Saturday, March 21, 2009

Lenten Journey Week 3: San Pietro in Vincoli

The third week of my Lenten Journey has taken me to the ancient Basilica of San Pietro in Vincoli. It was one of Rome's first parish churches, built over the ruins of an imperial villa in the middle of the 5th century to house the chains that had bound St. Peter in prison in Jerusalem.

The nave has 22 columns. Tradition claims that they were taken from the basilica where St. Peter was condemned. (It is interesting that they have Doric capitals, which is rare in Roman churches.)
The chains of Peter are venerated before the main altar. The crypt behind this shrine is said to contain the relics of the Maccabee brothers, seven Jewish heros who died in war to protect the Mosaic Law during the 2nd century BC. The relics were placed here in the middle of the 6th century.

The most famous work of art in this basilica
is the statue of  Moses by Michelangelo.

This is the coat of arms for Pio Cardinal Laghi who was the titular cardinal for this church until his death on January 10, 2009. He was born in Castalignone, Italy, in 1922 and had served as the Prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education for Seminaries and Institutes of Sudies. In the 1980's he had been appointed the Apostolic Delegate and the Apostolic Pro-Nuncio to the United States.

God of infinate mercy,
grant that we who know your pity
may rejoice in your forgiveness
and gladly forgive others
for the sake of Jesus Christ our Savior.
Collect for the 3rd Sunday in Lent
A New Zealand Prayer Book

I sat in a pew in the side aisle opposite Michelangelo's sculpture. I read the first verse of Psalm 15, appointed for this week, and gazed at the statue of Moses. 
Lord, who may be a guest in your house:
or who may dwell on your holy mountain.
This statue, so full of energy, is of a man who spent time in the presence of God on the holy mountain. 
Psalm 103 states:
You showed your ways to Moses,
your deeds to the children of Israel.

It is interesting to watch the scores of visitors to this Basilica. A few walk down the several steps to view the chains of Peter, but most just go over to the Moses statue. There is a box for depositing coins to turn on the lights for the statue. You put in 1€ and you get two minutes of illumination. Many people leave after their two minutes. Some stay for a few minutes more. How can you experience the power of this sculpture in two or four minutes? 

I need to nurture and enhance the times I spend in the presence of God. I need to be careful not to fall into the trap of visiting sacred spaces and looking at works of art and beauty for two or four minutes at a time. I need to take time and be still -- and know that God is God! 

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