Be a religious tourist in Rome

For many Rome is about the Colisseum, the Trevi fountain, the gelato and the neighbourhood Trattoria. For others it’s the heart of Christianity, the home of the the Catholic church and El Papa himself. As a good Catholic girl, the religious experience added another dimension to my visit to Rome last year, with my parents and son. But even if you’re not that holy, there are ways that you can tap into the spiritual experience and understand what makes Rome a pilgrimage destination for so many Christians.

St Peter's Basilica

Stay in a Convent or religious guest house
I’ve already written about the experience of staying in a religious guest house.  There are many convents and religious guest houses in Rome – not for the party animal perhaps, but great if you want somewhere with a tranquil atmosphere and a warm welcome. You’ll find a list of Convents in Rome that offer accommodation on the Santa Susannah website. Being so close to St Peter’s brings me to the next thing you could try;

St Peter's Basilica

Early morning mass at St Peter’s
If you get to to the early morning 7am mass at St Peter’s, you may be a little bleary eyed but it’s tapping into the real purpose of the Basilica before the hoards of tourists arrived. As the bells call you in, you’ll be following a succession of priests, some with their vestments tucked under their arm, all arriving to say or attend mass in one of the many side chapels of the basilica. You can choose whichever chapel you please and chances are there’ll only be a couple of nuns in attendance, saying a prayer for peace. After half an hour the mass is ended and you can wander around to enjoy St Peter’s without the crowds. Don’t worry if you’re not a Christian, just sit quietly and take in the atmosphere. I guarantee you’ll have a warm glow for the rest of the day.

Kiss St Peter’s toe
For centuries, pilgrims have been venerating the final resting place of St Peter and showing their devotion by kissing the toe of the statue of St Peter in his Basilica. Now one of his feet is worn smooth from all the attention and most people prefer to pass by and touch the foot as a mark of respect. For some it’s a bit of a tourist thing to have your photo taken there, but for Catholics, it’s like venerating a holy relic – a conduit for your prayers to God.

Touching St Peter's toe

Be blessed by the Pope
If you’re in Rome on Sunday, then make sure you are in in St Peter’s square at 12 noon. Pope Benedict XVI, if he’s in residence will appear at the window of his private apartments and welcome you, probably in your own language and bless the crowd. Then he disappears, no doubt for an excellent Italian Sunday lunch.

All of these experiences are free and will help you tap into the spiritual side of Rome that has attracted pilgrims over the centuries. After all, religious pilgrims were the first tourists and you’ll still have plenty of time for that Gelato and slice of pizza too.

Photos by Heatheronhertravels