of our party fast asleep on the bus, we make our way north to Orvieto. They’re missing beautiful Italian vistas! This small Medieval town will give us a light afternoon of exploring (or sitting in a piazza viewing the Tuscan countryside!) before heading into Florence tomorrow.
Digression on relics
Our fallen flesh and unbelieving hearts desire things we can see and touch (see Thomas in John 20). We seem naturally to seek to cling to the past through connections. Families pass down Bibles with the writing of great-grandparents. Children treasure the family China from generations past. I get that.
But in Rome, I sometimes whispered to students, “See why we needed a Reformation?” When the church was legalized (325-ish) then state-supported and mandated (by 400), power and wealth began to grow. Then practices like relics developed. Over the next 1000 years, traditions, practices, doctrines, and more sprang up with little or no essential connection with the Good News of Jesus.
In God’s providence, within a generation, people from various places began to push back against the accumulated weight of theses things that made one have to search to see the Good News in the church. Hus in the east, Luther in Germany, Calvin in France and Geneva, Knox in Scotland and many others.
There arose a desire to leave behind the bones of an apostle, a hair from John the Baptist, splinters from the cross of Jesus, supposed saints like Lejeans, the Centurion who speared Christ to relieve his suffering (never heard of this until we saw his statue — one of the “big four” surrounding the papal altar in St. Peter’s!). The call was “by faith alone, through grace alone, in Christ alone; to God alone be glory!”
Peter doesn’t need those chains anymore (if they ever held him at all). He’s free and so are we as we rest in Christ and His resurrection.
Mike Beates from the Umbrian countryside