MEMORY OF ROME: ST. PETER'S TOE
My friend Joan is in Rome. She’s attending a family wedding. She is Roman Catholic, so she is also on pilgrimage. There less than a day, she wrote to our e-mail list naming some of the places she has already seen. And she set my memory to flight.
It was 50 years ago last month that I was in Rome. My parents and I were on the way home from India. We flew from 120°F Bombay to 64°F Rome. And froze, for at least a week! We took the guided tours for a few days: Saint Peters, the Coliseum, the Palatine Museum, the Forum, etc. And then we established a pattern of arising early in the morning (along with the German Lutheran Deaconesses, at whose convent we were staying) and taking a bus to the outskirts of town. Then we’d spend the day working our way from one place of interest to the next, coming back into the center of the city. So, with Joan’s trip as my prompt, I’ve been reliving the city on the seven hills. It surprises me that although I was much impressed by the magnitude of the major tourist attractions, some of the small things of the city still warm my heart.
In Saint Peter’s Cathedral is a rather ordinary (amid the masterpieces) statue of Saint Peter, called Saint Peter Enthroned. One would ordinarily react to it with a blaze “Ho-hum” attitude, except for Old Pete’s right foot. It has been caressed and kissed by millions of pilgrims, and the toes and front of the sandal are very worn.
In the northwestern corner of the nave sits the statue of St. Peter Enthroned, attributed to late 13th century sculptor Arnolfo di Cambio (with some scholars dating it back to the 5th century). The foot of the statue is eroded due to centuries of pilgrims kissing it.
This statue still stands out in my memory. It’s sure not rememberable among the biggies: Michelangelo’s David and Moses, the ceiling of the Sistine chapel, all those ancient buildings… It’s not that it’s such a remarkable statue, but that the impulsive fisherman-apostle is loved with such deep and tangible devotion.
I am jolted by how much more it is worn away now than it was in 1957! My mom was the one who always read the guidebooks the night before we visited places of interest. She had on her list that she wanted to see the statue of St. Peter with his big toe worn away. And actually, nearly all the toes on his right foot were showing wear, but mostly the big toe. Now the wear is all over the distal end of his right foot, and even some wear shows on his left foot. My, what devotion that signifies! No wonder this statue is indelibly imprinted on my teenaged memory!