A Prison With A Biblical History


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I had to reach home early as promised to my wife and as the clock struck 6 I dashed out of the office rushed to the basement to get on my motorcycle for a quick ride back home. Guests had already arrived at the house and I had been warned to reach as soon as possible. As I exited the main gate I was frozen cold with the sight that was in front of me. A huge procession of people across Park Street some dancing to the tune of a makeshift DJ atop a truck while some just dragged on. I got off my motorcycle only to realize that the procession was starching beyond my visual range in both the directions.

What I failed to understand as to what the people were celebrating since there were neither any gods neither any political flags. Upon asking one of the participants I was told that they were celebrating Bhim Jayanti which was actually the birthday of Dr. B R Ambedkar. The section of the procession which was passing in front of me constituted people from the cobbler community. From them, Dr. Ambedkar was like a messiah thus all the festivities.

The concept of a community-specific celebration or a place of worship is not that a new concept and this I got to know during my trip to Rome. My daughter was very much tired after walking for quite some time and she requested to rest somewhere. I found this quite place behind Capitoline Museums overlooking Roman Forum. It seems not many people come to this side and tourists after visiting Capitoline Museums either go towards the Colosseum or enter Roman Forum directly.

This was a building with a church on top with only a few tourists taking the stairs up. Finding this quiet place, I decided to rest along with my daughter. With nothing else to do I unlocked the mobile screen and searched for the church that we were sitting inside. And it is then I realized that I was sitting in no ordinary church but a church that has history embedded in its foundation.

The church which is relatively a small one when you compare that with the other massive churches that you find in Rome is a church that was originally built by the carpenters. In Roman Catholicism, there are the concepts of patron saints who represent the different communities and for the carpenters St. Joseph is their patron saint.

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St. Joseph (Creative Commons)

To make it relevant let’s dig into history and into the Bible where it is mentioned that the father of Jesus Christ was Joseph and he was a carpenter by trade thus it was apt for the church to dedicate him as the patron saints of the carpenters.

Thus was born San Giuseppe dei Falegnami (St. Joseph of the Carpenters) church at the very heart of Rome right behind Capitoline Museum. This church was built in the year 1663 after a construction time of five years by architects was Giacomo della Porta, Giovanni Battista Montano, Giovanni Battista Soria and Antonio Del Grande.

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San Giuseppe dei Falegnami (St. Joseph of the Carpenters)
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San Giuseppe dei Falegnami (St. Joseph of the Carpenters)

The carpenters leased this site in the year 1540 which was originally a prison of sorts on which they built a wooden church and later the church started taking shape.

If you happen to visit this church post lunch more or less towards evening, then you would be able to get the best lighting conditions. The diffused sun rays enter the church and create a yellow hue giving it an almost gold like appearance.

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Interiors of San Giuseppe dei Falegnami (St. Joseph of the Carpenters)
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Main Altar of San Giuseppe dei Falegnami (St. Joseph of the Carpenters)
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Wood Carvings On the Ceiling of San Giuseppe dei Falegnami (St. Joseph of the Carpenters)
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Wood Carvings On the Ceiling of San Giuseppe dei Falegnami (St. Joseph of the Carpenters)
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Pipe Organ of San Giuseppe dei Falegnami (St. Joseph of the Carpenters)
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Wood Carvings On the Ceiling of San Giuseppe dei Falegnami (St. Joseph of the Carpenters)
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Chapel at San Giuseppe dei Falegnami (St. Joseph of the Carpenters)
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Chapel at San Giuseppe dei Falegnami (St. Joseph of the Carpenters)

Things just don’t end here and in reality the importance of this church rather this location is what makes it really famous. Historically this place on which the church was built was a prison, more of a dungeon known as Mamertine Prison. As per some records, the prison was constructed around 640–616 BC, by Ancus Marcius.

These dungeons were mostly used as a detention center during Roman time. And as per some records two very important and significant prisoners were kept here and these two were directly connected to Christ himself.

As per records Saint Peter who was one of the disciples of Jesus Christ as briefly detained here before being crucified for his belief. Saint Peter refused to be crucified in the same way as Christ thus requested an upside down cross. The significance of this upside down cross can be seen inside the small altar (San Pietro in Carcere) at the basement which also bears a small upside down cross.

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The Mamertine Prison – Altar with Upside Down Cross (Creative Commons)
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Saint Peter as Pope by Peter Paul Rubens (Public Domain)

Paul the Apostle is also believed to have been incarcerated here in the dungeons of Mamertine Prison before being decapitated.

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Saint Paul Writing His Epistles by Valentin de Boulogne (Public Domain)

Thus with two of the disciples being kept here before their eventual martyrdom makes this place really significant in Christianity.

So next time you are traveling in any city and see something out of place then pause for a moment it might have a history waiting to be told. You just have to be the listener.

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