A Religious Experience

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We all know that Rome is headquarters for Francis and his Catholic buddies, but the city is actually home to a few other religious populations as well. This month I checked out some non-Catholic options, and here’s what I found:

Fun Fact: The Saint Paul's mosaics are so special that the Italian government has declared the church a national monument

Fun Fact: The Saint Paul’s mosaics are so special that the Italian government has declared the church a national monument

La Chiesa Episcopale di San Paolo dentro le Mura (Saint Paul’s Within the Walls Episcopal Church)

Not to be confused with Saint Paul Outside the Walls, a Catholic basilica, Saint Paul’s Within the Walls is an Episcopalian Church, not far from the Repubblica metro stop. It was the first Protestant church to be built in Rome and was completed in 1880, ten years after Italian unification marked the end of Papal rule, thus enabling the construction of non-Roman Catholic religious buildings. It’s not quite as grand as the Catholic cathedrals of the city (although its apse mosaic is nothing to scoff at), but what it lacks in size it makes up in coziness.

I went to Saint Paul’s for a Sunday morning mass and immediately felt welcome and comfortable (the fact that the congregation was largely composed of Americans might have had something to do with it). The service was pretty standard, the organ player was great, the reverend was enthusiastic, and I particularly enjoyed the choir members, who sat with the congregation in the pews. Especially nice was the strong sense of community among the congregation—from the children’s aisle, furnished with crayons and toys, to the upcoming programs, including events like “Bibles and Beer” and a movie screening of Into the Woods, it seemed like a really vibrant and active group. If all of that isn’t enough of a recommendation, they also serve coffee and cookies after services.

Don't forget a headscarf at the mosque!

Don’t forget a headscarf at the mosque!

La Moschea di Roma (The Mosque of Rome)

In 1974 the Rome City Council donated a plot of land just north of the city for the purposes of building a mosque, and 20 years later the project was finally completed, rendering Italy home to the largest mosque in Europe. The building was in many ways a testament to the religious tolerance practiced in Italy, in addition to being an impressive display of modernist architecture.

The mosque interior

The mosque interior

From the lush carpets to the beautiful tile mosaic patterns to the incredible curves and spirals of the ceiling, I feel pretty confident in guaranteeing that you’ve never seen anything else like it.

I couldn’t find much information about religious services, but the mosque is open to visitors on Wednesdays and Saturdays, from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. As a sign of respect, women are expected to wear scarves over their heads, and everyone is required to take off their shoes when entering the carpeted areas. Be warned, this is no ordinary tourist attraction, so don’t be surprised if no one knows English (apparently the Imam speaks English, but he wasn’t there when I visited). It’s also really easy to get to the mosque from school—you can take the FC3 tram from Piazza del Popolo and be there in 10-15 minutes—and it’s well worth the trip!

Il Tempio Maggiore di Roma (The Great Synagogue of Rome)

The holy ark, which houses the Torah scrolls

The holy ark, which houses the Torah scrolls

Rome is host to the oldest Jewish population in Europe, dating back to the second century BCE. The Jews resided in Rome without major incident until Christianity was legalized in the empire, at which point their situation worsened progressively, culminating in the Papal institution of the Jewish Ghetto from 1555 to 1870. At the turn of the century the unremarkable ghetto synagogue was replaced by the Tempio Maggiore, a majestic building meant to convey the vitality and permanence of the Jewish community in Rome.

If you’ve ever been to a synagogue in the United States, prepare for something completely different. The Tempio Maggiore is much grander than most American synagogues, and as per European tradition, women sit separately from men on a tall balcony. While the balcony provides a nice view of the synagogue, it also makes it a little more difficult to hear the prayers going on below, which are conducted in Hebrew. I went to a Friday night Shabbat service, which lasted just under an hour.  If you’re interested in doing the same, I recommend checking the start time in advance, as the start of the service depends on the time of sundown. To see the synagogue without going to services, guided tours are provided with an entrance to the Jewish museum, housed in the basement of building.

And How Does That Make You Feel?

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When someone finds out you’re in college, it is almost guaranteed that they will ask what your major is, so I’ve had to respond to this question quite a bit over the past three years. For those of you who don’t know, I’m a Psychology major. I kind of just stumbled into it when I was a freshman, and happened to really like it, so I stuck with it. I cannot count how many times I’ve heard the question “and how does that make you feel?” after telling someone I study psychology, but I normally just laugh it off or give some sarcastic answer to go along with the over-used, witty response to my major.

This past week it’s seemed that I’ve been asked that same ‘sarcastic’ question multiple times, but now, it does not pertain to what my major in college is, but rather with the fact that I only have a few days left in Rome. All of my loved ones from back home are going on and on about how excited they are for me to come home and that they are counting down the days until my plane lands in the United States, but they also ask me how I feel now that my time in Rome is ending. Am I nervous? Am I excited?

Honestly, I’m not quite sure how I’m feeling. My emotions are one big whirlwind of being anxious about final grades, tired from traveling and studying, excited to finally see family and friends, and sad knowing that I’m leaving my new Temple Rome family. One emotion isn’t necessarily overcoming the others, but they’re all creating a mess of feelings within me that I’m just not ready to tackle.

If someone asked me a couple weeks ago, I would have said I’m 99% ready to come home. I had my fill of pasta, trying to speak in Italian, and was really missing everyone from home. I was ready to have my own room again, be back with my pets, and eat my gram’s home-cooked food. Don’t get me wrong, I still want all of these things, but now I realize that when I get all of these back, I’m losing everything else. Soon after returning to the States I’ll want nothing more than to be able to simply text Erin to walk downstairs to my apartment, or to be able to cook with my friends at our impromptu potluck dinners, casually take a walk to the Vatican or to experience the accomplished feeling of carrying out a successful conversation in Italian.

pragueAll of this will end in a matter of days, and I’m just not sure how that makes me feel.  As the weekend ends, I’ll fly to Philadelphia with practically everyone I’ve met at Temple Rome. We’ll tackle-hug our loved ones at the airport, and we’ll go our separate ways. Some I may see next year at Temple, but others I’ll never get to see again, all of the fun days in Italy just one amazing, magical memory.

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Group First Gilato

Italian Passion for Fashion

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It is a well known fact that Italy is the fashion capital of the world. I would be lying to you if i was not a little intimidated by this fact when packing my wardrobe for this Spring semester. I knew I had to pack clothing that would not only be fashionable in an Italian sense, but would also be able to keep me warm enough through the winter months; however, I also needed to pack clothing for when it is nice out in Rome or when I planned on going on trip to more tropical destinations such as Capri.

I put so much thought into the entire process of packing because I wanted to be able to keep up with every one of the amazingly dressed women that passed me by on the streets, and the last thing that I wanted was to look ‘American’. Little did I know, my idea of Italian, or specifically Roman, fashion was a little skewed, so you do not make the same mistakes I did when packing, here are the truths of Italian fashion:

1) Not All Italians Are Fashionable: Not every single Italian that walks by you will be the epitome of fashion. I have seen a few bedazzled jeans on middle aged women, over-sized suits on men, and even crocs. The big difference that is between Roman Fashion and American fashion is that Italians always look as if they put effort into their looks for the day. You would not see a Roman walking around in baggy sweat pants, or pajamas, but they will at least be wearing jeans and a t-shirt.

2) Italians Wear Sneakers: I was under the impression that if I were to wear sneakers in Italy,  I would automatically be flagged as a tourist, so I did not even bother packing them (BIG mistake); however, I see Romans walking around in sneakers constantly! While they do wear sneakers, another common shoe that is adorned in Italy is the heel. Their mastery of walking on cobblestone is beyond me. They also are not huge fans of open-toed shoes, especially throughout their winter and spring.

3) They Dress for the Season Not for the Weather: Currently, the weather in Italy is 74 and sunny, but contrary to the US, Italians are still wearing their parkas and boots! Because it is so nice outside, and I packed so many dresses, I felt like I had to wear them, so as I walk around the streets with bare legs, I get a lot of crazy looks from the locals, especially because I was also wearing sandals.

4) Designer Brands are Popular– While it may not be true everywhere throughout Italy, in Rome, high-priced, designer brands such as Gucci and Prada are extremely popular. For instance, my friend checked her coat at a club that we went to one night and lost her ticket. To identify her coat, the attendant asked what designer it was by… I don’t think Burlington counts as a designer Brand.

5) Italians Wear Dark Colors: The color that is always in season it Italy is black! This worked extremely well for me since in the United States I am constantly getting yelled at by friends to add a little color into my life.

6) Italian Fashion Will Inspire You: Since I have come to Italy, I am much more prone to try matching different patterns and to try new things. For instance, I have picked up a love for dark red lipstick since studying in Rome. Part of this is wanting to look Italian, and another part of the inspiration is that here, nobody knows who you are, so they do not know what you normally wear.

Where Are All of the Eggs?

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This past weekend I stayed in Rome to celebrate Easter, and to be honest, Easter weekend in Rome is a pretty big deal. Not being an overly religious person myself, celebrating Easter in a Catholic country was a completely new experience for me. No longer was my Easter filled with colored eggs, ham dinners, chocolates and bunny rabbits, but it was filled with services staring the one and only, Pope Francis. Because I am not Catholic, and I only speak very basic Italian, I was worried that I would not be able to understand a lot of what was going on throughout Rome this weekend, but luckily a very good friend of mine named Jackie came to Rome to visit me for the weekend, and she just so happened to be Catholic and could explain to me the basic gist of the two ceremonies that we were going to be watching.

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Stations of The Cross: The Man in White is Pope Francis!

I did not have the chance to go to each and every service that was offered throughout the weekend, but the first one that Jackie and I went to was the Stations of the Cross. For those (like me) who do not know what that ceremony is for, it is when the Pope leads a procession that commemorates the fourteen stages of Christ’s Passion. While I did not understand the vast majority of the ceremony, the scenery itself was very moving. It took place right beside the coliseum at night with a huge cross made of candles as the backdrop of the speakers. It was a breathtaking site to see, and when the Pope first spoke, you could sense the feeling of awe throughout the entire audience. My favorite part was seeing a small Italian girl, maybe four years old, get so incredibly excited to see Pope Francis that she squealed at the site of his white robe.

The other ceremony that we were able to see was Easter Mass. At the very beginning of my semester in Rome, I filled out paperwork and faxed it to the Vatican in order to gain tickets to see the Mass in St. Peter’s Square. It was very quick and did not take much time at all. The paperwork simply asked for my name, how many tickets I needed and my contact information. I heard that I was accepted for tickets by February, so I was really looking forward in being able to participate in such a rich cultural experience. Little did I know, there was very limited seating for those who had tickets, so unless I arrived well before 7:30 in the morning, I would not get a seat, and would just stand with the rest of the general Mass-goers. So for future Mass-goers, you can still see the Mass without tickets, and will most likely end up in the general section anyway, so do not worry if you do not have time to request tickets!

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A Very Rainy Easter Mass in St. Peter’s Square

I did not manage to get myself a seat, but I was still able to go to Easter Mass at the Vatican. How cool is that?! I still cannot believe that it happened. Anyway, the Mass started at 10:15 in the morning, and Jackie, a bunch of other Temple Rome students and I, arrived at St. Peters Square around 7:30 in the morning to try to find a good location to watch the service within the crowd of people. The entire morning it was raining, and I do not mean drizzles, but full out rain. Everybody in the audience was absolutely soaked, and it was difficult to see anything with all of the umbrellas. Although I could barely see what was going on in front of me, I was able to understand what was being said because there were translations into multiple languages from Italian, to English and even Portuguese. At the end of the ceremony, the Pope delivered a blessing called the Urbi et Orbi, or in English, to the City and to the World.

It was not necessarily the Easter that I expected, especially with all of the rain, but it was amazing. I was able to experience another part of not only Italian culture, but world culture that I have never really seen before. In the crowds of people there was this sense of oneness and peace. It did not matter what language people were speaking or what country they were from because everybody was there for the same purpose, to come together and celebrate Easter.

I Got 99 Problems and I Can’t Express Any of Them in Italian

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If you’re thinking about studying abroad in Rome, I cannot stress enough how helpful it is to start learning Italian beforehand. Even if you only manage to take an intro class before you leave (like me), I promise it’s worth it. Just in case you don’t get a chance though, here are some basics.

First of all, learn your basic courtesies/greetings. That means “boun giorno” (“good morning/afternoon”), “buona sera” (“good evening”), “ciao” (“hi/bye”), “scusa” (“excuse me/sorry”), “grazie” (“thank you”), “prego” (“you’re welcome”), and “per favore” (“please”). I know that seems painfully obvious, but somehow it never seems to occur to me until I land in a new city and frantically realize that I know zero words in the local language. Do yourself a favor, and memorize that now.

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Posso provare tutto? (Can I try them all?)

The next important phrase is “non parlo italiano” (“I don’t speak Italian”). Having said that, a look of mild terror when anyone tries to speak to you in Italian will probably convey the same sentiment, so it’s really a matter of your preference. Relatedly, “parli inglese?” (“do you speak English?”) is a good one to know too. Personally I find it a little presumptuous to walk up to someone and launch right into English, just assuming that they’ll understand (even though they usually do), whereas prefacing whatever I need to say with a quick “parli inglese?” seems a little more respectful.

Once you’ve summoned up the courage to start venturing into shops, you’ll need a few more phrases in your repertoire. In a lot of stores the workers will immediately yell “prego” or “dimmi,” when you walk in, which is basically “what can I do for you?” Don’t get thrown off by the fact that this tends to sound more like a command than an offer. If you’re not quite ready to buy anything you can respond with “sto solo dando un’occhiata” (“I’m just looking”), or “quanto costa?” (“how much does this cost?”). Finally, “posso provare?” (“can I try some?”) is a good food-phrase to know, although it’s really only useful in gelato shops (a.k.a. I use this one pretty much everyday).

Harry Potter e la Pietra Filosofale!

Harry Potter e la Pietra Filosofale!

Next problem: you’ve successfully said something in Italian, but you have no idea what the response was. You have a few options here, starting with “poui ripetere, per favore?” (“can you repeat that, please?”). If that doesn’t work, follow with “poui parlare più lentamente, per favore?” (“can you speak slower, please?”). If you’re still lost, offer a sad “non capisco” (“I don’t understand”) and resort to your charades prowess.

Finally, a word of advice: read! If, like me, your Italian isn’t quite up to reading normal books (by my estimation, after two semesters of Italian, my ideal conversation partner is a two-year-old,) try a book that you’re really familiar with. I’m currently making my way through Harry Potter, and even though the language and grammar is more advanced than my actual comprehension level, I know the book well enough that I can follow.

Buona Fortuna! (Good luck!)

Endless Cobblestone

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While I love going on trips and exploring the world, I am also the person who needs a consistent, daily routine. Every morning I get ready for classes in the same order. I walk to class every day on the same side of the same street. When I get to the school, I attempt to sit in the same seat in the computer lab, and you can be sure that I sit in the same seat every day in each one of my classes. Some would say that I have a type A personality, but I prefer to say that I am consistent and reliable.

This morning my routine had to change a bit because I had to go to the Vatican before my first class to pick up the tickets for Easter mass this coming Sunday (hint to what you’ll be hearing about next week!) Luckily, I was still able to get ready with the same routine, I just had to wake up a little earlier, and I could still walk to school on the same street, but I simply had to walk to that specific street from the Vatican. If you cannot tell by now, I’m not a person that would enjoy getting lost, but unfortunately, I am not good with directions either.

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Beautiful Sunset in the Intersection in Front of Temple

Walking away from the Vatican, I knew that I had to simply walk straight, and I would find the road that I always use to walk to school; however, it seemed like I was walking straight for entirely too long. I assumed that I must have passed my turn. I also only had forty minutes until my first class started, and if I walked myself into the middle of Rome, who knew how long it would take for me to get back to the school, so I built up what little confidence I had in my ability to speak in Italian to a local, and I asked for directions. First I asked this younger individual who was walking his dog; however, it was a failed attempt because he did not seem to understand my broken and badly pronounced Italian. Next I went across the street to this little cafe that I saw. There was a man and woman right by the door. They looked as though they owned the place, so I hoped that they knew where I was talking about when I asked where the ‘lungo tiber’ was located. To my surprise, they understood what I was saying in Italian AND I also understood their directions: I simply had to turn around, take the first left and continue straight until I ran into the river.

I followed their directions to the T, and along the way I saw some pretty cool things: a cute little restaurant hidden behind the branches of a tree, beautiful flowers on the windowsills of buildings and a nice green area by a magazine stand. Seeing all of these great things awakened me in a way. I did not understand why I have not yet let myself get lost in Rome. Everyone who has been here has advised me to do it, but my inner planner just could not let it happen. In the time that I walked down this street, I decided that I needed to open myself up to the experience of being lost. Before I knew it, I found the intersection of the road and the Tiber, but this intersection looked oddly familiar, too familiar. I turned around to look at the street I just ventured down and I realized that it was the very same road that I walked down four days a week for the past eight or so weeks. I was just walking on the other side of the street.

Of course this realization was comical, but it was also eye-opening. All of this time, staying in my routine has hindered me from seeing everything that I could see. There is so much that I have missed simply because of my desire for consistency, but lucky for me, there is no better time than now to let loose and get lost on the endless cobblestone of Rome.

Take Me to Church

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Even though it’s now obvious that it was always my destiny to come to Rome and be Lizzie McGuire, it wasn’t always such an clear choice. With two majors, I had a lot of options—did it make more sense to be somewhere that would complement my studies in English lit, or was it better to go the Religion major route?

Clearly I went with choice number two, and it actually ended up being an easier decision than I had initially anticipated; the more I thought about it, the more obvious it became that Rome had something special to offer. There are a ton of cities with rich literary traditions and impressive collections of relics from local literary power players, but Rome has way more than relics (saintly and otherwise). Rome has a living history, in which ancient traditions are still being performed while new conventions are simultaneously inaugurated. Plus, it’s probably one of the only places where you can find a Pope Francis bobble head (and calendar and t shirt and coffee mug and poster and key chain…not that I would know). 

Having said that, one of my favorite parts of being in Rome has been visiting the gorgeous churches scattered around the city. Here are some can’t-miss spots for when you visit!

Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri

Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri

1. St. Peter’s Basilica

It’s a big deal. You already knew that. Moving on.

2. Basilica di Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri

A magnificent construction designed by Michelangelo, this one holds a special place in my heart because it was my first church in Rome. It’s also right next to the Palazzo Massimo National Museum and the Baths of Diocletian (you can get into both with the same ­­ticket, meaning you can impress your friends with how thoroughly cultured you are in one fell swoop).

Santa Maria Maggiore

Santa Maria Maggiore

3. Basilica Papale di Santa Maria Maggiore

This is a big one! As a Papal major Basilica it’s one of the four highest-ranking Roman Catholic Churches, plus it’s the largest and oldest Catholic Marian church in Rome, and a UNESCO World Heritage site to boot. The mosaics are 5th century and gorgeous, and it has an incredible monumental alter.

4. Basilica di Santa Maria in Trastevere

It’s not terribly impressive from the outside, but don’t be fooled—this church is my favorite. The mosaics here are the most spectacular of everything I’ve seen so far in Rome, particularly the apse mosaic depicting the Coronation of the Virgin. This church is also home to a 6th century Madonna della Clemenza icon, which is one of the oldest images of the Madonna in Rome.

5. Chiesa di Santa Maria Antiqua

Santa Maria Antiqua

Santa Maria Antiqua

Located in the Roman Forum, Santa Maria Antiqua is the oldest Christian monument on the site, and it contains the earliest depiction of Santa Maria Regina, or the Virgin Mary as Queen. This church is really interesting because it demonstrates the evolution of Christian art, which can be seen in the various layers of fresco on the walls (it was redecorated by at least four different popes). Unfortunately, it’s really difficult to gain access to—I was lucky enough to get permission to visit with my Christian art seminar.