Monday, September 1, 2008

Sunday: St. Peter’s again

After a long night’s sleep (11 hours!) I feel I am recovering from the last two weeks. At breakfast, I discovered that there are several other Australians in the hotel who are here for the conference I will be attending. One New Zealander is a student of Tracey Rowland’s, who will be supervising my degree next year. I immediately started to feel more at home.

Fortified by breakfast I decide to set off for St. Peter’s again. It’s cooler this morning, so the walk is more pleasant. I enter the Square again, this time taking my time. I took a panoramic shot of the Square from the right of the entrance:
The columns of the square are three deep, supporting a massive roof topped by terracotta tiles. In the center of the Square is mounted an obelisk brought to Rome by the Emperor Caligula and used as the finishing line of the Roman race track which once existed near here. The re-use of the obelisk expresses the triumph of the Church over pagan Rome.

Entering the basilica again, I got one of the audio devices to explain the various works of art and the building. But before using it, I moved directly to the front of the church, where a crowd was gathering for the celebration of the 10:30am Mass. The mass area, which had been open on Saturday, was closed to tourists on Sunday. “Attending Mass only!”

Well, what’s the point of being a member of a club if you don’t use the privileges once in a while? In I went, behind the High Altar and canopy, and below of the stained glass picture of the descent of the Holy Spirit. Directly beneath the glass is a sculpture of the Chair of Peter, indicated by the surmounted Papal crown. The sculpture contains a relic, an old wooden chair that is, by tradition, the original chair of Peter. Testing has shown it dates back to the early Church. Sorry about the quality of the photos; it's very hard to get good shots in the dark! I'll get a book with some better ones later.

The procession included two cardinals, about ten bishops and eighteen priests, and eleven altar servers. Only the second reading was in English, and the first reading and sermon were in Italian. Everything else was in Latin. They handed out Mass books that covered Italian, Spanish and English, but they weren’t much use for a Latin Mass (though they would have been really useful in the past two weeks). Once you realise you aren’t going to understand a word, you just have to enjoy the service and go along for the ride, looking at the altar and the amazing decorations.

After an hour and a half of chant, Latin and incense, the Mass finished. I turned to the American next to me and said: “That was intense”.

After Mass I took the guided audio tour of the basilica. It makes much more sense when explained. The most famous Popes of the twentieth century lie in state, including John XXIII and Benedict XV. There are many areas devoted to major events in the life of Christ and the life of the Church. Here is a shot of a list of all the Popes starting from St Peter himself.
The papal altar is the centre of the whole Basilica. There are two older altars buried underneath this one, and under that, the tomb of Peter himself.
Something important also occurred to me as I walked around the basilica. Your first impression is of power. The basilica was designed to emphasise Papal authority, and it achieves that. But another element starts to emerge: the element of play. For example, I’m not sure what these ladies are doing, but they seem to be enjoying themselves.

I visited another couple of Baroque churches nearby, just to see how they look, but it’s impossible to top St. Peter’s. The Vatican Museum’s are closed this afternoon (Sunday), so I head back to the hotel for dinner.


Rick Hayes said...

Keep them coming Hughie! Great stuff and very much enjoy the commentary. I had to go a time or to to take it all in and I'd go back in a minute. Did you go to confession in the bank of confessionals? Hmmmm...perhaps that is not an appropriate question.

Anonymous said...

Look at all the names of those Pope's in marble. Obviously the apocalypse will begin before we run out of marble...