Saturday, October 10, 2015

Fifth Day in Rome -- The Vatican

We all woke up early to be ready to be picked up and taken to our "meeting point" for our Vatican Museum/Sistine Chapel/St. Peter's Basilica guided skip-the-line 3+ hour tour.

The staging for the tour was outside a hotel -- a sea of people speaking differernt languages were efficiently separated out by language and by if they prepaid for their tickets or not. I was grateful that I had prepaid for ours! Once we got through the staging area we were sorted out further into groups. I looked over and spotted our guide -- Luoude, I believe that's the way you spell his name. We were given ear buds and listening equipment, and a sticker indicating we are in that group. As our group of
about 30 moved through the streets, I quickly gave thanks for the "skip the line" portion of the tour -- we must have passed hundreds of people standing in line in the rain to get tickets -- and we just walked in past them. Part of me felt guilty about this -- until I got inside and saw what I can only describe as a vast ocean of humanity everywhere we went.

Our guide was extremely knowledgable -- and about 3/4 of the way through the tour I realized that I had reached the saturation point with information, but I kept listening because I didn't want to miss one detail!

We started outside overlooking the Papal garden (before the rain really started pouring down), and listened to an explanation as to the layout of the museum and the Sistine Chapel. He told us in detail what to look for in the Sistine Chapel and what many of the different paintings referred to. For example, Michaelangelo drew a self portrait in the painting of St. Sebastian where St. Bartholomew is holding his skin (he was skinned alive), but the face of the saint is that of Michaelangelo. He gave us all this detail outside because there is no talking in the Sistine Chapel.

We went first through the museum, looking at some art and tapestries and the gallery of maps. He told us the origin and content (pictorally and theologically) of the tapestries. He also shared why the maps are important, and why they are wrong (looking to Rome which puts the location of cities in a different geographical location than they really are). 

I thought we were walking for miles -- we then entered the rooms Rafael and members of his workshop painted. Our guide told us that the only one that Rafael himself painted was the third room.
The symbolism and power of the paintings were breathtaking. Of the four rooms, I enjoyed the third one the most. One of the bishops pointed out to me that in one of the paintings of bishops, the bishop looking back at the prior row of bishops certainly looks like a woman. Maybe it was because I'm still processing the power of the papal audience the other day. I don't know.

I also admired the wood work, the ceilings, the floors. It was overwhelming the beauty of the Vatican. It was also a much welcomed window into the origins of faith.

We continued our walk through the Rafael rooms, our guide giving us background and importance of the various images. One was more beautiful than the other.

We went through a series of rooms with artwork given to the various popes. Beautiful artwork -- modern and classical. I especially appreciated the room of the artwork of Matisse.

We finally made it to the Sistine Chapel. A dream come true for me. You are not allowed to take pictures nor are you allowed to talk in the Chapel. The photo taking was at the minimum for those who decided to ignore the rules, but it was the talking I felt was the most disrespectful of this very sacred space. I made my way to the center of the room, getting pushed by all the people around me. I made my way to the center, took a breath and looked up. Somehow the sea of people and the noise were all gone -- I felt totally alone, as if I had the whole room to myself. I couldn't catch my breath -- the beauty of the story of creation unfolding above me had me completely focused on the immensity and beauty of this work of art. We had 25 minutes in the room to take in all we could -- and it seemed as though I was in there only for 25 seconds. The history of the room, the importance of it -- all the important decisions and prayers that have been made and offered there -- I was walking in history, and I felt it to the core of my being.

I walked out of there speechless.

I was brought back to reality as we made our way to St. Peter's Basilica. Outside the Holy Doors we were told about when they are opened and why -- December 8 of this year the doors will be open for one year -- a jubilee year of Mercy declared by Pope Francis. 

We went into the Basilica and I was overwhelmed by the vastness of it, and by the beauty of it. I immediately had a strong desire to get on my knees and pray, but there was no opportunity to do so -- we moved quickly area to area, with our guide expertly sharing not only the history of the architecture of the building, but also the use of scale to make things seem "even" (the higher statues on the wall are significantly larger than the smaller statues lower down because with your eye looking up that high it seems that they are the same size, but they are not). 

Among my favorite areas was the tomb of Pope John Paul II, and seeing the body of my favorite Pope -- John XXIII (yes, the body). It was a very moving experience for me to be in that space and close to a Holy Man of God I have long admired.

My most moving moment came when we were taken in the area to see the Pieta. Once again my breath was taken away. I have preached on Mary's pain as a mother on Good Friday. Seeing the Pieta in St. Peter's -- after a few minutes I had to move away as I felt myself start to cry. The pain of loss, yet the beauty of this piece was overwhelming for me.

Another highlight was the awe-inspiring baptistry.

We paused to take pictures of where only the Pope is allowed to celebrate the Eucharist. Again, the sea of people didn't stop me from feeling as though I was the only one there. The only one taking in all the history, all the meaning, all the beauty.

We said goodbye to our Guide outside, after he pointed out the papal apartment -- and let us know that Pope Francis chose not to live there, but in a much more modest set of rooms near the garden.

Here are more pictures from our time in the Museum and Basilica. 

Here's our guide ....

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