Adventure sometimes comes in the most unexpected of places. I enjoy exploring alone. When I’m alone, I don’t need to worry about keeping pace with anyone, or going off schedule, or charging in and trying something new. Sometimes I find a view that takes my breath away. Sometimes I’ll have an interesting conversation. Sometimes I’ll get lost. Sometimes I’ll be the only person in the room surrounded by beautiful, interesting things, and I can reflect. Sometimes I get more than I bargained for.
Bells across Trastevere were beginning to announce the noon hour, I figured the churches were closing, but I was pleasantly surprised to find Santa Cecilia in Trastevere was still open. I slowly walked the circumference of the clean modern viewed the marble likeness of Santa Cecelia and made my way back toward the exit. As I went to depart, I noticed a small gift shop run by a sweet elderly Italian nun who sat quietly in the corner crocheting. I asked her if the Scavi (excavations) in the basement was open, and she said that yes, it was. I handed her my 2.50 and descended the stairs to the rooms below the church.
Immediately, I was lost in the past. I slowly circled the room and noticed a hallway off to one side. I headed down the narrow passageway, which seemed to continue endlessly before me, branching off to the sides as well. I had expected a small excavation site, but this was larger than I expected. The rooms offered more or less what you’d expect to find in an excavated basement, partially finished, roughhewn and fascinating. As I explored, wandering ever deeper into the cavernous rooms, I couldn’t help thinking to myself about all of the eerie places I’d found myself exploring lately. It was at that moment that the organ music began to play, echoing deeply off the cold stone walls. I glanced up at the ceiling, noticing a whole in the floor of the church above. “Not helping,” I stated out loud to no one in particular.
Coming around the final corridor, the gloomy, partially excavated rooms gave way to an extravagantly decorated chapel. Absolutely worth the eerie solitary walk in a damp, partially excavated basement, filled with dark, dank corners.
There were visitors in the chapel taking pictures, so I waited for them to finish before I entered. After the dullness of the previous rooms, the brightness of the colors completeness of the mosaics surrounding me this exquisite little chapel was a lovely, unexpected surprise. I explored every corner, enjoying my solitary walk around, imagining others in this space before me.
Eventually, it was time to my way back. I took one last look at the magnificent colors in the room before I headed to the door. As soon as I turned to leave the chapel, the first light went out. The remaining lights followed before I could react to the first one. Before I knew what was happening, I was standing in absolute darkness. Thinking to myself that I was still an awful long way from the exit. Even better, the organ was still loudly playing somewhere overhead.
I tried to make my way ahead and bumped into something. I needed to find a light, or I was going to break my neck on the uneven floors – or worse, knock irreplaceable relic to the floor and shatter it. I rifled through my purse, my fingers attempting in vain to differentiate the among the objects within, searching the depths for my phone. I will often leave the house without my phone. As I pulled it out of my purse and fumbled in the darkness to turn on the light, I was glad that today was not one of those days.
Armed with a smart phone flash light, I rushed back through the corridor without incident, hoping that I would still be able to leave Santa Cecelia. I entered the final room, and made out the sliver of light illuminating the doorway – the staircase.
I rushed up the staircase, afraid that I would be locked at the foot of the stairs until they reopened the basement – whenever that was. I was relieved to find that there were no doors on the staircase.
My relief was short-lived. The very sweet elderly Italian nun was standing outside the doors to the gift shop, searching her key chain for the key that would lock me in.
“Scusi” I said as I moved closer to her. Nothing. She continued to search her key chain. The door began to close. “Scusi” I said as I arrived at the door.
Shock and surprise, followed by horror registered on the poor nun’s face as she looked up at me. She hadn’t realized I was still down there. I told her it was fine, I had a light. She apologized profusely, then nodded thoughtfully and in a hushed voice asked me – “Did you see everything you wanted to?”
I assured her that indeed I had, and made my way back out into the afternoon sun.