Monday, October 24th
We walked to the Vatican again and had the same breakfast at the same place as the day before. Getting into the Vatican was easier without the Angelus happening, but we had to stand in a tremendous line (there were always a tremendous lines) to get into St. Peter’s basilica. With our big stroller and the Italian style of standing in line like a wild mob, it was not fun. We made it through though and again developed a bit of a bond with the people who endured it near us.
WOW! My mind was absolutely blown. Words can’t describe the beauty and grandeur and sheer awesomeness of it. Even the portico at the entrance is awe-inspiring, and that’s before you even walk in the building. To enter, we passed through the Holy Doors, which are normally seal (with concrete) for 25 years at a time. They were open when we were there during the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy and became the first through which we passed during this trip.
The first thing you encounter is Michelangelo’s Pietà. It is behind bullet- and bomb-proof glass, but that doesn’t dimish its humbling magnificence. People go to school to learn about things like this, so we won’t go into detail about all the incredible art you’ll find inside St. Peter’s Basilica. I’ll mention, though, that if you look closely at the Pietà, you’ll see that Mary’s bare hand never directly touches Jesus’ bare skin.
A person could easily spend hours walking around and taking everything in. If they let us use tripods I could have spent days there taking pictures. If we could somehow remove all the people, I could spend weeks. Verily, I was blown away (in spite of the bomb-proof glass).
It’s difficult to convey the scale and shear magnitude of this building in pictures or words. It was filled with people when we were there, but we still felt tiny compared to the grandeur of the architecture. This was my first major basilica, and I was unaware of how every square inch of space is filled with amazing, masterful, awe-spiring art.
Another thing I didn’t know about basilicas is that, in addition to the main nave and alter area in the center, there are usually several chapels along the sides. Although physically smaller than the main area, each one is still ornately decorated and filled with tradition and symbolism.
While researching all the captions for my photos, I found this useful and interesting guide to the floorplan of St. Peter’s Basilica. I wish I could find something like this for every place we visited. After St. Peter’s Basilica, we went out for our scheduled tour of the other major basilicas in Rome:
- Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano (St. John Lateran)
- Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls
- Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore
Although smaller than St. Peter’s Basilica, St. John Lateran is no less impressive. We entered through the Holy Doors, during which time photography is not allowed. You can take pictures outside and inside, but video and photography is not allowed while actually walking through the doors. Upon entering I was once again struck by the massive scale and all-encompassing artwork.
St. John Lateran is the ecumenical mother church for Roman Catholics. The Pope is also considered the Bishop of Rome, and Rome, like all parishes, has its own cathedral. Although located outside of the Vatican-proper, this is the Pope’s church and houses his ecclesiastical seat. That’s what a cathedral is – a church that houses a cathedra, the Bishop’s seat.
At one point we were at the Chiesa Rettoria San Lorenzo in Palatio, which is across the street from St. John Lateran and the place where you ascend the steps on your knees like Jesus did. It wasn’t a super religious moment due to all the construction and traffic noise, and we didn’t really have time to scale the Scala Santa properly while on a guided tour. We saved this for another trip.
We had to hop on a shuttle bus to get to St. Paul Outside the Walls. It’s “outside the walls” in that it is located beyond the Aurelian Walls that encompass the Seven Hills of Rome. We passed through one of the gates on our way to the basilica, but you’d never feel like you were outside of modern-day Rome.
I realize I sound like a broken record, but the interior was, once again, enormous and ornate. A portion of the portico was damaged by earthquake one or two days after we visited. We found out about the damage later in the week when we read a newspaper in a cafe in Montalcino.
In 1823, much of the building was destroyed by fire, so what we see today is “new” since then. Surviving elements (already 1400 years old at the time of the fire) can be seen throughout the property.
This was a lot to take in in just one day and only the third of the four major basilicas we visited. After St. Paul’s, we hoped back on the shuttle and head back inside the walls on our way to the basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore.
All of the Papal Major Basilicas are located in Rome, but Santa Maria Maggiore is more tightly situated within the city. It was difficult to get a shot of the exterior without the intrusion of a busy metropolis. The interior, however, was just as majestic as anything else we’d seen that day.
Under the high altar is the Crypt of the Nativity. Recalling the manger scene, a crystal reliquary holds wood from the actual crib in which Christ was born outside that famous inn. You can look down into this crypt, but it was so dark that none of my pictures turned out very well.
The famed architect Gian Lorenzo Bernini is buried inside this basilica, with a very humble tomb marker next to the altar. He’s responsible for much of the look-and-feel of Rome but rests quietly in this grand space.
This was the last stop on our Major Basilicas tour. Remember, we started the day standing in line at St. Peter’s in the Vatican, and that wasn’t even part of the actual tour. We were hungry and tired, but hungry, so eating was our next priority. Our tour guide suggested we walk to the Monti District and pick out one of the restaurants there, but we didn’t make it that far. Keep in mind that we always have two babies with us. The place we ended up eating at turned out to be one of our favorites in Rome. It was also the first time they brought us free liqueurs after dinner. Not being drinkers, we had to decline, but not without noticing that there was a glass offered to our 13-year-old Gabbie.