In the south of Rome, far off the beaten path along the Via Laurentina, lies a habitation of the Cistercians of the Strict Observance—better known as “the Trappists.”
Yes, they make the famous Trappist beer.
But these Trappists have an even more important role. One of the three churches found in this community is San Paolo alle Tre Fontane—St. Paul at the Three Fountains. Three fountains indeed are found within the sanctuary of this church. But what are they, and why build a church over them?
Well, in 67 A.D., St. Paul was martyred on this very spot by order of the Emperor Nero. Being a Roman citizen, Paul was given a more “dignified” method of death than non-Romans: he was simply beheaded. His head bounced on the ground three times, and three springs sprang up on those spots—the same three fountains that are preserved within the church today.
His famous conversion on the road to Damascus, his inexhaustible apostolic ministry, the Epistles that form such a large part of the New Testament—all of them are part of the incredible story of St. Paul. It almost seems impossible that a man could accomplish so much, especially when he started out as a persecutor of the Church.
But St. Paul knew the credit wasn’t due to him. “It is no longer I who live, but Christ Who lives in me,” he wrote in Galatians 2:20. And in another Epistle: “I can do all things through Christ Who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).
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