I haven’t seen my sister in over two years. She and my brother-in-law have been serving with the Peace Corps in Thailand and sadly, because of my preparations for this semester abroad, I never did visit them at their site like I wanted to. This is why I couldn’t refuse their invitation when they invited me to spend a few days with them celebrating their end of service in Rome! I’ve been hard at work studying for my final exam and sorting through the things in my room in early preparation for packing, but I knew that if I said “no” I would always regret not taking the opportunity to visit the “Eternal City” (and the opportunity to see them before the rest of my family!).
It was fun to visit Rome straight from England, and it offered me a visual perspective on Rome that I would never have had if I traveled directly from Philly (Though, we all agreed that South Philly has emulated the atmosphere of the typical Roman neighborhood very well. The open-air markets didn’t feel too much unlike a Saturday afternoon in the 9th street Italian Market!). If you’re amazed at how old England is, you’ll be in awe when standing in the city that dates back to roughly 3,000 years ago. Ancient Roman ruins are just as immediate in the streets of Rome as early post-Norman Conquest structures are in Norwich.
Christian imagery is an essential part of the landscape in both Rome and England, but I’ve found that its presence is much more visible in Rome. While England is home to the Church of England, which claims many of the beautiful abbeys and cathedrals across the country, Rome is home to Vatican City, a country within itself that acts as the capital of Roman Catholicism. While England is abundant in beautiful Christian art, the Dissolution under the reign of Henry the VIII in the 16th century saw the destruction and removal of most of that art from churches and other public places. The churches of Rome are rich in the same biblical imagery that is found in England, except this imagery can be found on just about every block.
The historical reason for this amount of art, both in Rome and England, was to educate congregations on the stories of the Bible regardless of their ability to read. As my sister, my brother-in-law, and I gazed at the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, we exchanged what knowledge we had of the stories being depicted. This exchange of stories and knowledge with others will probably be one of the most treasured aspects of my time studying abroad. It reiterates the fact that most of the learning you will do when abroad will be outside of the classroom, based on relationships with new people and new places.