Meditate in Catholic Basilica of St. Bartholomew

by Sister Marie Kolbe on September 16, 2010

Franciscan Sister Marie Kolbe Zamora, OSF, shares a meditation on the Catholic Basilica of St. Bartholomew in Rome.

The Church in the photograph is the Basilica of St. Bartholomew.  Named for the Apostle, whose relics are preserved beneath the altar, this Basilica is found in Rome on the island in the Tiber River (and is currently the titular Church of Chicago’s Francis Cardinal George).

Externally, the façade of this Basilica (although Baroque) does not seem to be exceptional or even spectacular . . . at least not when compared to major Basilicas like St. Peter’s or St. Paul Outside the Walls.  In contrast to those grand Basilicas, the Basilica of St. Bartholomew has the appearance of a simple, even “every-day” Church (at least for Rome!). It was, perhaps, for this reason that it took me quite awhile to make the time to go inside.  I will never, however, forget my first experience within the walls of this very “normal” Basilica; for once inside, I was immediately struck by a silence that was palpably “full” of prayer.  It was instantly clear to me that this place was a place of ongoing pilgrimage and deep prayer, as opposed to the tourism and curiosity that tend to characterize some of the major Basilicas.  This atmosphere of prayer was manifest by:

  • the large icon on the altar the image of which, clearly modern, seemed calculated to draw me into heaven and into union with all of the saints.
  • by the attitude of the people who walked with an almost contemplative air from one side-altar to the next, lighting candles as they stopped to pray;
  • by the number of candles that had been lit by previous pilgrims, whose prayers still kept us company in the many flames that offered the Church a special glow
  • by the fact that when I discovered the tabernacle, I was also discovered a number of people knelt in prayer, keeping company with the Lord.
I myself was drawn to pray before the Lord in the tabernacle, which I did for a few minutes.  In those few minutes I remember feeling a deep union with all of the saints in heaven and all of the pilgrims on earth by whom my own walk to the Father is adorned.  I marveled at how the simple façade of this Basilica almost hid the powerful presence of God that was perceptible within its walls, and I thanked the Lord for permitting me to praise Him there.

Basilica of St. Bartholomew

Sister Marie Kolbe Zamora, OSF, shares a Franciscan perspective on visiting the Basilica of St. Bartholomew.

On visiting the rest of the Church, I discovered that, in 2000, John Paul II dedicated this Church to the memory of the new martyrs of the twentieth century, who were represented in the icon on the altar. In fact, the various side-altars at which pilgrims prayed preserved the relics of various individuals such as  Oscar Romero and other Christians who were the victims of the Spanish Civil War, the Communist and Nazi regimes, and even contemporary religious unrest in the Mideast.

On my walk home from the Basilica of St. Bartholomew, I continued to marvel at how the atmosphere behind such a simple façade was charged with prayer, and how this atmosphere was palpably different from the atmosphere that I normally felt within other “greater” basilicas . . . And then the Lord gifted me with an insight by way of a question: “How many people would, upon being welcomed into my company, be struck by the powerful presence of God rendered “tangible” by a deep and ongoing life of prayer?”  It seemed to me that my experience within this very simple Church ought to be the experience that Christians, engaged in their various ministries, offer the world.  My mind was carried to the words of St. Paul to the Corinthians, “Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells within you?”  (I Cor 3.16), or again “For we are the temple of the living God” (2 Cor 6.16).

It seemed to me that this basilica (which is in fact a minor basilica) offered a testimony to what true discipleship is.  In the end, being a disciple of the Lord Jesus does not consist of maintaining an “outstanding personal façade” by way of a strict regimen of formal prayers and austere penance, but rather, consists in maintaining oneself (one’s “interior space”, one’s soul) as a place of deep and ongoing prayer.  In this way, behind the façade of a very normal and day to day existence, God will be powerfully present, transforming a very normal existence into a place where his presence might be perceived, and this same presence might offer refreshment to those we are blessed to serve on our pilgrimage to the Father.

Note: Watch a podcast on Sister Marie Kolbe Zamora, OSF.

12 thoughts on “Meditate in Catholic Basilica of St. Bartholomew”

  1. LJKnaapen says:

    Wow! thank you for sharing your visit to this Basilica and your keen insight about our own temples.

  2. Ssharon says:

    Sr. Marie Kolbe, thank you for the mini journey within the confines of the Baroque Basilica of St. Bartholomew. You mentioned relics placed in the altars of many saints who have suffered and given their lives and Oscar Romero being one of these. This comes to mind of St. Bartholomew himself who suffered excruciating pain as he was believed to be flayed alive and crucified. He preached in many barbarous countries. He was truly a soldier of divine zeal for the KINGDOM. You also mentioned maintaining one's “interior space or soul” which many of the saints disciplined themselves to do. Today as one goes about their work and busyness there are minutes one can grab onto to reconnect with the Lord but it takes mindfulness and discipline. Blessings to you in your studies! Sr. Sharon Paul

  3. Smbdorn says:

    This is a unique way for us to travel and see the beautiful basilicas in the world. Thank you for your time and talent.

  4. On a feast of the Stigmata of St. Francis, it feels good to connect to territory that he walked and enter into pilgrimage. Your prayerful words are a fine introduction to go deeper in seeking the Lord.

  5. Smkolbe says:

    St. Bonaventure understood St. Francis as a man who desired God; as a man who, motivated by this desire contemplated Christ; and who, in the end, became what he contemplated to the degree that he bore the wounds of Christ . . . not entirely unlike these contemporary martyrs. May we all be inspired by St. Francis to become images of Christ in the world today.

  6. sisterannemarielom says:

    Thank you for sharing this mystical and enriching experience of prayer and insight. The older I get, the more experience in praying I have, the more I see the “hidden” beauty of God (the humility of God). I was moved and drawn in, Sr. Marie Kolbe, by your telling of this precious visit and your “holy discoveries” during the time.

    Thank you for this “glimpse” into a minor basilica that had a major impact!

  7. Spatricial says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this! It brought real meaning to a visit to this “minor” basilica and its call to prayer and reflection, as well as the highlight on some of the modern martyrs for Christ. They are witnesses to what our following of Christ might mean, even in the dailyness of each of our lives.

  8. saak says:

    Thank you for the glimpse in to the Basilica of St. Bartholomew and your prayer reflection while there. Many things went through my mind as I read your words, but one that I want to to share is the idea of “littleness” you conveyed as you spoke of the cathedral and your surroundings. The hidden blessings of being little, minor, less, unobtrusive. To be little as the cathedral is in the midst of major ones. To be little as in the “Little Way of St. Theresa” and to be little as in the life of St. Francis. Thank you for sharing your mediation, Sister Marie Kolbe and blessings on all you do in Rome.

  9. Srosangela says:

    Thanks for your informative and enriching experience in the Basilica of St. Bartholomew. I appreciate your sharing this with us. It made me think of Francis rebuilding the church which had fallen into ruin. Even the smallest or poorest church is full of the presence of God and enlightening to those who worship there.

  10. Sister Kay says:

    Thanks for the bit of Roman pilgrimage and your special personal reflections.

  11. Sr. Delores says:

    Thank you so much, Sr. Marie Kolbe! What a blessing to see the basilica… Thanks for the reminder that we are the living temple of God…

  12. Sister Anne says:

    I'm a bit slow in getting to look at your latest contribution, Sister Marie Kolbe, but thank you! I really appreciated learning about St. Bartholomew's basilica. As I read your words, I was reminded of St. Josaphat's basilica in Milwaukee – from the outside, you don't think it is anything special necessarily…but I remember the first time I actually walked into the church, the beauty took my breath away! I made many more visits during my time living in Milwaukee. I had the same inspiration as you: we are all like basilicas…we can look rather ordinary on the outside, but inside we are filled with the glory of God! It's a good thing to remember when looking at those around us…sometimes we just have to find the “door” to get a glance inside and be awed by God within!

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