Monday, October 10, 2011

The Religious Must-Sees of Vatican City & Rome

Sunset over the Tiber River, with St. Peter's in the background

It was roundabout 4 p.m., about a bazillion degrees, and Paul was accusing me of skipping lunch on purpose.

We were hot and irritable and hardly in the right state of mind as we walked along the Tiber River toward Vatican City and St. Peter's Basilica.

I wasn't skipping lunch on purpose, but he had a point. Throughout vacation I had a habit of putting a much higher priority on sightseeing than, well, eating. This didn't go over well with Paul, whose vacation highlights generally revolve around meals. Good thing, too -- I probably wouldn't have gotten the few veggies I did during those two weeks without his prompting.

In any case, we actually did have a schedule to keep. We had tickets for the Vatican Museum that night, and it was imperative that we see St. Peter's beforehand. I wasn't going to walk there again, but I also wasn't going to miss seeing what's only the most important church in Catholicism.

St. Peter's Square

St. Peter's Basilica

We got to Vatican City in plenty of time and were in more godly states of mind after a piece of pizza. Surprisingly, however, I was more impressed standing outside in St. Peter's Square than wandering around inside the basilica.After all, a picture of the square was the image that's been in my head for the last 30 years.

Inside St. Peter's Basilica

Swiss Guards outside St. Peter's Basilica

I hate to say this, but I think I was also on church overload. It was literally impossible to walk more than two or three blocks without passing a church, and a good number of them had at least one noteworthy piece of artwork in it. We traipsed from church to church, checking off this Caravaggio or that Michelangelo. It sounds cool in writing; it's less cool when you see so much in such a short amount of time that 12 hours later you can't remember what you actually saw.

Luckily, a few things did stick out. St. Peter's, of course, and the Vatican Museum, which ended up being one of our favorite stops in Rome. The Sistine Chapel is, in fact, unforgettable.Santa Maria in Trastevere had perhaps the most beautiful interior of any church I've ever seen. And Scala Santa holds what supposedly are the steps Jesus climbed during the Passion, transported to Rome some 1,700 years ago and now covered in wood. Pilgrims climb the steps on their knees.

Vatican Museums

Spiral ramp at the Vatican Museums

Santa Maria in Trastevere

Scala Santa

No matter your religion or lack thereof, you can't leave Rome without imbibing the importance that the church plays in the city. We didn't attend one mass that entire weekend we were in Rome, but we spent more time in churches than we ever have in our entire lives.

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