I highly recommend visiting Santa Maria in Aracoeli. I know I mentioned it in a previous entry, but I’m choosing to write more about it for a required solo excursion since it had such an impact on me. I think this is because I didn’t intend to visit the church as I’m not really a religious person. The only churches I go into are required ones, but after this experience, I believe that will change. Churches are artistic havens, with beautiful frescoes on the ceilings and statues in every niche. There is not one spot of blank space in a Roman church, which makes each one individually beautiful. I have a newfound respect for churches, and I don’t just see them as places where I have to pray – essentially, it’s a museum by a different name.
My classmates and I cheered each other up the 100+ steps to the entrance of the church. The architecture is really deceiving from the outside, in. The outer walls are plain, made of what looks like brick and mortar. There aren’t many ornate details or imposing statues in gold plated niches. The inside of the church makes up for the simple exterior – the chandelier arcs are the first thing one sees when looking down the central nave. Behind those arcs is a giant altar with tons of flowers and gold detailing.
The side aisles have multiple chapels, including one with hay in it for a presepio (nativity scene). My favorite was the chapel dedicated to San Michele the Archangel. The painting was so intense, with the fires of hell rising up to receive Michele as an angel in the top left corner stares down at him intensely.
The other noteworthy chapel was the one dedicated to Il Santo Bambino Gesù (The Sacred Baby Jesus). This chapel was separate from the rest of the chapels, so I almost missed it. When I walked inside, I felt like time stopped. It was a circular room with a giant altar opposite the door, high ceilings and multitudes of candles. I sat in one of the two wooden chairs (the room was not that big) and closed my eyes. The silence in the chapel seemed impossible, as it wasn’t totally removed from the church, yet I didn’t hear the echoing voices that bounced off the marble church walls. On the altar, the baby Jesus is in a glass case and (though I hesitate to say it), is totally bedazzled with various color gems. Surrounding him are wreaths and baskets full of letters written by anyone desiring to ask il Bambino for some help.
This church was an absolute surprise, in my opinion. However, it was a welcome surprise – being able to sit in that chapel with the Baby Jesus allowed me to write in my giornale, contemplate everything that I had seen that day and re-center.