I was standing in front of a tourist map of Rome, desperately trying to figure out where I was and how I wanted to go to my next stop. I needed to find the “Santa Maria something something.” The churches were all marked on the map. Bingo, I thought. This will be easy. That was until I looked at the list and realized there were about 24 Santa Marias, and all of them had different “something somethings” following them. Darn.
Rome has a lot of churches, a lot of nuns, a lot of religion. While my religion is gelato, others flock to Rome to see the home base of the Pope. Francis is a huge hit, and it can be seen while shopping in any souvenir shop. Want a coffee mug with the Pope’s face on it? Done. What about a calendar of the Pope? You betcha. It will just cost you 23 euro.
Not only have they really amped up the religious souvenirs, but they have gone so far as to commercialize Christianity. For 20 euro, you can purchase a hop on/hop off bus ticket for “Roma Cristiana.” With twelve stops on the Roman Religion Checklist, audio tours provided in seven different language, and the ability to use the service for 24 hours after the first validation, it’s not a bad deal. The buses literally fill the city.
And once you arrive at the destinations, the money making religion machine that is Rome continues to work out ways to grab euro coins from its tourists. “LOOK AT THAT PRETTY CEILING!” The sign will scream. They will have pictures of it looking all pretty with it all lit up. “Want the lights to come on? You better put a 2 euro coin into the machine right there.” Luckily for me, some woman with bank did just that as I stood in awe quite contently looking at the dimly lit ceiling in Santa Maria Maggiore. But when the lights came on, WOW – it was spectacular.
While I mock the commercialization of religion here in Rome, for those looking for a genuine experience, it is possible to get that experience for free. The entrances to all of the churches are free, including St. Peter’s Basilica. On Sundays at noon, the Pope does a blessing for free from the window overlooking St. Peter’s Square. And street corners are filled with beautiful, authentic religious paintings that crop up randomly throughout the city. So whether you are profoundly religious or not, do take advantage of this part of Rome as it is an integral aspect to the flavor of the city and makes it a unique spot to visit.