Random observation – the Vatican and St. Peter’s
The second leg of our Europe trip was to Rome, with its layers and layers of ancient and not so ancient history. The first place to go was of course the Vatican and Sistine Chapel, with Saint Peter’s Basilica next door.
The Vatican museums and Saint Peter’s are unbelievably huge and ornate. We inched along with the crowds of other tourists, going through room after room of priceless treasures and art, including the “Raphael rooms” which are covered with the famous artist’s paintings. It was all gorgeous, but surprisingly like the Louvre and Versailles, where the kings of France lived so opulently and amassed such vast amounts of art and statues. This loot was either stolen or taken by the popes of old, or given as gifts. The common denominator is wealth and power.
We finally made our way to Michelangelo’s amazing Sistine Chapel where we stood packed in like sardines, gazing up at the famous ceiling. The guards, bored looking men in blue suits, would come over the speaker occasionally and holler “Silenzio!” People would be quiet for a couple of minutes, then start talking again. Reminded me of being at middle school. For some reason, they don’t allow photos of the ceiling, so the guards spent the rest of their time going around and gruffly telling people to delete the picture they just took. Of course Adam had to sneak one.
From there we made our way back out into the hot sun to wait in line to enter Saint Peter’s. It is impossible to imagine how big and elaborate and overwhelming it is. Over a hundred popes are buried throughout and priceless statues and paintings cover every inch. Supposedly Peter is buried underneath.
I thought about the Peter I know from the Bible, the earthy fisherman who loved Jesus wholeheartedly, who could cuss like a sailor and wept over his own weakness and fear the night of Jesus’s arrest. Visiting Saint Peter’s was like seeing a hometown boy who had made good – like seeing a kid you grew up with in a mansion on 5th Avenue. It didn’t seem to sync with my view of Peter. The audio guide we rented repeated over and over how all this was for the glory of God – certainly Christianity should have a spectacular monument. But I couldn’t help but wonder what the crowds of Asians and Indians thought as they took in all the splendor in the name of Jesus. (By the way, the Vatican Museum is the only place I’ve ever been that requires you to leave a credit card or your passport (!) to take their hand held audio guide that costs @ $7. Seemed kind of ironic.)
Michelangelo’s statue of Mary holding Jesus after he is taken down from the cross, The Pieta, is a simple and calm respite in the middle of the ornateness.
Adam wanted to go into the museum off the Basilica, but I was tired of looking at old stuff, so while he went in, I took a little time to sit in the side chapel provided for prayer and reflection. A nice young man stood at the roped off area and instructed people that this was for prayer, not for taking pictures. That was nice. So in the midst of all the tourists milling around, I sat and thanked God for the beautiful tribute to him and for the trip and for the time with Adam. I prayed that the thousands of people there that day would come away with some positive feeling toward Christianity. I felt a part of the millions of pilgrims who have come to this sacred place.
We paid some more Euro’s for the privilege of climbing the 550 steps to the top of the basilica and that was worth it. The steps circled round and round, getting more and more narrow as we reached the summit. Not a lot of people ventured up there, or maybe they didn’t know about it, but the view was amazing – blue sky, the ancient churches and monuments poking up in the jumbled patchwork that is Rome, the hills and the Tiber flowing through it all. We stood behind the statues that look out over the Palazza and got a sense of what they see as the masses have gone through the doors of Saint Peter’s for centuries.
On the way down was a little gift shop tucked into the side of the roof that sold the rosaries and pictures of the pope and other religious trinkets that Catholics love, although I can’t say it was much different than the Christian book stores we have at home. Nuns were behind the counter and for the first time since coming to the venerable Vatican, I felt a little Christian warmth. I bought a silver cross with Pope Francis’s picture on it and plan to use it as my Christmas ornament from the trip. I hope it isn’t sacrilegious or anti-Catholic to hang this on my tree.
Coming away from our Vatican and St. Peter’s tour left me pondering all the good and bad that has been done over the centuries and continues to be done in the name of Christ. What does Jesus think of this crazy tourist destination that is done in His name?