Off-Campus Study Program: History, Religion, and Urban Change in Rome
Instructors: History professors Bill North and Victoria Morse
Date: April 10, 2013
Student: Nicole Hamilton ’13 (Kent, Conn.)
I’ve spent more than a year studying St. Jerome and writing about his asceticism, translations, and hagiographies. I’ve read nearly every one of his letters, prefaces, and polemics. While I jokingly call him my one true love, I’ve never felt a connection to him.
But yesterday we went to the catacombs. J. N. D. Kelly, one of Jerome’s modern biographers, wrote that it was in the catacombs that Jerome reaffirmed his Christian faith while studying in Rome as a young man. It’s unclear which catacombs Jerome visited; he never mentioned them by name. However, in the Catacombs of St. Sebastian, our guide mentioned that it is likely Jerome visited this site when he was secretary to Pope Damasus.
I was standing where Jerome had stood. I was seeing the same things he had seen. I was touching the same stone, feeling the same coolness of the air, experiencing the same eerie stillness that comes from being deep underground. It was a new feeling. I’ve studied history, but I haven’t felt connected to history. I haven’t felt moved by history. Today I was. We can’t take photographs in the catacombs, so I have no physical reminder of this experience. But I plan to return to these underground passageways, collecting memories until I can close my eyes, enter Jerome’s world, and feel that connection yet again.