Senior students soak up the sights of The Eternal City.
It was a 2am start but our morning flight from Gatwick ensured that we arrived in Rome early enough to check into our hotel and then head straight out to explore! We had lunch in the Trevi Fountain area before catching the metro to Colosseo to see the Arch of Constantine, the Coliseum, ancient Rome and the Forum.
We also headed for the Basilica of St Peter in Chains and walked on towards the modern Via Del Corso shopping area before returning to our hotel via the Spanish Steps area. We even managed an after-dinner visit to St Peter’s Basilica to see the beautiful square, lit up by night.
Day two saw an early start to get inside St Peter’s Basilica. We were all suitably impressed by the magnificence of this, the centre of Vatican City, and the headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church. The area around St Peter’s provided many little cafes and restaurants for snacks as well as a multitude of shops selling religious artefacts, which we were all eager to purchase. Another metro journey took us to St John Lateran Basilica, the cathedral Church of Rome and the nearby Holy Stairs, which pilgrims must climb on their knees in an attitude of prayer and respect.
Behind St John Lateran Basilica is the oldest baptistery in the Christian world and we managed to visit this before heading towards yet another Basilica – The Holy Cross, (Santa Croce). We viewed here the relics of the cross and a replica of the Turin Shroud, claimed by some scientists to be the burial cloth of Christ.
Day three brought yet another adventure – the Catacombs of St Priscilla on the very edge of the city of Rome. These 13 miles of narrow and dimly-lit corridors were the underground burial chambers of the first Christians in Rome. We saw the earliest ever picture of the Virgin Mary with Jesus, etched onto the roof of one of the tunnels and dating back to a time when Christianity was not even legal in the Empire.
There was just time for a quick lunch before we set off to visit Via Nomentana and the Sisters of Jesus and Mary in Rome. The Sisters welcomed us warmly and we had a tour of the house as well as an opportunity to spend a few quiet moments in the Chapel, reflecting on the fact that Thornton is part of a worldwide community of Jesus and Mary Schools.
We visited the grave of Mother St Clare who, in 1917, founded our very own Thornton College and we were privileged to meet Mother Cecilia, who, at 115 years old, is the sixth oldest person alive. She amazed us with her lively wit and accurate memories of Thornton.
Day four and, yes, another early start to claim a good spot in St Peter’s Square for the Angelus at midday – but also something more! This year we managed to get 36 tickets to the canonisation of seven saints. Thousands of pilgrims gathered in blazing sunshine for the Mass and we were delighted to be given a souvenir booklet. When Pope Francis climbed into the Popemobile Thornton girls proved just how good they were at weaving in and out of crowds and managed to take amazing photos of him at arm’s length. To finish, we enjoyed a short visit to Castel St Angelo in the blazing sunshine with stunning views over Vatican City and the rest of Rome.