We took one organized tour in Rome and had a marvelous tour guide who has a PhD in archaeology so this was the perfect tour to do with her. Most of you will think we toured the catacombs where people were buried- wealthy in mausoleums and poor in underground chambers with niches in the walls for the bodies. Not on our agenda. This was a tour of the multiple layers under a specific site, this one being San Clemente Church. Beneath the 12th century church that you can visit above ground and has stunning mosaics, there is a 4th century church underneath that has been excavated and has beautiful but fading frescoes. This is one of those times when you realize you are seeing something that in even a few years may no longer exist. Our guide showed up pictures of the frescoes from even 5 years ago and how much they have faded in the interim. The church has control over the site as well as the government of Italy does not have the funds to preserve such things. Very sad.
We also explored below the 4th century church to the ancient Roman ruins, complete with 3 ft. wide street! Most of us could not even walk through that straight on nowadays. Guess those Romans were pretty slender. We saw the Temple and altar of a secret religion called Mithraism. This was a so-called fertility cult that ironically did not include women and was so bloody (animal sacrifices and drenching selves in blood) that it was not too popular. Apparently Mithras’ birthday was December 25th and the winter solstice was an important element of their practice. There are virtually no documents about this secret cult but many believe there are documents in the secret Vatican archives. I have included an image of the chamber used for Mithras from the internet as we were not allowed to photograph there and if you are a student in my class one of the Voice Threads (syncretism) includes this same image.