Mamertine Prison, ancient Rome

Posted: October 26, 2013 in Suffering and Persecution
Tags: , , , , ,

Last October, I spent 4 days in Rome, Italy.  When I was planning the trip, I visited Rome via Google Earth almost every single day. I’d been obsessed with Roman history for so long, I couldn’t wait to stand in the middle of the ancient Forum with the sun on my face and the breeze gliding past me.  I wanted to experience everything; the scent of the earth around the ruins, the sight of the ancient structures, the feel of the stones of the Colosseum against my fingertips, the sounds of a city that have continued for thousands of years.  It was magical even just to imagine it.

And I knew that the Apostle Paul spent at least two years living in Rome under house arrest (Acts 28:30).  I knew that once I got there, my feet would walk the same giant cobblestones that his feet walked; I would look up at the same sky and upon the same city he did, albeit in ruins, and hoped I’d find that the soul of the place remained unchanged through time.  I wasn’t disappointed.

Paul’s final days were spent in prison in Rome for preaching the Good News of Jesus and he wrote II Timothy while imprisoned there.  In the letter, he asked Timothy to visit him quickly, before winter, and to bring him his cloak and scrolls.  Like his Christ before him, Paul had been deserted by everyone he’d called ‘friend’.  He wrote, “Only Luke is with me.” (2 Timothy 4:11)

While Scripture doesn’t glorify the place of Paul’s suffering by naming it, there was only one state prison in ancient Rome and it was called “Carcer”; in medieval times, called “Mamertine”, located on the east side of Capitoline Hill, in the dungeons under the city’s main sewer.  The Catholic church has preserved many notable places in Rome and Mamertine Prison is one of them. I had to see it.

On the outskirts of the ancient Roman ruins is a medieval staircase where you can stand to overlook the Roman Forum of Caesar.  Halfway up the stairs, if you turn to your left, you can buy gelato and souvenirs from a kiosk vendor.  If you turn to your right, there is an unassuming door in the wall.  If you walk through the door, you’re in a small church.  And if you ask the person inside where Mamertine Prison is, they’ll point down through the floor and ask you if you’d like to go down there.

I descended a stone spiral staircase into a dungeon, which was illuminated for my benefit and experience.  Standing there, I stared at the floor, stared at the cold stone blocks that made up the walls and ceiling, breathed in the air of the place, closed my eyes and saw Paul in my imagination.  My chest tightened and all I could do was quietly cry.

Scripture tells us, “Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.”  (Hebrews 13:3)  To this day, our brothers and sisters around the world are being kept against their will, mistreated, humiliated and murdered because of one thing: they will not stay silent about Jesus Christ.

Mammertine_prison

Photo from http://roma-travel-guide.blogspot.com/2011/11/coliseum-memertine-prison.html

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