Day Two in Rome, we headed for the Vatican!
The Vatican Museum is free on the fourth Sunday every month, so our group of seven woke up at the hostel at 7am to get to the Vatican before the lines. Good thing too- We arrived well before 8:30 (opens at 9:00), and the line for the museum still wrapped around the wall of the city. Worth it.
I will jump to it:
The art work and ceilings in the museum were nothing short of brilliant! Elongated corridors glowing with paintings and reliefs tipped with gold. There are countless statues, sculptures, tapestries, and items of the church housed in these hallways that speak to the history and global nature of the Catholic church.
I made my way into the Sistine Chapel where I spent quite a good bit of time. No pictures were allowed, so I spent a long time looking at each one of Michael Angelo’s incredibly detailed and expressive paintings up on that ceiling. I highly recommend you take your time in there if you get the chance to go.
Next, we spent a few euro to gain access to the cupola (inside the dome of St. Peter’s).
All around the catwalk were these intricate mosaics of cherubs and angels, and a view down to the space below.
We then took a journey up to the very top through some tight hallways, curving walls and ceilings, and many many tight stairs. Finally arriving at the top opened to a 360 degree view over all of St. Peter’s square, and most of Rome in the distance. This view was worth the trek.
The bells for mass began to ring at 12:30, so we headed back down. They were still ringing by the time we reached the bottom.
We made our way into St. Peter’s Basilica and it was breath-taking. It is the most beautiful space I have ever seen. The domes and art work are gold tipped, expanding upwards in a magnificent volume of space. Humbling, yet not oppressive. There was a mass going on at the main altar while we explored the basilica.
When I read the Bible, I understand the body to be the temple of the Holy Spirit, not a building of stone. I used to be of the mind that the Catholic church was misplacing priorities when they spent so much money on their churches, rather than redirecting it all to the poor and needy, as if to make an idle of their status and wealth. I still find it hard to justify, but after being in a space like St. Peter’s, walking under the ceilings that illustrate the Bible stories, walking around the expressive sculptures that capture the personalities of key players in the Bible, after watching countless people from unknown backgrounds and languages gather in one building to profess their love and respect to one God… it makes more sense. I am also getting a stronger grasp of the Grecian and Roman influences on early Christian art and architecture. It’s hard for me to find the words, but the church building, though a material thing, seems like more an investment in the permanence and value they attribute to God. An altar built for Him. Anyway, I will visit this more another time.
We went down to the catacombs below, and reemerged ready for a break. Part of the group wanted to go into the Coliseum back in Rome, so we headed that way. Three of us sketched while the others went in. This was an enjoyable break from the hectic weekend where we could soak up the city around us. I will be going back to Rome.