A few years ago my wife and I walked from the centre of Rome down the Appian Way (Via Appia) until we got to the catacombs holding hundreds of bodies such as the remains of the early Christian Cecilia.
On our return we stopped at this church (pictured) called the Chiesa di Santa Maria in Palmis, where the Latin word palmis stands for the soles of Jesus. Legend has it (the authenticity was vouched for by Pope Innocent III) that the two footprints on a marble slab at the center of the church which are a copy of a relief in the nearby basilica of San Sebastiano, were the miraculous sign left by Jesus.
There used to be a sign outside above the front door, saying: “Stop your walking, traveler and enter this sacred temple in which you will find the footprint of our Lord Jesus Christ when He met with St. Peter who escaped from the prison.”
The church is better known as the Chiesa del Domine Quo Vadis? Or the Church of the ‘Lord, Where are you Going?’
The chapel stands at the site where, according to the legend (recorded in the apocryphal book, Acts of Peter), Peter met Christ when he fled from Rome to escape more trouble and possibly martyrdom.
His friends had pleaded with him to save his life by leaving the city. Peter finally consented but on condition that he should go away alone. But when he passed the gate of the city, he met Christ coming toward him. Peter says to Him, “Domine, quo vadis?" or "Lord, where are you going?" And Jesus replied to him “I am coming to Rome.” And Peter says to Him “Lord, will you again be crucified?” And Jesus said “Yes, I will again be crucified.” Peter said to Him “Lord, I will return and follow you.”
This encounter, according to the story, helped Peter overcome his fear of suffering and death and he returned to face his persecutors.
The authenticity of the story is in question yet it is powerful. The conversation reveals Peter’s very human emotions of fear and confusion but he is energised by the words and example of Jesus and he follows with obedience and selfless abandonment.
Whether we are walking on Appian Way or a street in our town it is always good to ask the question of others as we ask it of ourselves: Quo Vadis? Where are you going?
Running down ‘Easy Street’ away from responsibility and call or taking the ‘Road Less Travelled?
Dr Geoff Pound
Image: Yours truly outside the ‘Chiesa del Domine quo Vadis?’ pondering the echoes of the question, ‘Quo Vadis’. It is of great significance that this writer is positioning his body and setting his face towards Rome!