12 January 2016

The Vatican and Churches of Rome

You cannot go to Rome and not visit The Vatican, and everyone wants to go to the Vatican so I was guaranteed at least one church to which I didn't have drag my less than church-loving friend. It has been a very long time since I was last in Rome and while I'm not saying we just walked casually into every single church/museum/monument I do not remember the lines being like this. And I was there during peak season last time! Good thing we'd bought those Omnia Cards!

The Basilica of Saint Peter
St. Peter's impresses before you even get inside

There are several places to buy the Roma Pass/Omnia Card (or you can purchase online and pick them up at the same place). Figuring that the sales point outside Saint Peter's would be crazy busy we bought ours at Saint John Lateran's which had the added benefit of being only a couple blocks away from our AirBnB; and so glad we did! Part of the service that goes with the Omnia Card is a timed entrance to Saint Peter's so we turned up the next day, shuddered at the seemingly interminable line of people waiting to get in, found our group, and sailed past every one else. L and I chose to go through the basilica on our own but we could have followed our group and also received (for no extra fee) the audio guide.
Michelangelo's Pieta
The alter under the dome

After you get into the basilica and once you're done being overwhelmed by the immensity and grandeur of the building (as L said she'd give us Catholics one thing-we know how to build a church!) there are a few not to be missed sites. The first, behind a wall of glass and surrounded by people jostling for position with their cameras (including me...) is Michelangelo's Pieta. The glass, which is bulletproof, was only installed in the 1970's after a wackjob Hungarian-Austrian geologist took a sledgehammer to Mary while shouting "I am Jesus Christ; I have risen from the dead." True story.

The newest feature inside St. Peter's, but no less crowded/photographed for being new, is the tomb of Pope Saint John Paull II. There's a sectioned off area in front of the tomb set aside for prayer, the line to get in stretches pretty far and they're really serious about not taking pictures there.

One of the main features of St. Peter's is the dome that soars overhead. Visitors can go up into the dome (for an additional nominal fee) to take in the view both inside the basilica and outside of St. Peter's square. There are two options for getting to the top of the dome: elevator and stairs combo (5 Euro) or just stairs (3 Euro). What I think they don't really tell you though is that after the elevator there are still something like 10 flights of stairs to be scaled. AFTER the elevator. Given my relationship with stairs, one L shares, we skipped this. Although I suppose if I were fall down some stairs and die this would be the place to do it.

St. Peter's bones supposedly lie under the alter
Looking into the apse

Saint Peter's isn't the only point of interest in Vatican City. The Vatican Museum is a draw all on its own and despite my general impatience with museums this one is not to be missed. In addition to being a gorgeous building, the Vatican Museum houses an impressive collection of art and religious and historical artifacts. The biggest draw though is of course the Sistine Chapel. There's really no way to describe it. It's mind blowing.It's also a little tricky to find. Even if you the express route (there are signs throughout the museum leading to the chapel and there really is an "express" route).

Moderno's nave
My portrait

After long museum corridors, twists and turns, and up and down what look like the servants' stairs (which they may well be as the Sistine Chapel is technically in the Papal Palace, not the museum) you finally reach the chapel where you are instantly mesmerized by Michelangeo's ceiling which according to Wikipedia is "...a masterpiece without precedent, that was to change the course of Western art." It's pretty humbling to be in the presence of something like that.

Once we managed to shake off the awed stupor we left the Sistine Chapel and made out way out of the museum. Even the Vatican Museum apparently believes in saving the best for last though as at the top of a large, multi-storied, steeply slanted staircase (which give the angle of the slant was really more of a ramp) there was a portrait of little old moi! Incredible the way they captured my essence.

The Pantheon-completed in 126

As L said we Catholics know how to build a church. However while we're not quite as well known for it we also know how to take an ancient building and make it a church. In fact that's how a great many of the old Roman temples have survived. The Pantheon, completed in roughly 126 AD by Emperor Hadrian was dedicated to all the god (ergo pantheon meaning 'all gods'). It was converted to a church in 609 AD and dedicated to St. Mary and all the Martyrs.

Also there's a gelato place nearby...if you stand with the Pantheon on your left looking at the exchange office (terribly rates btw) to the right is a gelato place that has killer chocolate orange gelato.


Sant' Andrea

On the day L was incapacitated I wandered around Rome on my own which gave me the chance to peek into a lot of churches. You can't spit in Rome without hitting a church. And not just a little, simple church...a CHURCH. I was on a mission to find the Gesu church which is a very long story about how I can't read a map and ended up wandering around for an hour when in fact I had breezed right by it. However on my journey I discovered the Saint Me church - Sant'Andrea. Of course it's not Saint Me but the Italian Saint Andrew. How many times I've told my parents they gave me a man's name...

Triumph of the Holy Name of Jesus fresco

Church of the Gesu

I did finally find the Church of the Gesu or la Chiesa del Santissimo Nome di Gesu all'Argentina. It's a mouth full. Gesu (as it requires less typing) is a Jesuit church conceived by Saint Ignatius of Loyola and consecrated in 1584. Somewhat fascinating is the St. Ignatius Chapel where his body is kept. During the day a large painting covers the statue of the saint but every day at 17:30, to the accompaniment of loud music, a mechanism slides the painting into the floor to reveal the statue. A mechanism built sometime around 1700 AD. That's pretty cool.

To me the real draw is the ceiling of Gesu (which can be better seen if you follow the narrow, windy stairs up to the museum) designed and painted by 22 year old Giovanni Battista Gaulli. Unfortunately Wikipedia glosses over this but if you go upstairs to the museum a lovely man who speaks very good English will show you the details. When I first looked at the ceiling I thought it was beautiful but felt there was something odd that I couldn't quite figure out. It wasn't until he pointed it out that I realized that Gaulli had done the ceiling in such a way that the painting spills over the frame giving it a 3D effect. He even painted shadowing on the frame and some of the angel figurines are black. This might be sacrilegious in the art world but I was rather more impressed by this that I was the Sistine Chapel...

Alter in the Gesu museum

In the end the Gesu was my favorite of all the churches I visited in Rome. There are truly no words to describe the Gaulli frescoes; they must be seen.

Two posts about my Italy trip down and four or five to go! Hopefully the blogger's block doesn't come back...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Here I sit with a blowing snowstorm out my window, but where I really find myself, through your commentary, is exploring Rome in the pictures. Thank you!