Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The Colosseum, Forum, and Turning a New Leaf

Roman Colosseum

The Colosseum
So excited to visit this icon of Rome!  The Colosseum is considered one of the greatest works of Roman architecture and engineering and dates clear back to the first century.  Emperor Vespasian was a fan of sport and entertainment, so he got the bright idea to create a massive arena and place it on 6-acres smack dab in the center of Rome. Sadly enough, he funded the huge project with the spoils from the Siege of Jerusalem - mainly from what was taken from the Jerusalem Temple.  Construction began in 70AD and ten years later they had the largest amphitheater in the world - able to hold an estimated 50,000 to 80,000 spectators - and accommodate a wide array of entertainment: from sailing contests (yes, they could fill the arena with water), to animal and gladiator fights, to elaborate play productions.

Stamp showing size of Colossus of Nero

Fun Fact:
Original name for the Colosseum was the Flavian Amphitheatre, named for the Flavian family dynasty who had it constructed.  Colosseum was actually a nickname given due to a Colossal 120 foot bronze statue of Emperor Nero that stood on the grounds outside.  While the statue no longer exists, the name stuck.

Inside the Colosseum
The arena floor itself is 272 feet by 157 feet, was made of wood and covered with sand to soak up the blood.  There are drains below ground for the same purpose (the Romans are nothing if not efficient).
Fun Fact: Latin word for Sand is harena, or arena.

This wood and sand arena floor covered an elaborate underground structure called the hypogeum (literally meaning underground).
The 2-level subterranean network of tunnels and cages beneath the arena is where gladiators and animals were held before the contests began.

80 vertical shafts holding elevators, run by hydraulic mechanisms, raised scenery props as well as animals and gladiators to the main arena floor.

Laying in ruins now, the cages and prisons no longer appear like a death sentence, but a beautiful grass and moss-covered labyrinth.

Best Seats in the House Go to the Vestal Virgins
Vestal Virgin Statue
I'm the one with the wrinkled skirt....and head.
The emperor and the vestal virgins of Rome had the best seats right where they could see the blood flow. Who/what are vestal virgins?  Well, they were a group of 6 aristocratic girls (between the ages of 6-14) selected by the emperor to keep the city's eternal flame constantly burning in their temple as a symbol for the eternal fire of Rome.  They served as virgins for 30 years, lived in a special palace in solitude, and had some pretty sweet perks in the city (like a special box at the Colosseum, etc).  But there were downsides - for instance, each took a vow of complete chastity and if one of them broke it she was buried alive.  What of the dude who hooked-up with the virgin?  He'd be whipped to death.  Eesh.

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to The Forum
On an ancient stone acting like The Thinker

Right next door to the Colosseum is The Roman Forum.
This sprawling ruin holds a modge-podge of the oldest and most vital structures of ancient Rome: Basilicas, temples, shops, complex of the vestal virgins, and residences of the affluent and noble.  The area also contains remains of many judicial buildings and formal assembly area where the senate and Republican government began!

So, this was the spot where things happened, including elaborate triumphal processions from battle.  The scale and variety of ruins was amazing.  The acreage - absolutely massive.  We were there for a few hours and still did not see everything.

Arch of Titus
Located on the Via Sacra is the Arch of Titus.  This amazing arch was constructed in 82AD by Roman Emperor Domitian after the death of his older brother, Titus.  It was intended as a grand memorial to honor Titus' accomplishments, including the siege of Jerusalem in 70AD.

Fun Fact:
This marble Arch was the first of its kind and became the general model for other triumphal archways, including the Arc de Triumphe in Paris that was constructed in 1836.

Detailed carving inside the arch depicts when Jerusalem was sacked and the riches of its Temple plundered.  Here, men are taking away the Menorah.

Porta Maggiore
This huge double arched gateway on the east side of Rome dates back to 52AD when Emperor Claudius had it built as part of the ancient aqueducts.  Sections for these water channels can be seen at the top.
Inscription on the top stone gives praise to Emperors Claudius and Titus for work on Rome's larger aqueducts
Then in 271AD when Emperor Aurelian ordered the construction of a huge wall (Aurelian Wall) to enclose most of central Rome, he brought the white arches over to connect the red wall, making it the grand gateway entrance from the eastern road.  Today, all public transportation converges at this location.
A very busy spot.

Fun Fact:  Connected to the white gate is the tomb of Eurysaces the Baker.  Eurysaces was a slave who after buying his freedom, opened a successful bakery.  His tomb (known as Baker's Tomb) actually mimics elements found in ancient bakeries - the recesses were made to look like bread ovens.

So those were some of the awesome sites of Rome.  Sites on the work this week produced a challenge that we are trying to handle delicately.  Here's the dilemma...

Family Home Evening with the Celestinis
Monday we had Family Home Evening in the Celestini home with Arianna and her mom.  We taught the Plan of Salvation and introduced the Book of Mormon.  Mirella (the mom) was super open and accepting, even saying that she wanted to meet with us again to learn more.  Arianna was sooo happy.

Silence is Not Golden
And then in the days following, Arianna was unreachable by phone.  At first we thought nothing of it, but then after a couple days we became concerned.  We tried calling her mom - no response.  Finally Mirella (the mom) called on Friday and told us that she didn't want anything to do with the Church.  In fact, she did not want Arianna to see us or go to any more church meetings or activities.  Now, I was already feeling blucky on Friday because of my sinus infection (I'm on the mend now with antibiotics), but I ended up getting teary on the phone (which didn't help) as I bore testimony. She didn't want to listen.

That night, though, we went to Church for English Course and saw...Arianna there.  What?  We thought we'd never see her again.  Then she came to Stake Conference Saturday night.  That's when I thought something was fishy, so I confronted her and asked straight up if her mom knew she was there.
     "No," she said, "my mom thinks I am studying in my room.  I snuck out so I could be here."
Oh no!  We don't know what to do with this situation.  It is important for Arianna to respect and honor her mother, but at the same time, we can't tell Arianna not to come to Church.  Really, I feel like we should be as far removed from this situation as possible so that Mirella does not think we're promoting sneakiness nor encouraging deceit.  But I don't feel good about just leaving Arianna either.  And I certainly don't want to be a whistleblower and get Arianna in trouble.  Truth is, her mother is bound to find out sooner or later.

So, we went to our ward members for advice.  The young women's president and counselor are on high alert, and the bishop is trying to figure out the best approach and is going to call Mirella to meet with her. Thank goodness they are so on the ball!

Current progress on the Rome Temple
Speaking of Stake Conference
Sunday was Stake Conference, but not your normal stake conference.  It was a broadcast to all of Europe from Bern Switzerland with President Uchtdorf and Elder Andersen.  They talked about faith and testimony and living the gospel with all our hearts.  Keeping the commandments is how we get a testimony, and we grow it by sharing it.  President Uchtdorf also talked about how Sunday was the Feast of Pentecost, and said that conference could be our pentecost if we went forward that day with hearts and minds ready to live what we learned.  He also rededicated Switzerland!

Ileana, our awesome Puerto Rican gal, returned from her trip to Venice late last week and is in England this next week.  She's still on the radar, though.

Sorella Ferrari Getting Temple-Ready
We met with Sorella Ferrari to help with family history and got some of her peeps temple ready -  she just has to get her temple recommend. After more searching on her family line, we ran into a wall.  This is where the ward genealogist will come in handy because I hear he is awesome and would have good tips for her. The sad thing is that her mother already completed quite a bit of genealogy, but she can't find it :( .

Then at lunch we were talking with her daughters, and one daughter, Ilenia, seemed really happy we were there.  She has a bit of a smoking problem, but that sounds like the only thing stopping her from joining the Church.  She was pretty open about it.  We shared the Church's stop smoking program, and she said she would like to give it a try.  So we set up an appointment for this week.  Yay!  Say some prayers for her.

So, that was last week.  This week's work in Rome, however, will be limited because...(cue LOST music)...

"We Have to Go Back, Kate. We Have to Go Back to the Island!"
(Reference to the series LOST).  I am headed back down to Palermo, Sicily Tuesday and Wednesday for my fingerprinting appointment.  We all know how much I looooove the Questura!  It's an adventure for sure.

But this time it will be good because Kippen has never been to Sicily, so she will get to see a little of the best city on the island.  News to follow.

In the Cool Morning of a June Day
Well, this morning I was out on the porch breathing in fresh air after doing some jumping jacks, and I was saying a thank you prayer to Heavenly Father for all blessings I could think of.  Right across from the porch our neighbors have ivy growing all over their house (it looks pretty cool), and the light was shining on the leaves.

Light on leaves is one of the prettiest things, in my book, and I was wondering about that - why I like it so much.  And I started thinking about how leaves are green because of Chlorophyll, which is the pigment that gives plants their energy.  How?  Because it takes in light from the sun, and turns it into energy, which helps the plant grow, which helps it reach higher, toward the sun.

Now, how great is it that when I am looking at light shining on and through leaves, I am actually witnessing that energy/growth process in action.

And then the symbolism hit me.

We are like leaves that must take in light from the Son.  That light energizes our spirits and becomes the very means of internal photosynthesis: growth to reach higher, become more, and accomplish greater things.  Nature is amazing.  That was a fun little realization from Heavenly Father to me in the cool morning of a June day.

While the ruins of the Colosseum and the Forum are remnants of time standing still, we, on the other hand, are creatures meant for growth and development.  May the history that we are currently making be one of progress toward greater Light.

With a little more light, I'd say we could all turn a new Leaf,
Sorella Ashley Nef

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