Day 14: The Church (and Good-bye)

Having finished our visit of the museums, along with lunch, we headed out through St. Peter’s Square to the gateway entrance for our scavi tour. The Swiss Guards were very friendly and helpful in showing us where we needed to go and what we needed to do. Plus, those guys have awesome uniforms.

We headed through the gate and back towards the Vatican’s scavi offices. There we met up with our tour guide and about 8 other people, including a particularly jolly and rotund priest from Germany? Our guide led us down into the crypt area of St. Peter’s Basilica filling us in on the history of the site dating back thousands of years to when it was a circus area dedicated to chariot races for the Romans. St. Peter was eventually martyred in the circus and buried nearby. His burial spot would become the altar space for a a new church once Christianity became the accepted religion of the region. Over the centuries, this church was added upon and grew. Eventually it would become the largest church is Christendom, the Basilica that stands today.

As part of the tour, you get to visit the old pagan necropolis and see many of the early tombs. You can still see the decor of statuary and paintings that adorned many of the family niches. You also see the sarcophagi of many who were buried in the area and walk along what were once the streets around the necropolis, examining how the ancient Romans decorated their tombs to resemble houses. Our guide was very informative regarding the history of both pagan rituals and early Christians during the eras of the necropolis. Continuing the tour, you wind up in areas that were populated by early Christians and then come to the spot where St. Peter was believed to have been originally buried. The actual bones of Peter were moved a couple of centuries ago (and you see those a few steps later after a turning a corner) because one of the Popes had the bones removed from their sacred resting spot in order to have them adorn his private chapel for his own worship. Later the bones were re-interred as close to the original spot as possible and that is the last place you visit on the tour. Once everyone had a chance to view what is visible of the remains and burial place of St. Peter, our friendly neighborhood tourmate, the Priest, led everyone in a prayer and we exited the underbelly of the Basilica by walking (briskly) through some of the Popes’ private chapels and past many (dead) previous popes in repose in the modern-day necropolis, or crypt. For anyone planning a trip to Rome in the near future, I highly recommend the tour. It’s insightful, interesting, and one of the best things we did during our time in Italy.

Exiting the crypt, we found ourselves around the corner from the portico that fronts St. Peter’s. One of the many nice things about the scavi tour was that it lets you out right at the church’s entrances so there’s no need to go back through the very long security lines for St. Peter’s. We walked into the church and began exploring the basilica. I opted to listen to Rick Steve’s audioguide while we walked around, but in the end, it wasn’t that informative and some of his side commentary is just annoying. So I recommend just carrying a good guidebook with you!

Now, my unsolicited opinion on St. Peter’s Basilica is that it is completely underwhelming. Of all the grand churches I’ve seen so far in my life, this one was just kind of a let down. Perhaps it’s because it was so built-up in my head, I don’t know, but I was slightly disappointed by it’s lack of “exquisiteness.” Yes, it’s big. Yes, it has fine artwork. But it just lacks a little something. The guidebooks say that the architects of the building wanted to scale everything so that the whole space was NOT immense, but rather seemed attainable to the common man coming to worship here. I can say that they successfully achieved that mission! That said, it was still pretty cool to walk around.

Down the middle of the nave was one of my favorite parts. There are floorplates inscribed with the names of different churches based on how large they are. So you could, in theory, walk from the front of St. Peter’s straight down the nave and walk the length of say, Chartres Cathedral in France, and when you reach what would be the entrance door in Chartres, there is a plaque showing you where that would be so you can better understand just how much larger St. Peter’s is than all of those other churches. I know I’m probably explaining that poorly, but it was nifty. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to visit the altar or apse of the church because they were closed of for a group of special pilgrims (who we did get to see make quite an entrance through the special front doors that no one else gets to open and chanting down the length of the church). This was unfortunate as apparently a full third of the church is behind the Bernini altar that you’ll see in some of the pics. Plus, we had really hoped to do the crypt tour to see more of that area, but that is only accessible from the front of the church near the altar– meaning we could get there. Ah well.

After spending some time visiting the basilica, we headed up to climb the cupola of the church. There are two different tickets you can get to do this- you can climb stairs all the way to the top or you can take an elevator up to the roof and then climb another 323 steps to the top of the dome. We took the elevator! This part of the trip was more for the Husband than me, but I did appreciate being able to see how much larger the church was from inside the dome.

Ready for some pics??

the outside of the scavi office (No pictures allowed on the tour.)

the ceiling on the portico going into the church

St. Peter’s

the right side of the nave

looking up towards the cupola

some lovely painting going on up there

Bernini’s 7-story bronze canopy over the altar

so tall…

If memory serves, this is the tomb of Pope John XXIII.

a close-up of the altar

looking through the altar to the apse of the church

looking down one of the transepts

Michelangelo’s Pieta

the Pieta’s chapel

RIP JPII

the current resting place of Pope John Paul II

ceiling shot

the ceiling down the nave

another chapel, another pope

another ceiling picture

the Holy Door that only opens every 25 years

taken from the roof St. Peter’s behind Jesus and his Disciples

the dome, from the roof

the dome we were about to climb

 

looking down on the space BEHIND the altar (near the apse)– This perspective is what really amazed me about the church. You just had no idea of the immense size until you saw that you fit an entire church and congregation between the apse and altar. This view was worth the dome climb.

 

the mosaic work of the cupola

 

part of the stairs one had to climb to get to the top of the dome

 

looking out onto St. Peter’s Square from the top of the dome

 

looking out at Rome

 

Can you spot the Colosseum??

 

Aside from the hoards of people, we did enjoy our visit to see the basilica. After having climbed the dome and educating a slightly ignorant American couple about some of Roman history, we headed out to do a little souvenir shopping and then headed back to the hotel to rest. For our final dinner in Rome, we headed back to the Taverna de Coppelle with its liters of wine, delicious fritto misto, and scrumptious pizzas. I don’t remember what the Husband had but my final Italian meal consisted of the fried zucchini flowers and a pizza Margherita. And it was wonderful! Of course, after dinner we grabbed our last gelato and found seats at the fountain in front of the Pantheon to just sit, gaze, wonder, and enjoy. We both hated to leave but agreed that we would come back soon. Having sat and soaked in the night for as long as we could, we finally headed back to the hotel to figure out how the heck to re-pack our suitcases and get ready for flying home the next day. After a light breakfast the following morning (we had a really early flight), we headed out to the airport.

I can honestly say that I loved every minute of our Italian vacation and I CANNOT WAIT to go back! We had so many great experiences, saw so many wonderful things, and ate unbelievably well. We enjoyed the company of our travel companions in Naples and had a blast getting lost in Rome on our own. We already have a list going on what else we need to see on our next visit, along with places we saw that needed more time, and where we don’t feel the need to go back. We have thousands more pics (some of which I need to get around to printing so we can have an actual album of the trip… soon!) and a few trinkets to remind us of our travels. Our world is so fascinating that I’m glad that the Husband and I do what we can to get out there and experience some of it. I’m not sure to where the next trip will be yet, but there are always plans for another trip, and there will also now be plans for a return trip to Italy someday as well!

Our flights home were  uneventful and as always is was good to get back to our bed, our house, our space. However, we both immediately missed Italy and are looking forward to our next visit. For now though, Arrivederci Italia!

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Day 14: Visiting the Vatican Museums, Part Two- The Renaissance

Continuing on our journey past the Etruscan wing, we eventually came to the long hallway that houses different galleries of sculpture, tapestries, and maps. Here, we were reunited with the hoards so at times it was slow going and easy to lose site of the great artworks amongst the mass of people. Here are a few shots from our walk.

fertility goddess, obviously

tapestry

the ceiling of the map gallery

maps

From this long hallway of galleries, we then moved into the Raphael rooms, a series of apartments and rooms painted and decorated by Raphael (artist, not turtle) and his students.

celebrating Mary’s Immaculate Conception

from the Constantine room

a little symbolism of the the new religion triumphing over the old

depicting Constantine’s vision of the Christ-symbol during the Battle of the Milvian Bridge

The Disputa where Jesus oversees the discussion regarding the divinity of the Eucharist

The School of Athens- That sad looking fellow near the bottom of the steps is Michelangelo as painted by Raphael.

Winding through the end of the Raphael rooms, you finally come to the one chapel that it seems all of Christendom is trying to see. Enter: the Sistine Chapel. Given the hoards that were amongst us during the whole visit through the museums, I was pleasantly surprised to realize that I was not, in fact, squished like a sardine inside the chapel. Sure, there were lots of people, but it was easy to move freely and enjoy the walls and ceilings. It was also markedly cooler in the Sistine, offering welcome respite from the rest of the humid museum. We walked towards the middle of the chapel and stood for a while taking in each of the Old Testament scenes on the ceiling before walking around a bit to pay more attention to the walls. On the front end of the chapel, near the entrance was the scene of the Last Judgment. I believe that wall was my favorite part of the chapel. Michelangelo really managed to capture so much sheer human emotion in that one painting- it’s really is amazing. During our entire visit to the chapel, there were many security guards walking around shushing the crowds and reminding everyone that picture taking is not allowed within the Sistine Chapel.

That said, however…. The Husband is not always the best listener ::ahem:: So… here are a couple of contraband shots of the chapel. **Please don’t tell the Pope on me!!!**

 

God creating the world, God creating Adam, etc, etc

In the center, you will see Adam and Eve partaking of the forbidden fruit and then being shunned from the Garden of Eden.

The Last Judgment

After exiting the Sistine Chapel, we continued on to the Early Christian art wing and then through the Pinacoteca, or painting gallery. We saw some lovely stone work and paintings throughout. Knowing that we needed to wrap it up so we would have time to grab a bite to eat and head over to St. Peter’s, we finished up stopping by and viewing the double-spiral staircase before heading down the cafe for lunch. I grabbed a salad and the Husband got some pizza which wasn’t bad. It was pretty typical museum fare (and pricing), but it was convenient, clean, and quick! After lunch, we exited the museums and started walking towards St. Peter’s. Since our scavi tour of St. Peter’s tomb was beginning soon, we had just enough time to find the gate we needed on the left side of the St. Peter’s square and check with the Swiss guards about where to go.
Stay tuned for the last bit of the day, touring the tomb of St. Peter and the church that was built upon it.