Saturday, January 18, 2014

Mamertine Prison, Rome

Plenty of churches sit atop spots where holy men and women were born or died but in Rome, there's a church over the prison where Saints Peter and Paul were imprisoned. We didn't get to visit the church (St. Joseph of the Carpenters) but we did see the Mamertine Prison, which has a small museum and a chapel.

Mamertine Prison underneath St. Joseph of the Carpenters church

The door we didn't use to get in (I had to put the camera through a fence to get this shot)

The entrance is around the side of the building. For a nominal fee, people can go on an audio tour of the prison. The tour includes an extensive discussion of the building, from its original use as part of the Roman walls through the prison years until it became a pilgrim destination. The part of the presentation on the Roman walls was especially interesting since the audio presented each era with a different voice. The older walls had older voices. Different colored lights represented the different walls/speakers.

Younger pink walls from early AD

Older green walls from the BC times

Most of the audio focused on the use as a prison, especially for the early Christians.
The prison was called the Tullianum. Since the building was part of the city wall and had a bit of the sewer running by, the government was able to keep undesirables out of sight. Infamous criminals would be jailed here and hopefully forgotten. People executed here were not put on public display, lowering the possibility of a sympathetic reaction from the Roman populace. Their bodies were left to flow out with the rest of the sewage.

The middle floor of the prison has an ancient altar and some frescoes from the time when Christians would come here as pilgrims to see where Peter and Paul and been.

Older altar

Early fresco (click to enlarge)

Jesus and Peter (click to enlarge)

A small staircase winds down to the bottom cell where prisoners were kept. Originally, the cell was only accessible through a hole in the floor, generally a one-way ticket for the condemned. The room below often had water in it, sometimes quite high depending on recent rains. When Peter was kept here, he used the water to baptize fellow prisoners and even guards.

The bottom cell

A bit of ancient graffiti

Along the staircase (which was put in later, after it became a pilgrim site) is a small grill cover.The spot is where it is believed Peter's face was smashed into the wall and left an impression. There's not much to see now other than the grill.

Peter's face?

A more modern-looking chapel has been installed since the medieval times.


The multimedia presentation at this museum is surprisingly good and we highly recommend visiting here.

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