By Filipe Domingues
A chilly Roman winter morning was just like springtime for Minnesota undergraduate students from St Thomas University, who joined members of The Lay Centre resident community in a serene visit to the basilica dedicated to Saints John and Paul on the Caelian Hill.
John and Paul were two Roman martyrs of the fourth century, killed in their own house by the soldiers of Emperor Julian, the apostate. They died between 361 and 363 A.D. They were two brothers, soldiers of the empire, who converted to Christianity during Constantine’s years. Julian was a nephew of Constantine. After coming to power, he not only reneged his Christian faith, but was determined to revive paganism and raise it to the level of an official religion with an established hierarchy. Christians were expelled from the army and a violent persecution succeded.
The deaths of John and Paul and the discovery of their bodies under the staircase of their home transformed their home into a place of worship and a place of strong devotion for all Christians.
For centuries pilgrims have visited the Roman houses on the Caelian Hill, wanting to touch the martyrs’ relics or to pray for their intercession.
These houses are currently covered by an large Baroque basilica, dedicated to the two Roman brothers. The Passionist Fathers are the custodians of the church since the 18th century.
Passionist Father Lawrence Rywalt guided the group visit to the basilica and to some of the ancient rooms and Roman streets beneath it.
He underlined that, initially, the altar of the first basilica was placed exactly on top of John and Paul’s tomb, associating the sacrifice of the martyrs to the sacrifice of Christ and its memory in the Eucharist.
Years later, the altar was moved to a more central area of the basilica; so, too, were the relics of John and Paul. They were placed in a reliquary beneath the altar, maintaining the same theological significance.
“The blood of Christ mixes with the blood of the martyrs,” said Father Rywalt.
Photos: Emil Anton