Thursday, March 21, 2013

Maybe just the Vatican today

St Peter's Church is huge, enormous, gigantical. In this picture we are on top of the Vittoriano on the far-ish side of the old city, and that's St. Peter's dome in the middle, across the river. ("Across the river" always seems a huge distance to me, no matter how big the river or how far away it is. Anyways, here it is a bit over a mile away.) You can see the dome almost all over town, it seemed.

Here we are just on the other side of the river at the Castel Sant'Angelo. This picture is a bit extraordinary because the sky was not heavy and grey! And because Arthur seems to have matured into the kind of guy who can have his picture taken without sticking his tongue out.

We dashed over to the Piazza San Pietro Wednesday night to see the new pope, and then returned Thursday morning. The only camera we had here Wednesday was Arthur's Flip video camera, which has not yet been attached to a computer for downloading. How slack we are... One day, we'll see if he got anything other than people's heads on camera. 

So, very huge. If you look closely you can see the lineup of wee little folk just along the front, waiting to go in. We're about as tall as the base of the columns. 

Dead centre is the famed chimney on the Sistine Chapel
TV crew headquarters, just outside the Piazza
Stephen became a big fan of obelisks. He will tell you how many there are (certainly we saw about eight, I think, not counting columns and other tall, thin things), who brought them from Egypt when, which ones were broken and then reassembled, which ones have hieroglyphs on... So I include this one for him. A quick internet search tells me that the thingy at the top contains a fragment of the true cross! How could we have missed that, hmm?

I have been in the Vatican four times in my life. The first time I was almost 6 and apparently was fascinated by a devil ferrying souls across the river in the Last Judgement in the Sistine Chapel. I bet it was about the only thing I could see, being little and all! I had a postcard of the whole wall for a long time -- and who would throw it out; it's probably in a box in the basement! 

When I went in 1989 with a friend, we went through the museum, but I don't remember stopping in the church at all. And I'm sure we didn't climb the dome! 

I did go in the church in 1984 with Stephen -- on the trip we dubbed "Great Scaffoldings of Europe" because everything was under wraps that year! Then we both sort of thought it was all ostentatious and gilded and think how many homes for the poor one could have built, etc etc. 

This time I thought, "Wow, people built this!" Of course a pope or two had a grandiose idea and it's a bit over the top and people probably bought indulgences and paid for chapels to be built because they thought they'd get a better seat in the big theatre of heaven and it doesn't serve a purpose that I really care about, but it must have employed thousands of skilled (very skilled) and unskilled workers for years and years, and they did create some beautiful things for us all to admire. So just enjoy and don't think too much about other legacies of the church... for the moment...

inside the main dome
Three of us just walking around
The Pieta behind glass. It really is lovely

Now this required a smattering of Latin and a bit of understanding of British royal history. Someone was taking a picture of the shapely bottom of the angel on this monument, and I realized it was for James III of Great Britain. Who? It turns out that the Catholic son of James II ended up in Rome, since no one really wanted him in Britain, and he and his two sons are buried in the church. They got a very lovely monument made by Canova, and we got a bit of a puzzle as we walked past!

Papal caution tape!

Of course, we climbed the dome. I believe there are 551 steps. Only wusses take the elevator (which only saves you about half the steps), or so I was told, as we all set off to climb. There are sort of open ramps, really tight never-ending marble spirals, and the creepiest of all, the slightly tilted, very narrow space when you are walking between the outside of the dome and the layer of mosaics seen on the inside. Finally one emerges and the whole city is spread beneath you.

Awesome, right?
I think this is the last of the churchy pictures, though I still have tons of ruins. I just have to add a few pictures here from the Basilica of Santo Stefano Rotondo. This doesn't mean that St Stephen was a bit pudgy, but that the church is round. The church is very old, but its main claim to fame is the series of large paintings all around the walls showing the various ways people were martyred. Click through to that link to see what Charles Dickens had to say!

boiling in oil
This lovely lady is having her neck pierced
more cooking
This guy is getting chopped into bits
It really makes you want to join in, doesn't it? Imagine getting married or taking your kids to this church! 

1 comment:

  1. now i know they're their own country and all, but the fact that the vatican has its own caution tape really tickled me!

    and oh my that view from the top of the dome is so stunning!! i'm glad you took the time to climb all the stairs for the rest of us! :)

    there's also something horrifically charming about the macabre paintings, i would have liked to be a fly on the wall the day they commissioned the works... "yes, yes, we want to honor the martyrs, but with *more* blood and gore..." "how many bodies do you think would *fit* in a giant pot?"


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