So Much to See ... So Little Time

Trip Start Oct 13, 2010
Trip End Oct 30, 2010

Flag of Italy  , Lazio,
Monday, October 18, 2010

Meeting back up with Louisa (our panoramic tour of Rome) we began by queuing up to enter the Musei Vaticani (Vatican Museums). We ventured down to the Pinecone Garden which was named after a pinecone-shaped fountain flanked by peacocks. The original sculptures were Roman in origin and combined in to their current form thereby giving the gardens their name – one of many gardens within the Vatican. Other antiquities filled the neatly-manicured grass and shrubbery that provided a natural sanctuary far from the bustle outside (and within) the walls of the Vatican. Entering one of the main buildings of the museum we were then treated to more sculptures which included literally thousands of statues from Antiquity (in varying degrees of condition), Renaissance marbles (including Laco÷n) and fragile Renaissance tapestries that were originally hung in the Sistine Chapel before relocation to the Museum. Many of the statues depicted the ancient pagan gods of Rome who had been in a place of prominence in the Eternal City long before Constantine the Great changed the official religion to Christianity. Funerary urns that once held the ashes of prominent Roman nobles, figures of house gods, statues that once adorned homes and courtyards (including an entire room dedicated to animals) had survived thousands of years: what may have previously been available for private viewing by a few was now being appreciated by the masses who passed through one of the greatest collection of antiquities in the world.

The famed Map Room was equally as incredible with its painted ceilings and large maps running along the long corridor. Even when it was not possible to read the names of the towns or roads it was obviously from the imagery what was depicted. It was from the Map Room that we passed by some more Renaissance tapestries and ancient statues before reaching one of the jewels of the Vatican City: the Chapelle Sisto (Sistine Chapel). The first impression I had of the chapel was that the room was much larger than I had expected before being awestruck by the sheer majesty of Michelangelo’s work. The chapel ceiling and The Last Judgement, both restored within the last decade, were spectacular and deserved their reputation for being able to inspire those who saw them. Like so many other tourists it was hard not to stand there and admire work which took more than a decade of Michelangelo's life. To the far right of the room it was also visible where the fireplace used during Conclave would be set up; responsible for delivery the white or black smoke following an election by the College of Cardinals during sede vacante.

After meeting Louisa at the door we made our way to the papal catacombs. Descending several flights of marble stairs and a few narrow corridors we reached the crypt where several of the most recent popes - Paul VI, John Paul I and John Paul II - were laid to rest after a life of service to God and the Church. Considered one of the most beloved popes in the history of the institution the tomb of the last pope was considered a special place that continued to draw pilgrims in prayer. While most members of the Church expect John Paul II to be canonised at some point down the track; I will always remember him as taking the time to reply to a letter I wrote when both my mother and grandmother were ill (even after everyone told me he would not). Taking time to offer a prayer at the flower-strewn tomb it was off to the other tombs. One of the most impressive was entrance to the Tomb of St. Peter who was Apostle to Jesus Christ and first bishop of Rome. It was above this very special tomb that the great altar of St. Peter's Basilica is located and after whom the basilica is named.

Finishing up in the grottoes we took several flights of ascending stairs to find ourselves in one of the many courtyards on the outside of St. Peter's Basilica. Walking beneath monuments to saints, popes and various founders of religious orders; we passed through one of the magnificent arches, passed the barracks of the Papal Guard and in to the basilica itself. Through one of the large doors (at least a foot thick) we made our way in to the largest church in the world to see one of the most impressive sites in Christendom. What a sight to behold! It is easy to see how pilgrims and visitors from all over the world, Catholic or not, could be inspired and left amazed by standing in a place like this. One of our first stops was to see Pieta: a marble sculpture by the Renaissance master Michelangelo, who, as you have read, did quite a lot of work for the Papacy. He certainly has been one of my favourite artists since my school days. Unfortunately photos of the sculpture simply don't prepare you for how truly magnificent and powerful the vision of the Virgin Mary cradling a dead Christ could be. Equally impressive was the enthroned (traditional) papal chair which was reputedly used by St. Peter; but as with most traditional it is not always accepted as fact, even by the Church. Laying in state was the glass coffin of Pope John XXIII who, upon moving his remains to the papal catacombs, was discovered to be in near perfectly preserved condition. A miracle! It was more than fifty years ago he died and yet, to the surprise of many a pilgrim, the remains almost look like they were carved from a slab of marble with no signs of corruption by decay.

Our last stop before leaving the basilica was beneath Transfiguration by another Renaissance master, Raphael Sanzio. Like with so many things in Rome there was so much to see, so very little time to see, but entirely worthwhile. I would very much like to come back again to see more of the collection.
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