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Album: By Country | By Date Italy | February 2001 < Prev: Drawing at the Forum and a New Companion | Next: The Forum >
Travelogue: By Country | By Date Italy | February 2001  

February 2001 - St. Peter's

Visiting the basilica and the Pope

St. Peter's Square with the obelisk.  The obelisk decorated the circus that was here in Roman times and in which, legend has it, Peter was crucified.  Maggie and Swiss Guards.  The uniforms of the guards were supposedly designed by Michelangelo, who otherwise was not known for his sense of humor. Detail from facade.  Michelangelo's Pieta
Looking up the nave of St. Peter's.  Michelangelo, who was not the original architect, designed a church that would have a the shape of a Greek cross - one in which all the branches are equal.  After Michelangelo died, the plan was modified to a Roman cross - like the cross above western altars.  The window at the end of the apse is two football fields away.  The canopy over the altar is seven stories high.  The statues sunk in the pillars along the sides are 15 (bottom statue) to 21 (top) feet tall.    On of the side domes near the entrance.  The writing above the head of those ladies is in letters six feet tall.   The great dome.  The top is 390 feet from the floor.  The entire seven story canopy would fit into the lantern (the light spot at the very tip) Giant cherub and couple
St. Peter's at night - church or train station? St. Peter's at night.  The obelisk is 80 feet tall and came from Egypt. The Pope at the weekly audience in the papal auditorium.  On the right are a collection of church people, mostly bishops, and a few laymen.  One of the bishops would walk to a microphone and announce to the Pope that the English-speaking (or Spanish-speaking, or Italian-speaking, etc.) visitors gave him greetings, announce the groups that were there (who often sang a little song - the Texans had a loud obnoxious cheer), told the people that the Pope would bless them and any religious articles at the end of his greeting, and then sat down.  The Pope then read a brief sermon and greeting in whatever language was being used.  The Pope handled Polish on his own.  It was friendly but formal, and I can imagine that medieval audiences with a monarch followed a similar pattern.  (The modern backdrop, depicting the risen or rising Christ is strangely similar to Boticcelli's Birth of Venus and is incredibly ugly.) The audiences are held in a very large, modern auditorium
The Pope's exit.  He paused many times to wave and signal to the crowd.  He is hunched over.  Unlike a President, a Pope or other monarch usually dies in office, so they deteriorate in public.  Sad. The Swiss Guards marching off after the audience. Polish folkdancers performing in the Square after playing tune and singing at the papal audience The Square is really an ellipse.  It was designed by Bernini.  At the center of each side of the collonade, the columns "line up, " i.e. the three outside sets disappears behind the front set.
Via de Reconciliation.  The name refers not to the sacrament but to the church and Mussilini making peace.  On Sept. 20, 1870, following a symbolic armed resistance by the papal army, Italian troops entered Rome. At this point, the rest of Italy had become Italy.  Refusing to accept that Rome was part of Italy, Pius IX withdrew to his palace and declared himself a prisoner in the Vatican, a position maintained by his successors until 1929, when Vatican City's independent sovereignty was recognized by the then Fascist Italian government in the Lateran Treaty .  Castel S'Angelo.  Ancient Rome allowed no tombs inside the city walls, so Hadrian built a giant tomb just outside the city along the Tiber.  His mausoleum was a big cylinder topped by a cypress grove and a gold statue of Hadrian himself.  From AD 139 to AD 217 emperors were buried here.  In 590, Pope Gregory converted it to a fortified palace after seeing a vision of archangel Michael sheathing his sword (a plague had just ended).  The Pope made it into a prison and palace.  Cellini, the Florentine goldsmith and sculptor defended it and was imprisoned here.  Part of the private passage connecting the Vatican to the castle. Behind the castle would also be a good picnic spot, if you could sit on the grass, which you can't.
The inside of the holy door.  It is opened only every 25 years -- those are holy years.  On Christmas of the preceding year, the Pope whacks the door with a silver hammer.  It is then opened and stays open until early January.  It was open in 2000 and just cemented over a few days ago. The baroque ceiling and dome.  The pattern on the ceiling is very much like that in the Roman Basilica Maxentius and Pantheon and the dome is slightly smaller than the Pantheon's in diameter.  This has led some to describe the design of St. Peter's as the Pantheon atop the Basilica Maxentius
Pope Gregory's grave and chapel.  It looks like a painting above the altar, but it's not.  All but one of the paintings in St. Peter's were replaced by incredibly detailed mosaics.  This is one of the mosaics. This is one of the large mosaics just beneath the dome.  "Large" means really large - Mark's pen is nine feet long.  The dome and Bernini's seven story altar canopy.  It was made from bronze removed by one of the Barberini popes from the Pantheon in the 17th Century.  To that point, the Pantheon, constructed in its current form in AD 125 , had survived until then largely intact.  The pope's depredation led Roman's to remark, "What the barbarians didn't do, the Barberini's did."  The canopies pillars are modeled after those of Solomon's Temple.  According to one of our guidebooks, the actual columns looted from Solomon's Temple are now part of the four balconies that overlook the canopy. A saint lit by the sun.  At Michelangelo's direction, St. Peter's has only one stained glass window.  This makes it lighter than other churches we've seen and makes for some dramatic moments - like this one.
The altar with Bernini's altarpiece complete with "Throne of Peter," supposedly an oak chair built for a king in medieval times, statues of four church fathers (two western and two eastern), cherubs and lots of gold clouds.  The stained glass window with the dove is the only stained glass window in St. Peter's.  Penny, our tour guide. Statue of St. Peter.  This statue was in the old St. Peter's built by Constantine.  Peter is dressed in a Roman Senator's toga, leading some to suggest that the statue was recycled by replacing the head and giving it the keys to the kingdom. A traditional form of reverence has been to kiss St. Peter's foot.  The result is amazing.
If Peter's bones are here, they are probably somewhere near here.  The church is built atop a Roman cemetary.  Though there's little conclusive evidence that Peter was buried here or even crucified in Rome, 1st Century tradition had his resting place near here.  The crew outside St. Peter's. In the upper right side, there are three lighted windows.  These are the Pope's apartments.  The rightmost is his bedroom.