I went over today to see this church which always intrigued me. As its title indicates, it’s a round church, and it has been renovated recently, although not quite finished. They have a new guide to the church, always helpful when you go to these places. Good pictures and historically exhaustive.
Like so many of these guides, it heavy on architecture and light on spirituality. Many people remark on the grim pictures of martyrdom around the church, 32 scenes, beginning with the executions of Peter and John, on through the Diocletian persecution. All blood and gore.
But, as the guide remarks, take a look at the faces of those being martyred. No trace of pain or fear. They have strength to carry on.
What I find most interesting is that these pictures were commissioned in the 16 century when the counter-reformation was beginning. This was a place given to the German-Hungarian Jesuits preparing seminarians for missionary work in a hostile Germany and Hungary. Get ready the pictures say. If you go into danger, expect the Cross.
The pictures are part of Ignatian spirituality. He was training soldiers. Be ready to take on anything.
This was a training ground for heroic missionaries. Somewhere in France they must have been doing the same thing as they sent Jesuits into the Indian country of North America where so many of them suffered so much to bring the faith to others.
I was wonder if we are entering that kind of age again. We may not be facing stoning, like Stephen the deacon, but there are other ways the Cross enters our lives.