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Monday, October 30, 2017

Martin Luther: an Itinerary in Rome for the 500th anniversary of his "95 Theses"

On this the 500th anniversary of the day Martin Luther posted his rebuke to Catholicism, his "Ninety-five Theses" (October 31, 1517), we recommend an itinerary reflecting Luther's visit to Rome, 6 or 7 years earlier.

Luther confronting the Catholic hierarchy

     That four-week visit to Rome was crucial to Luther's observations of the excesses of Catholicism.  For a brief summary of his trip, see the the write-up of scholars Ron and Abby Johnson, St. Mark's Lutheran Church, Springfield, VA.  While this was a seminal period for Luther, the details of his visit remain sketchy, even the dates, as the Johnsons point out. Nonetheless, we think the following itinerary will satisfy those interested in this figure critical to modern religious thought. 

Luther's first view of Rome could have been from this spot on Monte Mario.
St. Peter's dome would not yet have been constructed.

Monte Mario:  Luther described his first sight of Rome as being from the "mountain" outside the city walls.  He is supposed to have said on his first look, "Holy Rome, I salute thee."  Of course, years later he said, "If there is a hell, Rome is built over it."

The city looked very different in the early 1500s than it did even at the end of that century, and of course very different from today, although the views would have been stupendous, as they still are.  Rome in the early 1500s was in the midst of an enormous church building spree.  The city was coming out of its "irrelevance" during the Middle Ages.  The population had grown to over 50,000 from a low of about 12,000, after being almost one million during the Roman Empire.  
The via Francigena on Monte Mario.  Where we encounter 4 British pilgrims
on their way from Orvieto to St. Peter's.
Luther would have seen the beginning of the Renaissance, though not its flowering.  Construction of the modern St. Peter's began in 1506.  In 1508 Michelangelo began painting the Sistine Chapel.  And Luther came before the 1527 Sack of Rome.  We've always found Monte Mario great 'trekking' and recommend it as a starting point for an itinerary for those who can handle the moderate heights and walking.  It's 1.2 miles from Ponte Milvio on the north bank of the Tiber to the entrance to the walk up Monte Mario, and less than a mile (and about 400 vertical feet) up to the top of Monte Mario (Lo Zodiaco).

Via Flaminia: From Monte Mario, it appears Luther came back down to via Flaminia, rather than approach St. Peter's, as do today's pilgrims on the via Francigena (St. Francis's way).  All pilgrims from the north would have walked along via Flaminia, which crosses into Rome over Ponte Milvio.  While we find the modern via Flaminia interesting (much of it is on one of our itineraries in Modern Rome: 4 Great Walks for the Curious Traveler), it has little left of the medieval city.

Ponte Milvio:  Luther would have crossed the Tiber at Ponte Milvio, where on October 28, 312 Constantine, who later converted to Christianity, the first Roman Emperor to do so, defeated his rival Maxentius.  The bridge retains its medieval style, though it's mostly known now for lovers who put padlocks on its rails. Once across the bridge, it's about a two-mile walk to the northernmost entrance to the city, Porta del Popolo, and the church for which it's named. 
Ponte Milvio.  Part of the 14th century toretta (little tower), which Luther would have seen, is still standing.
Porta del Popolo: Today's highly decorated, enormous "porta"--city gate--is vastly remodeled from the smaller porta Luther came through.  The porta had been built in the 1400s, as had the renovated church (1477), but on a smaller scale than they would have once rebuilt and remodeled.
The porta is on the far left; the church of Santa Maria del Popolo to the right of it.  Luther came through a smaller porta and was at the church. No cars and scooters in Luther's day.  Nor was the obelisk in the piazza.  Though brought
 to Rome in 10 BC, the obelisk was lost, then discovered in 1587 (in the photo the base is covered for restoration).
Inside Santa Maria del Popolo today - with crowds viewing the Carravagio
Santa Maria del Popolo.  Luther no doubt next went to Santa Maria del Popolo, the small church on the piazza, now famous mostly for its 17th-century Caravaggio paintings of Saints Paul and Peter.  Even in the 1500s the church was a favorite of the Popes and had been substantially enlarged and remodeled from earlier versions.  

There is some debate over whether Luther stayed in the rooms adjacent to the church.  They would have been the only lodging in Rome belonging to an Augustinian order.  There is agreement that he either stayed at or visited Santa Maria del Popolo - so we've kept it on the itinerary.  Luther's journey was connected to disputes between the Observant and Conventional monasteries of the Augustinian Order.  Luther belonged to the Germanic Observant group, and Santa Maria del Popolo belonged to an order of Observant Augustinians as well, although Luther seems to have rejected the lavish meals he was served at whatever monastery at which he lodged. 

We recommend a two-part itinerary, and you can end part one at Piazza del Popolo.  You can make a very un-Luther like stop at the famous cafe Canova, where Director Federico Fellini had his morning coffee.

Scala Santa: Even though his 95 Theses rejected the concept of indulgences, Luther, on his trip to Rome, "was as eager to rack them up as anyone," according to one scholar.  "He even regretted that his parents were not still alive so he could earn a few for them."  (For more on what indulgences meant to Catholics, and Luther in particular, see Tom Browning's piece.)  Luther earned indulgences for ascending these steps on his knees, an act you can still see pilgrims performing.  One story states that Luther said, "Who knows whether this is true?" when he got to either the top of the stairs, or possibly when he quit half-way through.  Again, the details of his trip are sketchy, but it is clear his doubt was developing.  The Scala Santa, supposedly the stairs Jesus climbed on his way to his trial with Pilate and that were later transferred to Rome, are across a road (now) from San Giovanni in Laterano.  If you are doing the seven churches, described below, you can add these to your itinerary when you visit San Giovanni.

San Giovanni in Laterano, rebuilt after Luther was there.
The Seven Churches:  Another way to earn indulgences was--and is--to walk to the seven churches of Rome (see suggested itinerary below).  Luther surely did that.  They are worth a visit, even without an indulgence at stake.  Besides Saint Peter's and San Giovanni in Laterano, the historical seven are three outside the city walls--San Paolo fuori le mura ("St. Paul's without the walls"), San Sebastiano, San Lorenzo fuori le mura--and two more within: Santa Croce in Gerusalemme and Santa Maria Maggiore.  The street by the name "Sette Chiese" ("7 churches") still runs between San Paolo fuori le mura on via Ostiense and San Sebastiano on the via Appia Antica.  
Luther would have seen the 7th century mosaics
of St. John the Baptist at the San Giovanni baptistery

While you are at San Giovanni in Laterano, don't miss the Lateran Baptistry behind it, which Luther must have visited  It is one of the oldest buildings in Rome, dating to the 4th century, although substantially remodeled over the years, including by Borromini (post-Luther).  Luther would have seen an exterior much like the one today, however, and much of the same interior, since Borromini kept most of the existing building.  And it's one of my favorites in Rome.

Here's a suggested route for the seven churches: Start with Santa Maria Maggiore, the most central of the seven churches.  Walk 1.6 miles to San Lorenzo (outside the walls).  From San Lorenzo, walk 1.2 miles to Santa Croce in Gerusalemme (which is inside, and abutting the walls); then .9 miles to San Giovanni in Laterano (again, abutting the walls - you'll walk along the inside of the walls for this stretch; it was part of one of RST's wall walks--there's a google map here to guide you on that walk); then 2.6 miles to San Paolo fuori le mura; and from there, the walk along via Sette Chiese to San Sebastiano (again, outside the walls), 2-plus miles due east.  To add St. Peter's to the walk, begin with St. Peter's and then walk to Santa Maria Maggiore, 2.3 miles. Total: about 10.5 miles.  
San Sebastiano. 1610 facade.

More specific directions and a slightly different order of churches are available here.  Some suggest a modern version that substitutes the sanctuary Divino Amore, 9 miles from San Giovanni, for San Lorenzo.  I'm a San Lorenzo fan and, of course, Divino Amore would not have been on Luther's route.  And, if you go to Divino Amore, take a bus.

Piazza Martin Lutero:  In a nod to ecumenism, a piazza in Rome recently was renamed for Luther.  It took 6 years to get the piazza named for Luther, and the delay meant it did not get renamed in time for the 500th anniversary of his 1510 (if that's the date) trip to Rome. The Vatican went along with the re-naming, even though Luther was excommunicated in 1521. This piazza seems an appropriate end point for the itinerary.  The piazza is in a park, away from streets and therefore unlikely to be paved over anytime soon.  It's near the Coliseum, with a large Fascist-era fountain (1928-29 by Raffaele De Vico, for trivia lovers), trees, and views.  It's on the southeastern side of Colle Oppio, not too far from the Domus Aurea and above via Labicana.  The piazza is less than 1/2 mile from San Giovanni in Laterano, in the direction of St. Peter's.  You will note Luther's first name is not converted to Italian (that would be Martino), and his last name is.  But not even "Luther" was his name at birth; he chose it.  See the Johnsons again.  The sign erected in the piazza in 2015 describes Luther ("Lutero") simply as a "German Reform Theologian."  


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