When in Rome: Street shrines

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Rome, Italy, street shrines. Photo by Claire Weston

Wandering through the cobblestoned streets of Rome, the explorer encounters many wonders: towering churches, ornate fountains, street performers and the general hubbub of the city.

With all of these new and colorful sights to see, it can be easy to miss the small wonders Rome has to offer such as street shrines. 

Street shrines are everywhere in Rome. We see these small paintings of saints and statues of Mary placed at the end of alleys, on building corners along busy streets, and in the middle of stone walls. 

Often unexpected, these street shrines provide a charming reminder to stop and pray as well as evidence for how Christianity is ingrained in the very structure of Rome.

Such an example is on Isola Tiberina, the small island in the middle of the river Tiber, where the image of Madonna della Lampada al Tevere (Madonna of the Lamp) has been part of the wall for centuries. According to legend, one year the river flooded but the lamp next to the shrine miraculously remained alight.

As traveling UD students embrace Italian culture, these shrines become an important presence and guide through their semester. 

Natalie Williams, a member of the spring 2020 Rome class, was shocked by the dirtiness of Rome when she first arrived but she notes how these shrines serve as “small places of beauty and holiness within the mundane.” 

Williams continued on to observe how these small images were proof of the vibrancy of the Church in that the faith does not reside in a building. She finds it beautiful that they remind us daily that “God is everywhere and we can pray anywhere.” 

Grace Lively, a member of the recently returned summer Rome class of 2021, appreciated finding familiarity in a foreign city through the shrines.

“I loved turning the corner and seeing Mary or Joseph. They made me feel better when I was getting lost … I would have been a lot more scared if there weren’t saints everywhere!” 

She added, “We got lost a lot.”

Whether one is lost or walking the familiar path to Abbey Theatre, the faces of the saints look down, bringing us peace and comfort, guiding us through Rome and through life. In encountering these shrines, the traveler joins all the other pilgrims and their devotion over the centuries, becoming a part of the great tradition and history of Rome.

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