Sunday, November 23, 2014

Rome and the Church

The word "vatican" pre-dates Christianity, and referred to a mound and marshy area across the Tiber River, outside of the city walls. It became an area where villas were built, and during the time of Agryppina, 14 B.C. - A.D. 33, she had the marsh drained and gardens laid out.  Her son Caligula then built a circus here for charioteers, and Nero completed it in A.D. 40.  

The Vatican Obelisk was taken from Egypt by Caligula to decorate his circus.  After the great fire in A.D. 64, Nero began killing Christians here for fun.  One of those martyred was believed to be the Apostle Peter. He was buried here in an ancient cemetery. 

Because of the words of Jesus, " Thou art Rock (petrus), and upon this rock I will build my church", that is what the Emperor Constantine did beginning c. 350. The Constantinian Basilica of St. Peter lasted for a thousand years. 

The present day Basilica of St. Peter was build around the old one, and included Michelangelo as one of the original designers. When the new church was completed enough, the old one was removed.

The dome is Michelangelo's.  The obelisk is Caligula's. The circus grounds where Peter and many other Christians died have become the capitol of the Church of Rome. "Upon this rock..."

On Tuesday morning we had reservations for the Vatican Museum for 9:30.  We arrived at St. Peter's Square about 8:30, in brilliant sunlight. It was quiet there at this early hour and we just took in the details, knowing we would return later to join the queue to enter the basilica. 

That's a seagull, not a dove. :-)

 Where the Pope appears, second window from the right, top row.

 The Vatican Museum is huge. After the fall of Rome, (A.D. 476) the Catholic (Universal) Church became the great preserver of civilization, collecting artifacts from dead and dying cultures.  The museums here contain the collections of mostly Renaissance Popes (15th and 16th centuries), who decorated their palaces, now the museum, with these treasures. We saw only a small part of all that is stored here.


                                     Greek and Roman - 500 B.C. - A.D. 500
 A Roman copy of a Greek original of Apollo ↓
 Laocoon, the high priest of Troy, and his sons.  He tried to warn his fellow Trojans not to let the wooden horse in.  The gods sent snakes to crush them. Considered the greatest and most famous statue in ancient Rome, it was lost for more than a thousand years, and then was found in 1506 in the ruins of one of Nero's palaces. Its emotion and motion greatly influenced a young Michelangelo, two years before he started work on the Sistine Chapel.

 A huge basin from Nero's palace, made of rare purple marble. 
 Bronze statue of Hercules with his club, found near the Campo de' Fiori.
 Ceremonial tripod like one we saw in the museum in Delphi, in the Etruscan galleries, 800-300 B.C., contemporaries of the Mycenaeans.

In the Long March - Sculpture, Tapestries, Maps and Ceilings, Oh, MY!
                                     The goddess Diana
                                            The Mother Goddess Artemis
This many breasted goddess stood for femininity.  There is some debate as to whether she is draped with mammaries or bulls' balls.

                 We recognized Venice!
Tapestries designed in Raphael's workshop and made in Brussels.
The Renaissance Rooms, Papal wallpaper.  The Renaissance Popes hired the best artists to paint the rooms where they lived.

Some of Raphael's most famous frescoes are here. 

And in the extensive modern art gallery, Van Gogh's Pieta.

There is no other way to get to the prize than to follow the maze - in this case the maze of museum galleries that eventually lead to the Sistine Chapel.  Given all these Papal Palace ceilings, is it any wonder my neck was tired, and as we suddenly entered a nondescript corridor and were herded quite unceremoniously into a rather plain room, that I was somewhat underwhelmed when I finally found myself in the Sistine Chapel?

I had Rick Steves audio app in my phone and so I was allowed to have it out.  Otherwise, no cameras allowed.  When we eventually found a seat on one of the benches lining the chapel, we began to study the ceiling, and I sneaked a few photos with my phone. 
Michelangelo painted the panels on the center of the ceiling depicting the creation of the earth to the coming of Jesus.  He also painted the "arches" which only look like arches, filled with the ancestors of Jesus, and in between the prophets.
Michelangelo spent four years craning his neck to paint it all with his own hand. The result was revolutionary, so much more dramatic and emotion-filled than anything seen before. 

Twenty-three years later when he painted the alter wall, times in Rome were much more grim, and the Last Judgement reflects that mood.  Christ smites the wicked and the condemned writhe in hell.
And then we worked our way back out of the museum, found lunch in the cafeteria there, and emerged back out into the light of day.

The line to get into the Basilica of St. Peter was still long, so we opted to go first to the Castle Sant' Angelo, a half mile walk away toward the Tiber River. 
 The Ponte Sant' Angelo.
 The castle was originally built as a tomb (c. A.D. 139) for Emperor Hadrian.  No burials were allowed within the city walls, so he chose this spot just across the river in full view of the city.  For a hundred years it became the tomb of emperors.

 In the year 590, the archangel Micheal appeared above the mauosleum to Pope Gregory to announce the end of the plague, and the castle was renamed. 
 It has been used as a prison, and a fortress, and was eventually connected to the Vatican via an elevated passage and became a safe house for popes when Rome was continuously plundered. Now it is a museum with great views of the city. 

 On the Ponte Sant Angelo over the Tiber River with angels designed by Bernini. 

 Now it was time to get in line for the basilica. 

 It is hard to fathom how big this church is and photos don't really show it.  

 God reaches down from the top of the dome.  The letters here are seven feet high. 
 Bernini's brass alter canopy is seven stories high. 
 Bernini's brass sculptures of angels surround the the dove window.
 The basilica is two football fields long, and has many side chapels designating tombs of popes. 
 The brass statue of Peter comes from Constantine's first church.

 Michelangelo's Pieta is perhaps the star of this overwhelming show. 

 It was raining when we exited the basilica but let up shortly after, and we walked on into the city.

But I have to go back to how we finished the day before, because while this is Rome's church and the Catholic world's church, it is not really the Pope's church.  That distinction goes to San Giovanni in Laterano.
 This was the first Christian church in the city of Rome, opened about A.D. 318. The church served as the center of Catholicism and the home of popes until the Renaissance remodeling of St. Peter's and the expansion of the Vatican. Until 1870 all popes were "crowned" here.  Still today it is the "home" church of the Bishop of Rome - the Pope. 
 The facade of the church has undergone Baroque remodeling. These doors, moved here in 1650, are the original doors of the Curia, the ancient Roman Senate. 

 The Bishop's Chair is where the Pope must sit to officially become the Pope. 
 Mosaic decoration.
 There are wonderful statues of all of the apostles. 
Here is Bernini's Pieta.

                     The Piazza di Porta San Giovanni

Rome is full of churches full of wonderful art and history.  We've visited some and we'll be visiting more.  But not today. 


  1. You saw so much, no wonder you came home tired. Thanks for being sneaky, and taking those photos of the Sistine Chapel ceiling. It's a stunning work of art. I've seen photos of Michelangelo's Pieta before, but I never knew van Gogh painted one too.

  2. Your days were full, every last one of them. And I so appreciate seeing all these wonderful sights. Thank you, and I'm so glad you experienced all this so I could join you virtually. :-)

  3. your trip was certainly educational for me. What a fabulous opportunity the ability to travel can be--good for body, mind and spirit.

  4. Simply gorgeous! I love all of your photos of the Vatican. I feel nostalgic, now.

  5. I can't believe how much you all got to see and experience. The art work is just stunning.
    I am so impressed with your information. I hope there won't be a test on this. Some I knew, some I retained but even so I sense a low C grade if you insist on a quiz:))

  6. Truly awesome. It took me a couple of days to go through this post as it's so full of information and amazing pictures. So much to take in in one day. You must have been on sensory overload!


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