Basilica San Pietro

Once you exit the Sistine Chapel, and you have chosen the right door, you can go directly to St. Peter’s Basilica without getting in line again. St. Peter’s Church is surely the richest and grandest in all of Christendom. As Rick Steves says, to call it vast is like calling Einstein smart.

ImageThis was my first glimpse of the dome from down the street the other day in the rain.

ImageAnd here is a photo I found of the inside during a special mass. There’s really no way to describe the opulence of this structure. You just have to see it and stand in awe of the incredible art and wealth in one place.

To the right of the entrance, behind bullet-proof glass is Michelangelo’s Pieta, which he sculpted at age 24. (A pieta is a work that shows Mary with the body of Christ taken down from his torture stake.) Michelangelo’s brilliance still shines in this powerful masterpiece. Jesus’ is accurately depicted as dead with rigor mortis setting in – which Michel had learned from studying cadavers. Mary is over-sized in proportion to her son to symbolize her eternal love and faithfulness, She has a youthful glow that belies her age.

ImageOver the main altar, where only the Pope can celebrate mass, is Bernini’s 7-story tall bronze canopy.

ImageImageAfter all this splendor, you exit back out the facade and into the famous St. Peter’s Square. But as you come down the front steps, there is a gate to Vatican City on the right, which means a couple of Swiss guards are posted there.

The role of the Swiss Guard is largely ceremonial but they are a trained security force and the official army of Vatican City. Each guard must be a single male with Swiss citizenship between the ages of 19 and 30. Each must be at least 5’8″ tall and have completed basic training with the Swiss military.

Each guard goes through a ceremony to pledge his allegiance to the pope. He receives a personally tailored uniform consisting of 154 pieces, constructed by the Vatican tailor. And no, Michelangelo did not design their outfits.

ImageSo on out into the massive St. Peter’s Square. This monumental space was designed by Bernini as well (seems he’s all over Rome!) to hold the masses of people who would flock there for ceremonies and blessings from the Pope. It’s a huge elliptical shape enclosed by 284 Doric columns four rows deep. Thankfully it was pretty sparse when I left the Basilica late in the afternoon. Not to be disrespectful, but that area would hold way too much of a crowd for me!

But it is really a privilege to see these magnificent landmarks. Now when I see them on the news or in a book or magazine, I have a personal reference. I’ve been there, I’ve walked on that ground and I experienced a little of the glorious history they represent.

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Ellyn
    Nov 03, 2012 @ 19:22:44

    You’ve inspired me to reread The Agony and the Ecstasy!


    • thesketchylife
      Nov 04, 2012 @ 02:01:21

      That sounds like a great idea – I can’t recall reading it myself. And then we can watch the movie with Charlton Heston!


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