Saturday, February 04, 2006

Rome-Wednesday, 2/1/06

Happy Birthday, Deb! Boy, what a day we had! We were up with the sun, had breakfast at 7:00 am and headed straight for St. Peter's Basilica, where we picked up our tickets to the papal audience at 10:30am. They were gold tickets (instead of blue, like most) which got us seated near the front. We then spent the next two hours, before the audience was to start, inside the basillica.

It really is impossible to describe the emotions while walking through St. Peter's. The enormity of everything was almost overwhelming, and pictures wouldn't capture it correctly. (So we bought a book with professional photography that did a better job than we could.) The basillica is more than two football fields long and contains 50 different altars. Even the angels adorning the tops of the arches inside were larger than life. We saw crypts with more popes than we ever imagined existed. A few are pictured in this blog. Some that aren't pictured here, but which we did see, were: St. Gregory the Great, St. Leo the Great, Nicholas III, Pius XII, John Paul I.

Here are two views of St. Peter's taken during the daytime. The first is looking up the Via della Conciliazione and the second is a close-up from the square behind the Creche. It really is an imposing sight.

After walking through the Porta Santa (the Jubilee Year doors) and having your breath taken away by the view, you turn to the right, and what you see but Michelangelo's Pieta. It is gorgeous!

Of course,the Dome is absolutely spectacular.

This is the Choir, located behind the High Altar.

The Baldacchino, pictured here, is breathtaking.

This is a picture of the nave.

It was a very emotional experience walking through the Crypt beneath the church, as the tombs of the recent popes are all within yards of each other in a particular area of the Crypt. We've included photos of a few of these crypts here, but even ancient popes were buried here.

Also in the Crypt, but just underneath the High Altar, are St. Peter's bones. There was no way to get close enough for a good picture, as pilgrims are not given a close access, so the one above will have to do.

Here is Paul VI's crypt.

And here is the crypt of John Paul II. There was a small group of people praying at his crypt the whole time we were there.

This is the crypt of Pius XI with a mosaic of St. Therese of Lisieux, whom he canonized in 1925, on the wall above.

How do we describe the papal audience? As Danny put it, it's like a cross between a rock concert (everyone pushing, standing on chairs to get a view, etc.) and a pep rally (with incessant cheers from different delegations of pilgrims in different parts of the hall). After an opening recitation of Psalm 145 (the Pope has been basing his recent audience talks on reflections on the Psalms), Pope Benedict XVI entered the hall. People were pushing, shoving, standing on chairs, reaching their babies out to him, etc. So there was no way we could get a glimpse of him except on the "Pope-itron" monitor. Then he gave a sermon based on Psalm 145. The fascinating part was that everything that was said was translated into 5 different languages. For example, his sermon was first given in Latin. Then a French-speaking cardinal introduced the French-speaking delegations (of which there were many). The Pope then spoke to them in French. After that, an American cardinal did the same, and the pope spoke to them in English. The other languages, in order, were German, Spanish, Polish, and finally, Italian.

The Audience Hall, pictured here, is used in bad weather and during the winter months. It holds about 7000 people. The 'overflow' pilgrims were accommodated by more "Pope-itrons" in St. Peter's Basillica. We saw them setting up in the Basillica: it looked like there were enough chairs for another 5000 or so people. Can you imagine? The Pope does this EVERY Wednesday!

Here we are, waiting, and not knowing quite what to expect at this Papal Audience.

We were fortunate to be in Row 11. Even so, the Holy Father was way up on the stage, so close-up pictures were not possible.

Here is Pope Benedict XVI on the big screen in the Audience Hall.

After the Papal Audience ended at about noon, we high-tailed it out of there as quick as we could so we could spend some time in the Vatican Museums before they closed their doors (at 1:45pm!?!). We had to walk around the perimeter of Vatican City to get to the entrance to the Museums. This is a picture of the wall surrounding the Vatican City State.

There was no way we were going to see all the best parts of the Vatican Museums, so we contented ourselves with enjoying the Stanze di Rafaello (Halls of Rafael) and the Capella Sistina (Sistine Chapel) and whatever else we could along the way. Here is one of Danny's favorite paintings of any sort: The School of Athens. These two paintings are actually ONE painting encompassing an entire wall.

In the Constantine Room the four walls bear paintings of Constantine's vision of the Cross in the sky as he marched against Maxentius, his baptism, and of his coronation. The entire room was painted, ceiling to floor!

We left the Vatican Museum and hopped on the metro to San Giovanni in Laterano station. From there we took bus #218 south along the Via Appia Antica to the area outside the walls of the city where the catacombs were; we walked about 2km up the hill to get to S. Sebastiano. The tour took us down into the second level of catacombs below ground (there are 3 levels) and through about a quarter mile of tunnels. It was amazing to see these burial grounds. Several inscriptions were still visible, as well a very well preserved Roman mausoleum that had not been discovered until 1929. Therefore, the colors on the paintings on the ceiling and walls are all still vivid.

Here is the Church of San Sebastiano. The catacombs are beneath the church. Unfortunately, no pictures were permitted: Deb had to make do with buying postcards depicting the different parts of the catacomb.

This figure, portraying St. Sebastian's death, is in an altar in the church.

Bernini sculpted a bust of Jesus that sits in San Sebastiano Church.

Returning to Roma Centro on the bus, the beautiful Basillica of San Giovanni in Laterano was our next stop. This is the cathedral church for Rome (and not St. Peter's, surprisingly).

The Choir (that portion of the church behind the main altar) contained only the Chair of Peter. Above the chair is a beautiful dome.

Here is the nave of the Basillica. Most impressive are the collossal statues of the Twelve Apostles that line the sides of the nave.

These are pictures of the beautiful cloister.

The basilica looks beautiful at dusk, with the crescent moon shining above it.

Across the street from the Lateran basilica is the Church of the Scala Santa (Holy Steps). Legend has it that these steps were brought to Rome from Pilate's palace in Jerusalem; this is a stair that Jesus would have walked on the day he was condemned to die. In this photo you can see several pilgrims climbing the steps on their knees. Supposedly, there are still traces of blood on several of the stairs. But they are protected by a wood covering so I'm not sure the stains are visible.

This beautiful mosaic rests in an exterior cupola just outside the Scala Santa church.

Another day well spent, and an unforgetable birthday for Deb. Once again, we were sightseeing for about 12 hours and saw everything we had planned. We had dinner at a place called Professionisti, right down the road from the hotel, and had fresh-baked pastries as a birthday treat! Finally, it was back to the hotel: tomorrow was to be another early day of travel.


At 6:34 AM, Anonymous Klaudya said...

Los felicito por este viaje tan maravilloso y les agradezco que se den el tiempo para narrar este magnifico viaje, yo soy de México y nunca me sería posible realizar un viaje así, estas fotografías son como si estuviera allí. Mil gracias.

At 7:14 PM, Blogger Brent said...

Mrs. Otero,

I do not know how to post pictures of the class on my blog. Please tell me so we can show you how much we miss you! Alex says hi! So do andrew and I. Cheers!



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