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Ordinary footsteps on Appia

Published Jul 10, 2023
Updated Jul 10, 2023

The Via Appia is an ancient road originally connecting Rome to Brindisi in southeast Italy. It is today a
nice walk for families and a lovely set for a romantic “passegiata” under the twilight of the Roman
The Via Appia would hold the footsteps of ordinary folks from the end of the roman republic to the
renaissance. It would also be the set of iconic historical drama such as the crucifixion of Spartacus
followers or the dramatic encounter between Publius Clodius Pulcher and his rival Milon.

As Nero unleashed a brutal persecution of Christians, they would find shelter in the catacombs
surrounding the Via Appia. Peter the Apostle was the leader of this very first roman Christian
community. Convinced by some of his followers that he had to remain alive, he decided to escape
Rome by Via Appia where, it is said, that he suddenly saw Jesus walking the opposite way. Stunned,
Peter the Apostle said, “Quo Vadis Domine” meaning “where are you heading Master”? then Jesus,
keeping his pace, answered: “heading to Rome where I’ll be crucified a second time” … Peter the
Apostle recalled that Jesus conferred him the mission to “build his church” and understood that it
was to be in Rome. Peter the Apostle headed back to Rome where he would be crucified as the first
pope and enshrine the new belief in the “Eternal City”.

Today, a small church called “Chiesa del Domine Quo Vadis”, stands on Via Appia where the encounter between Jesus and Peter is supposed to have taken place. This critical moment recalled in the “Acts of Peter” inspired the 1905 Literature Nobel prize entitled “Quo Vadis” written by Henryk Sienkiewicz. A love story during the persecution of Nero between a Roman patrician, Marcus Vinicius, and a barbarian Christian princess named Lygia.
The story stresses how Christianity spread in all social layers of roman society from slaves to senators
and came in direct confrontation with the traditional social structure based on rigorous order,
military might and slavery.
Today, Via Appia inspires calm and romance. Bordered with cypress and artifact, it defies time and
offers a moment of contentment. Walking on Via Appia sparks the imagination and one can easily
imagine, under the shadow of a cypress, Lygia resting her head on Marcus Vinicius’s shoulder
listening, together with others, to Peter the Apostle preaching pardon and tolerance in a world of
brutality. Hence, just a few kilometers of Rome, Via Appia offers a journey through history and an
unforgettable feeling of hope and serenity.

“Parallel Lives” by Plutarch: “The life of Crassus.”
“Letters to Atticus” by Marcus Tullius Cicero
« Spartacus » by Stanley Kubrick, 1960 with Kirk Douglass, Tony Curtis and Lawrence Olivier
« The Acts of Peter »  Apocryphal Acts of the Apostles in Christianity, dating to the late 2nd century
« Quo Vadis » by Henryk Sienkiewicz

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