Saturday, March 12, 2011

We have people... (Thank you, Brs. Jason & John!)

Brs. Jason and John
What a wonderful day!  We're finally back at home after a busy week, and are resting our tired paws.  We came home with Leonardo from Terni, and he let us spend a few moments at the Coop to get breakfast -- problem solved!

Trey being "way too cool" with Br. Jason
This morning, we were out of the house by 8:15, washed and scrubbed (some more than others).  We met our favorite ex-pats at the Vatican, and proceeded to have the best private tour to be had at St. Peter's.  Br. Jason is incredibly knowledgeable, and it was fabulous to have not one, not two, but three adults (including a tall one!) watching the six kids.  It's such a crowd and there's so much to look at -- trying to keep up with six children might have sent me around the bend.
A panel from the doors

Before you walk in, you are confronted by these enormous bronze doors.  The detailing in them is so advanced (they date to the early 1400s) that modern-day metallurgists have not been able to figure out how they were cast.

The main doors into St. Peter's

Everyone on Charlemagne's coronation disk

On the way into the basilica, you walk across a large set of keys in porphyry.  This is a very hard stone quarried in Egypt.  It is now extremely expensive because of its rarity.  It's used extensively in St. Peter's.  It's quite lovely, because the marble surrounding the keys ("earthly things") has worn away, but the keys to heaven remain.

Inside the basilica, there is a very large porphyry disk on which you can walk.  This was the disk upon which Charlemagne was crowned (is this right, Br. Jason?).  The symbolism behind using this is that we are all, by virtue of our baptism, invested with kingly dignity.  Therefore, we are all allowed to walk upon this royal disk freely.
More everyone with Br. John on disk

Br. Jason explained a ton of theology surrounding the Pieta -- things I had never realized or been told.  Since the art of the period was the "special effects" of the day, sculpture was very kinetic.  As you look at the Pieta, Mary is not actually touching Jesus' body with bare hands.  Her left hand is just off his body, and the right hand has drapery between her skin and his.  This conveys the sacredness of this particular corpus.  The natural movement that one expects is for Christ's body to fall down off of Mary's lap.  Since this is designed as an altarpiece, the landing spot is, in fact, the altar -- the point of sacrifice.  And as the priest performs the consecration (think pre-Vatican II), he is looking at the host, with the body behind, and looking at Mary's face.  In effect, there is a dialog between the priest and Mary, where she is allowing her son to be sacrificed for us.  Wow.  Made me see what is already an amazing piece of work in a whole new light.  And Michelangelo was only 22 when he sculpted this!
Can you believe it's mosaic?

Most of the artwork in St. Peter's is stone -- to reinforce the "you are the Rock..." Even these elaborate pieces that look for all the world like oil paintings are mosaics.  It's mindblowing.

The cupola was placed such that it is directly centered over the site of St. Peter's bones.  This was unknown until relatively recently -- how in the world did they manage to achieve this with the available technology of the time?  Speaking of St. Peter, and his bones, we had the chance to have a behind-the-scenes tour courtesy of Br. Jason.  He sweet-talked the guard into letting us down some relatively private stairs.  This allowed us to see the chapel in which St. Peter's bones are entombed (in the shape of an upside-down cross, no less!  Completely covered in beautiful stone veneer).  It was rather funny, though, because we had to pretend to be mice and be completely silent.
St. Peter of the flat feet

There is a bronze statue of St. Peter which offers a plenary indulgence.  It has been a point of pilgrimage for centuries, and it has had to be re-footed (!) two or three times.  The feet are now completely worn to the point that they resemble shoes rather than feet.

Hic Sunt Dracones

Then came Gregory XIII and XIV*. Gregory XIII was a well-loved pope, and had a very fruitful papacy.  His tomb commemorates the change to a heliocentric theory of the universe.  His successor, a former assistant of Gregory XIV, turned out to have overseen a papacy with huge administrative problems.  He is entombed across an aisle from Gregory XIII (as requested), but when the time came to erect the memorial and tomb markers, some of his issues came to light.  So -- no statue.  He didn't even get his own tomb marker:  they took a slab off of Gregory XIII's tomb, and added a I.  So his marker reads Gregorius XIIII!

Bernini, who designed the baldachino in St. Peter's, left his signature by encasing his personal rosary into the base.  If you are eagle-eyed and have a good imagination, you might be able to see it in this picture.  It is in the square (level surface) base on the left-hand side of the base of the nearer pillar.  It shows up as a little lump in the surface.

After a while, we went up into the cupola -- 230 or so steps up, we came to the interior gallery in the cupola.

The Papal train station
The specks down there are people
  We have a few pictures of people looking like ants in the main basilica.  I pretended that I wasn't afraid of heights.  Then we spiraled up and up and up through this narrow corridor tiled with bilious yellow tile.  I  have no idea who chose it, but that person does NOT get my vote for interior decoration.  When we thought that we had had 200 steps more than enough, we emerged!  We could see all of Rome, and Br. Jason pointed out many of the sights.  Did you know that the Pope has a private train station (no longer used since they installed the helicopter pad)?  There were also many papal shields created via topiary.  What fun!

 Time for lunch yet?  We voted a resounding "Yes!"  , On the way, we had to take a picture of the Swiss guards.  They are so adorable!  I mean, dignified.  Yes, dignified.  (And really sweet).  Br. Jason told us that he nearly had a heart attack when walking through once -- apparently, they salute members of the clergy by inclining their heads and whacking their staffs against the ground.  He tried to get one of them to do it, without success. 

In the Pantheon
We had lunch together, and then rode the bus down to the Pantheon.  The Pantheon's cupola is perfectly hemispherical, which architects and engineers don't know how to replicate with today's technology -- let alone how they did it with the technology of the day.  There is a large hole in the center of the cupola to act as a chimney.  Because of the stack effect and the resultant updraft, rain rarely enters.  Apparently the ceiling was coated in shiny bronze (later scavenged for the materials to build St. Peter's).  The mind's eye can envision this mystical, shimmering space lit by a large bonfire.  Quite an image.

 Next stop:  Gelato.  Very nice.  We won't talk about it further because I don't want you to be jealous.  Let's just say that we had a fairly full experience.

Then off to the Spanish Steps, and to the train station!  A sad farewell to Brs. John and Jason and back home.  Leonardo was sweet and let us run by the Coop for breakfast.  A quick trip to Massimo's for dinner, and the day's over.



*As a side note, James told me today that he knew we were in Rome because of the Roman numerals on the clock faces.


  1. Wow. This is phenomenal! You have pictures and viewpoints that I've never seen among the numerous pictures of the Vatican. I have heard of others who have traveled and toured with priests, including our parish priest. None appear as thorough and interesting as yours.

    Love you all and anxious to see you.


    P.s. I hope you said some special prayers for the Japanese while you were there in God's special place.

  2. How do you manage to make a day have more than 24 hours? You pack more into a day than most people (me) manage to pack into a week! Thank you for all the wonderful details - we feel like we are actually there!

  3. I miss hearing about menus and recipes- I hope when you get back to your modern kitchen you will tell us what you are cooking! Who gets to cook first?