9/06/2019 St. Peters,Scavi & Vatican Museum
This has been quite a day. We found it quite surprising how hard it was to find out where to be for the different tickets we had. St. Peters Square is an impressive site with the Basilica as the backdrop. We found the Swiss Guards quite interesting in their multicolored uniforms. Why does St. Peters use Swiss Guards instead of Roman ones?
Once in St. Peter's, we were awe struck by the beauty and inspiration inside. The vastness of it was unbelievable. We were like little ants. If the Colosseum was impressive by its very size, St. Peter's Church was impressive by both its size and beauty.
One of our desires was to attend a service while there and it was nearing time for the 11:00 service. While Jim waited in one of the open area chapels I went to see where the service was to be held. No one seemed to know. After much wandering, I finally found a sign with the Mass schedule & location on it, just to the left of where Jim was sitting! I met a couple from Chicago at the sign, also looking for the time and location. The mass was to be held in St. Joseph's Chapel. We finally learned that Jim was sitting in St. Joseph's Chapel! As our 'guide', Rick Steves said, the way to observe St. Peter's was to set aside our beliefs, or lack of beliefs, and become Roman Catholic for the time in this impressive Church. He was so very right. Following our new "Faith", we were blessed by attending this short Mass, which was the highlight of our visit to St. Peter's. We were actually invited to share in the Eucharist. There was something very reverent to be partaking communion where the Pope worships. We didn't understand a word but the feeling was universal. To say we were blessed is an understatement. We found ourselves walking away from the 21st Century and kneeling as did the Christians over two centuries ago. It was truly a humbling experience, as well as a spiritually wondrous one. Here in the Country, the City and the very Church which claims to be the very center of the Christian Faith we felt part of a community which emanated from this amazing Cathedral.
It is, in itself, a huge Church. The Baptistery sits beneath a canopy that is 18 feet high with bronze corner supports thicker than both of us together! The Basilica is acoustically amazing! With no amplification it seems that a Pope could say Mass to thousands of people and everyone could hear! The Chancel itself is huge. In fact everything about this magnificent building is immense. Never have we felt so small as in this place, yet there is an intimate holiness about it that speaks to the timelessness of the Faith centered here.
Ok, so Roman Catholicism claims that the Apostle Peter preached here, and that his bones are kept far beneath the Basilica floor. But, by what proof is this assertion made? The answer (or at least a quite educated guess) is found on what is called the Scavi tour.
This tour, overlooked or constantly filled, takes you deep beneath the present floor of St. Peter's Basilica. Here we find another whole layer of a church burial site dating from very early Christian times. As you go ever deeper you find remote & surprisingly complete rooms where ashes were strewn or caskets are laid. There are impressive mosaic floors, arched walls and extremely strong roofs throughout all this. Perspiring from the oppressive lack of oxygen you finally turn a corner and there, tucked away in a small box are a few human bone fragments. Indeed, each limb of the body is represented by a small bone fragment except, interestingly, none of the feet.
Our Guide, Katerina, said this is one of the 'proofs' of the Scavi since it is well documented that, at the time of Peter's crucifixion he asked to be crucified upside down, since he didn't consider himself to be worthy of dying like Christ did. After his death he was cut down with a huge cut from a sword through his ankles, the feet remaining nailed to the cross. The Guide informed us that this tomb was built during the time of Peter's crucifixion, and that the box of bones, unearthed during this recent excavation, lie precisely beneath the Altar in the present St. Peter's church. We left with a shiver of awe at what we'd seen, and it wasn't all due to the atmosphere. Interestingly the Pope, when asked if these were, indeed, the bones of Saint Peter answered, "We believe they are." The present Pope was very careful in the wording of his response, wasn't he? Still, the Scavi is a marvelous example of how succeeding generations build upon the past. We're thankful we had tickets for this wonderful trek into a mysterious past.
VATICAN MUSEUM AND SISTINE CHAPEL
We had tickets, of course. Karen is so wonderful at getting everything in order. Still, we decided to leave a bit early so we could honor our ticket arrival time. We went to St. Peter's square where a kind police person had told us to just go through the gates and we'd turn left to enter the Vatican Museum. What that person didn't say was that the Vatican Museum is several BLOCKS in length. We really hoofed it, finally turning the corner just in time to enter the Museum. Well, after we stood in line for an extended time to recuperate our breathing.
Let it be said that it was worth the wait! Even though we'd decided in advance to spend our time in the Sistine Chapel at the beginning of our museum visit, it was hard not to pause at the hundreds of impressive historic art. But, as impressive as the museum was throughout the blocks, when we arrived at the Sistine Chapel we were overwhelmed. That Michelangelo painted that Chapel's entire ceiling was a wonder in itself, but when the panels came into focus we both realized that we were seeing a true masterpiece. To try to describe what was on that ceiling is just impossible. Each and every inch were woven into a timeless telling of God's story. We were so glad to see the recently cleaned masterpiece. It is said that until recently it was thought that Michelangelo used muted colors. But, when cleaned the ceiling is a riot of rich color. How this man in his 73rd year worked without sketches, letting the plaster tell the story itself makes this wonder even more amazing. This is the same Michelangelo who chipped a block of marble at age 23, and released David from its confines. This was the same Michelangelo who designed the Duomo Basilica in Florence, and the same one who allowed the Pieta to come to life. Michelangelo was an artist in multiple media, always helping people see the story of God's interaction with man in the bible. Oh, I forgot to tell you that the one stipulation he made in agreeing to paint the Sistine Chapel was that he was to do it with no pay. He was truly a devout man. How grateful we are that his works have been kept intact for generations to come and see. He was an awesome artist.