Tuesday, June 24, 2014

138. ... all roads lead to Rome ...

And after a super ride in a super fast train ( 250kph ) and 90 minutes after leaving Florence, Trenitalia have delivered me safe and sound here to Rome - the Eternal City - the City of God - for another serving of adventures ...

 Home for the next six weeks - 
fourth floor - no elevator thank you ... !!! ...

 ... but just look at my view -
St Peters an easy 10 minute walk down the street ...

. and so what better place to start my  Roman Adventure, than a visit to the Basilica of Saint Peter

Knowing the habits of tourists around the world and their - not mine - love of standing in long queues for hours on end to get to see important sites, I set out at 7am and get straight through security and into this magnificent church. At this time of day the place was very quiet with only a handful of tourists, which made the whole experience so much more meaningful.

The central dome dominates the skyline of Rome.  
This impressive Late Renaissance church – located within Vatican City – probably holds quite a unique position in the Christian world as the greatest of all churches. It is – by catholic tradition – the burial site of its namesake, Saint Peter – one of the twelve apostles of Jesus and the first Pope and Bishop of Rome. Tradition and strong historical evidence hold that Saint Peter’s tomb is directly below the central altar of the Basilica. For this reason, many Popes have been interred at St. Peter's since the Early Christian period. 

 The Basilica is approached via St Peter’s Square -
 - a forecourt in two sections, both surrounded by tall colonnades. 

 In the centre of the Piazza di San Pietro
- and dwarfing the good sister on her errand -
is the 40m high obelisk - said to have been removed from Egypt in 37AD
There has been a church on this site since the time of the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great, but construction of the present Basilica - replacing the old St Peter’s Basilica of the 4th century AD - began on 18 April 1506 and was completed on 18 November 1626.

As a work of architecture, it is regarded as the greatest building of its age, and is one of the four churches of Rome that hold the rank of a major basilica. Contrary to popular misconception though it is not a cathedral as it is not the seat of a bishop.


St Peter's Basilica is neither the Pope's official seat nor first in rank among the Major Basilicas of Rome. This honour is held by the Pope's cathedral, the Archbasilica of St John Lateran ( and I’ll blog about her a bit later on as she too is a rather grand vision … ). However, St. Peter's is most certainly the Pope's principal church, as most Papal ceremonies take place there due to its size, proximity to the Papal residence, and location within the Vatican City walls.

 ... an impressive front door ...


The interior is vast in area and dimensions when compared with other grand churches I have visited on my wanderings. The church covers an area of 2.3 hectares … !!! ...  Inside – and also out in the Square – people seem to shrink in size as they are dwarfed by the almost overwhelming scale of everything associated with this building … 

 Pieta - Michelangelo
Unfortunately behind security glass and 10m from viewing barrier

Cherub Holy Water Fonts - Giuseppe Lironi

St Peter's Basilica is a "working church", and masses are held throughout each day at the many side chapels. At this early time of the morning all the chapels were in use and many were conducting mass in languages other than Italian - including American ( English ).  

 At the heart of the Basilica is The Papal Altar 
with Gian Bernini's baldacchino ( canopy )


   Bernini's Cathedra Petri ( Throne of Saint Peter )
To the side of the Papal Altar two curving marble staircases lead to the underground chapel and Grotto at the level of the Constantinian church and immediately above the burial place of Saint Peter. No photographing permitted ...

( Having just read Dan Brown's Angels and Demons - I was particularly excited to descend into the Grotto - but alas I think he uses quite a bit of writers' imagination when describing the area ... !!! ... ).

 Around the inside of the dome is written, in letters 2 metres high: 
( ... you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church ... I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven ... as spoken by Jesus to Peter - Matthew 16 )

 Saint Helena - Andrea Bolgi

The entire interior of St. Peter's is lavishly decorated with mind-boggling marble statuary, reliefs, architectural sculptures, gilding and 10,000 squares meters of mosaics. There are also a number of sculptures in niches and chapels, including Michelangelo’s Pieta at the front entrance – now unfortunately shielded behind a thick pane of glass and some 10m or so away from a barrier keeping eager visitors at bay. 



One observer wrote: "St Peter's Basilica is the reason why Rome is still the center of the civilized world. For religious, historical, and architectural reasons it by itself justifies a journey to Rome, and its interior offers a palimpsest of artistic styles at their best...".] 


Saint Elijah - Agostino Cornacchini


The Tomb of Alexander VII - Gian Bernini

Saint Veronica - Francesco Mochi

Crepuscular rays are regularly seen in the Basilica 
at certain times each day ... this was my 9am vision ... !!!

Saint Longinus - Gian Bernini

After the crucifixion of Jesus in the second quarter of the 1st century AD, it is recorded in the Biblical book of the Acts of the Apostles that one of his twelve disciples, Simon known as Peter, a fisherman from Galilee, took a leadership position among Jesus' followers and was of great importance in the founding of the Christian Church. The name Peter is "Petrus" in Latin and "Petros" in Greek, deriving from "petra" which means "stone" or "rock" in Greek. 

It is believed by a long tradition that Peter, after a ministry of about thirty years, travelled to Rome and met his martyrdom there in the year 64 AD during the reign of the Roman Emperor Nero. His execution was one of the many martyrdoms of Christians following the Great Fire of Rome. 

It is traditional belief that Peter was crucified head downwards, by his own request because he considered himself unworthy to die in the same manner as Jesus. Although the New Testament does not mention Peter's martyrdom in Rome, Catholic tradition holds that his tomb is below the central altar; for this reason, many Popes have, from the early years of the Church, been buried there. 

Even sculptures in Saint Peters have to be steam cleaned ...

Portico and those tourists have started to arrive ...

And so after a couple of hours of jaw-dropping sight-seeing it was time for this wanderer to leave the church and head for his morning shot of caffeine - and also the place was starting to fill up with hundreds of pesky noisy irreverent tourists ... !!! ...

The famous balcony -
but no pontiff in sight today ...

The ever faithful Swiss Guards ...

And by late morning this was the end of the queue
to get in through that tiny door way way way down there ...

Amen ...