Theo 266: Loyola Rome

Theo 266 is the course that I have been teaching at Felice campus of Loyola of Chicago. We’re located in the Monte Mario hills overlooking the Vatican and Rome.

These are my students, and some of the places & events in this jam packed month of July 2016.



“Symbolic Inventory” of Rome

We have a treasure that is the city of Rome, its history, people and artifacts through the centuries.

Here are some of your findings during this extraordinary month of July 2016.


For Teresa Prinster,  being present to Pope Francis at his weekly audience was a key moment: “He entered from the left side, on his popemobile and began waving, smiling, shaking hands, and kissing babies and people with disabilities….He had quite a long route! They really wind him around to see as many people as possible….The papal audience was one of first experiences in Rome but one that still stands out…I loved soaking in the excitement the event brought and able to witness the pure and genuine joy of Pope Francis.” 


Caravaggio’s “The Madonna and Child with Saint Anne, know as the “Dei Palafrenieri” was the subject of Yianna Papadeas‘s class project and presentation. This painting is found in the Borghese Palace, she writes: “This painting is in honor of Saint Anne who is portrayed as the old grandmother on the side, watching the events taking place….The painting has the potential to strengthen people’s faith by asking questions and searching for answers” 


The San Clemente Basilica is located on the Celio Hill, and nearby the Coliseum. Molly Fitzgibbons observes: “The famous Apse Mosaic, set right above the main altar is the first thing you see upon entering the church, and it puts you in a sense of awe. The “Tree of Life” mosaic is truly breathtaking, especially with all the gold…The work of the 12th century by Masolino da Panicale is centered on the crucifix. Seated beside the cross are figures of Mary and the apostle John. Above the cross is the hand of God, and the highest heavens.”


In January of 2016, Pope Francis visited the Great Synagogue of Rome, just across the Tiber from the Vatican. The pope continues the work of Saint John Paul II by improving relationships with the Jews of Rome. Emily Barr reminds us: “Pope Francis’s recent visit was an important gesture to the Jewish community. During his speech, the pope said: ‘In the Jewish-Christian dialogue there is a unique and particular bond, by virtue of the Jewish roots of Christianity: Jews and Christians must therefore consider themselves brothers, united by the same God and by a rich common spiritual patrimony on which to build and continue to building the future.’”  


Taryn Diermenjian visited the Ara Pacis Museum and the Japanese photography exhibition by Ken Domon and his collection of photography concerning the victims of the Hiroshima bombing and how these scars of war affected both the dead and the living. Taryn writes: “As I examined Domon’s photographs, I realized that the exhibition is more about what it means to be human. Photographs of such simple human experiences contrasted with such horrors. One photo that stood out to me was of a mother, attempting to bring a little bit of happiness to her son’s last moments, by offering him ice cream. We can all remember a time when our parents brought us ice cream. For a child, this is what pure happiness is.”


The Vatican Museum houses a vast collection of the most important art in the world. Yongxuan Ji’s study of the “Deposition” by Caravaggio took note of the technique in Baroque art. She comments: “To involve the viewer is the most important goal of Baroque art, so Caravaggio organized the composition to make the body of Christ lowered right into our space, as though we were standing in the tomb. Also, there is another very common feature of Baroque art, namely diagonal lines. These figures form a diagonal line so that we can catch the moment in time when Christ is lowered into his tomb.”


Another of Caravaggio’s work’s the “Madonna di Loreto” is in the Basilica of San Agostino, located on a side street between the Piazza Navonna and the Pantheon. Josephine Lindgren writes: “This painting resonates religious culture. First of all the Virgin Mary, although she has as subtle halo, looks like a regular woman. Caravaggio used regular street people for his models. It sometimes caused him controversy… [however] His painting help give the viewer direct access to God. He makes the people seem so accessible and normal that it makes us feel as if we are in the scene as well.”  


Sara Lochmueller tells us: “On the altar wall of the Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo painted ‘The Last Judgement.’ This fresco contains an image of Jesus that references three famous ancient Greek statues. During the Renaissance, the art of the ancient Greeks was seen as the ideal, and Michelangelo chose to depict Jesus in the most ideal fashion possible, combining multiple Greek statues into one figure. I took a tour of the Vatican Museum and the Sistine Chapel on June 27th… and I was introduced to the concept of Catholicism side by side with paganism, a theme I continued to notice throughout the rest of the weeks here.”


Churches become a preoccupation for all visitors to Rome, yet the “Jubilee Church” has a special position among the most recent buildings in the “Eternal City.” Camille Mulcahy writes:“Saint John Paul II’s initiative to rejuvenate parish life in Rome resulted in an International competition, entitled “50 Churches for Rome 2000.” The winner of the architectural competition in 1996 was the American Richard Meier. The parish’s location in the Tor Tre Teste district of Rome is far from the center of Rome, and adjacent to a housing complex and park…. The simplicity and the geometric nature of the Jubilee Church represent the current times of our world; so often overwhelmed by images and thoughts, this is a place where we can simply reflect.”


Nicole Shoemaker was among the many students who were amazed by the Basilica of San Clemente, located three hundred yards from the Coliseum, and a building whose history spans the centuries. Nicole comments: “The original basilica was built in 392 AD, and Saint Jerome mentions that the church was dedicated to Saint Clement, the third successor to Saint Peter. This lower church contains one of the largest collections of early Medieval wall paintings. The further down you descend you see into the Roman period with a multi-level home of a nobleman, later remodeled as a Temple of Mithras, one of the Roman gods… San Clemente is a fantastic example of religion in Rome. It is unique, ancient and wildly historical.” See:



While Rome contains some of the most important religious art in the world, it also contains some popular art as Zichen Yu discovered. She writes: “The historical and cultural influence of Catholicism is so significant in Rome that there are symbols of devotion everywhere in the city, such as the shrines of the “Little Madonna” on building and street corners everywhere. These shrines are a type of tradition begun by the ancient Romans who venerated the Lares, tutelary spirits of the house, in the forms of small statues, often placed in prominent locations on the corners of buildings, facing streets. Most of the Christian shrines in Rome today, are in different forms such as painting, or sculpture, and date back to the 16th to 18th centuries.”

Thanks to my friend Jim Barton, he introduced me to the “foot of Mary Magdalen” in the Church of San Giovanni Battista dei Fiorentini, nearby the Tiber, and across from the Janiculum hill.

Here is just one of the relics honored in this city.







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