Today’s post comes to you live from the eternal city!
For one last time we got up way too early, forced our poor roadies to drive us back to our connecting point, and plowed off into the frigid morning at about a quarter to 8. Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, our final day’s walk was neither pleasant nor beautiful. I’m pleased to say that there were sidewalks nearly the whole way; I only got almost hit by a van once; and only once did we have to clamber over an abandoned construction project because it was impossible to cross the street to the real sidewalk with all the motorcycles tearing down the middle of the road. On the bright side, we had no dog problems at all.
By late morning we’d wended our way through the smoggy suburbs and past a museum’s worth of graffiti (we understand now why the word comes to English from Italian; we also have noticed that whereas German graffiti is usually political, Italian graffiti is highly personal and even affectionate, and uses the roads for canvas as much as the walls). We finally got off the main drag into the park at Monte Mario, climbed the hill, and… there it was, Rome! Cupolas springing up everywhere, though none so imposing as St. Peter’s, and the soldierly march of columns of the Pantheon far on the other side. It was pretty amazing after 69 days to look on our goal at last (which reminds me: our countdown is off by one day, and we’ve never been able to figure out how to fix it—but today is indeed day 69, not 68).
Luther was also deeply moved when he arrived at last, and not for reasons of his order’s business, but because of the Christian history: “Be thou greeted, most holy Rome, truly holy because of the holy martyrs, dripping with their blood” is what he exclaimed at first sight. In 1510, though, St. Peter’s was just in beginning stages of being built, and the Pantheon was still a church (he was particularly impressed with it).
After a whole lot of zigzags down the hill, we recommenced the marching up a long boulevard until we arrived at the second micro-state and the first of our two final destinations, St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City. Tomorrow we’ll take a proper look around at it and report more on it then; today we had to keep on going. It was another 6 km from there to the other end of the city and the true final southernmost point of our pilgrimage at St. Paul’s-outside-the-Walls, where the eponymous apostle is buried. In Luther’s time it was the designated beginning point for a pilgrim’s tour of the 7 most important churches of Rome. About 2 km shy of St. Paul’s we hit the 1000 mile mark! And when we finally took our last pilgrimage steps up to the doors of St. Paul’s, it had been 1612.1 km or 1001.71 miles, beginning to end. I still can’t quite believe it’s over.
Though we know that Luther went to St. Paul’s, the basilica we saw was not the one he saw, as the old one burned down in 1823 or thereabouts, rebuilt in similar fashion and decorated prodigiously in neoclassical style within. The main altar sits over a marble sarcophagus which, insofar as one can ascertain these things for certain, houses St. Paul’s bones. That was pretty amazing too! I suddenly felt a flood of gratitude to God for Paul’s letters and am looking forward with renewed fervor to reading them once again. One of the enormous statues of Paul in the church has him holding a super-long sword in one hand and in the other a scroll with legible words: “Ad Romanos, Paulus servus Jesu Christi…” The church was absolutely stuffed with tourists and maybe other pilgrims too; just as we were leaving a huge French group was preparing for mass.
Well, after all that, not to mention the 22.2 final kilometers we’d hiked at high speed, we were ready for a little down time, so with Roger and Ginny and Zeke we took the metro back north a couple stops and walked to the Spedale della Provvidenza, a pilgrim hostel specifically for religious pilgrims. There was a bit of a struggle for communication since all of them spoke only Italian and we two pilgrims arrived with three others in tow who were essential to our pilgrimage but not pilgrims with credentials themselves. After some consultation they decided to let our three-member crew spend the night after all, and made up a pot of tea for us, and after awhile, beginning to make sense of our neanderthal attempts to explain an ecumenical pilgrimage in a language we don’t speak, warmed up to us and our project.
It was a brief but refreshing respite before we were off again to Remo’s for a pizza dinner. Just as we had one Lutheran and one Catholic start us off on our journey in Erfurt, so we had one Lutheran and one Catholic to receive us on our arrival. Will is a pastor from the U.S. here for a two-month study break; Dom Ambros is an Augustinian canon studying for the priesthood here in Rome. And just as we got the hostel, our German doctor friend from a few days back turned up, so we brought him along too for a party of eight to celebrate the end of 1000 miles and say a toast to the unity of the church and enjoy some really excellent thin-crusted Roman pizza. And for one happy final surprise, right before we left, Ginny’s brother Vince and his wife Sally showed up—they’re in Rome for a week of vacation—so we even had some extra family there to congratulate us at the end. It was an evening of abundance in every way!
But I admit—though I’m still looking forward to the rest of the sights of Rome and especially the crypt at St. Peter’s tomorrow—the main thing on my mind right now is a good night’s sleep and no alarm going off at 6!