By Sarah Pride
Patrick Henry College
PHC group gathers in front of Colosseum.
In a spring edition of the PHC Herald, senior Alicia Constant wrote of her trip to Italy with a group of students led by PHC Assistant Professor of History Dr. Doug Favelo: “The Roman catacomb walls, dug out of hardened volcanic ash, pressed Dr. Doug Favelo’s group of 13 adventurers down a narrow labyrinth beneath the earth. The cold air and 90 percent humidity made it difficult to breathe. As people before me descended deeper into this ancient Christian burial place that housed over half a million tombs, panic and claustrophobia knotted in my stomach. But as we went on, a deep soul-peace settled over me.”
It is noteworthy that, in speaking of that educational trip to Italy in February, Dr. Favelo called the junket to the Catacombs of San Callisto in Rome the “most spiritual experience I’ve had in my life. I’m not big on places having spiritual value,” he explains, “but I had the sense, these martyred Christians are my brothers. It makes me think about both death and life.”
Dr. Favelo organized a similar trip for UCLA students in summer of 2010, and when he joined the PHC faculty that fall, he knew he wanted to take Patrick Henry College students to Rome as well.
“That’s the way to really learn history,” he enthuses. “Visiting cities like Rome and Jerusalem cements history in the mind and heart like nothing else. These places had so much impact on the world and are so old—it is very different than reading about them.”
Arranging the excursion, however, proved more difficult than he expected, requiring attention to both cost and safety. While waiting for college students, many of whom were short on funds, to commit to the trip, he learned that some airlines have a large group program which allows tours to book large blocks of seats with only a percentage down. So he planned their nine days on the ground in Rome by district, so they could see as much as possible.
Dr. Favelo (center with beard) shares live history lesson.
Unrolling a five-foot aerial map of Rome in his office, Favelo pointed to some areas visited by the group, noting the Lateran district, in which lies the Scala Sancta—purportedly the steps on which Jesus stood while under trial before Pontius Pilate. Helena, the mother of Constantine the Great, fetched the steps from Jerusalem around A.D. 326. Or the Circus Maximus, the Roman forum, the Arch of Constantine, the Colosseum, the Baths of Diocletian, and much more.
And thanks to arrangements alum Jeremiah Lorrig secured with a Italian government official he met on a plane to Australia en route to a young leaders conference, the group secured an unusual tour in a Roman government building on the Capitoline Hill. From there the students and Dr. Favelo enjoyed the view of Rome from the top of the National Monument to Victor Emmanuel II, also known more informally as “Mussolini’s Typewriter.”
Another highlight was St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City, a structure Dr. Favelo calls “awe-inspiring” for its colossal dimensions and tremendous collection of famous statues. Some students climbed over 500 steps to the cupola of the Basilica, which offered a panoramic view of the city, and took the long-distance trek across the building to see the Sistine Chapel—which, says Dr. Favelo, unfortunately left them “underwhelmed.”
“It takes so long to get there!” he exclaims. “If you are walking all-out, looking at nothing amazing, it still takes 30 minutes indoors to reach it. And then it is full of Germans and Americans talking and trying to be quiet, but really not being—and Italians stage-whispering, ‘Quiet, this is a chapel!’”
Students almost uniformly reviewed the catacombs as one of the more memorable stops along the way.
“In the catacombs I felt something that can only be described as homesickness for a place I have never been,” wrote Constant. “When we emerged into the sunlight I felt distinctly like one who had stepped from brilliant light into dimness instead of the other way around. The power of the catacombs was not the death that abounded there, but the great hope of eternal life. I had found the brightest light in the darkest place in Rome.”
Into those same ancient corners of darkness and light, Dr. Favelo hopes to lead more Roman expeditions in seasons to come.
View the photo gallery of some of the highlights of the trip below.