Friday, June 26, 2009

Rome V: The Vatican

Do you think less of me when I say that I had been dreading visiting the Vatican? My guidebooks and my friends who have been there warned of long lines and an intense, sweaty crush, and so it proved to be. Actually, the line to get in wasn’t too bad. I never got around to ordering tickets in advance, and was prepared to wait for hours but the line moved forward smartly. We probably waited half an hour. There was mass confusion once we passed through the turnstiles and we followed the path of least resistance to the right, to a side gallery of Medieval Christian art. This was relatively empty and I wondered what I had been worried about. “This isn’t bad at all,” I remarked to Jon and the kids, several times, no doubt because I am prone to repeating myself. But when we’d been funneled back to the exit without seeing the Sistine Chapel, I realized we’d made a wrong turn.

We had no choice but to turn left and soon we were caught in a sweaty tide of humanity, moving as inexorably toward the Sistine Chapel as lava flows down a volcano. Everywhere was art: paintings, sculptures, frescoes, carvings, but you could hardly pause to look at any of it because of the crowd surrounding you and pushing you forward. Not only that, Mr. McP grumbled constantly. He didn’t like being jostled, he didn’t like the crowd, he was hungry, he wanted to sit down, he wanted to go home. I sympathized, but there was nothing I could do for him—a fact he refused to recognize. I admit I had strong desire to throttle him. And only the day before I had been so thankful that he hadn’t cracked a vertebra!

At last, the Sistine Chapel. I had been expecting something glorious and light-filled. Something to make the sweaty pushing and jostling worthwhile. It was like a gloomy cattle car. I tried to look at Michelangelo’s paintings, and appreciate them, but it was impossible, what with the pushing and shoving, the braying of the crowd, the flashbulbs popping everywhere. (Flash photography is forbidden, but nobody seems to respect this rule. A guard told Jon it was OK to take photos without flash, but our camera’s battery died before we’d seen much of the collection.)

Rome for Dummies says not to even think about seeing St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Museums in the same day. We did think about it, but decided we were too exhausted, even after a lunch break in a restaurant near the museums. I suppose we will return tomorrow. I want to climb to the top of the dome, and there didn’t seem to be much point in attempting it with a camera that didn’t work.
After a rest at home, Drama Queen and I explored the Basilica of St. Cecelia, which is in Trastevere, a five-minute walk from our house. It’s a pretty church with gloriously fragile frescoes covering the walls. Its best feature is the sculpture of St. Cecelia. Her body was discovered in the catacombs of San Callisto, but was moved to this spot because the basilica had been built over her house and the spot where she’d been martyred. Her body was intact and the sculptor used it as a model for the sculpture. It depicts the position of her body when it was found, and it’s arrestingly beautiful. For a small fee you can visit the excavations under the church which include what is supposed to be the remains of St. Cecelia’s house. Drama Queen and I were the only people down there, which was slightly creepy, particularly when we explored a side tunnel, which branched into two smaller, pitch-black tunnels. I peeked down them and was instantly reminded of one of my all-time worst nightmares. I couldn’t get away from that tunnel fast enough! At the very end of the excavations is a surprise: a tiny, perfect chapel. It seemed completely out of place among the rough ruins, but there was no information posted about it, and the nun who sold tickets spoke only Italian, so the chapel remains a mystery.

St. Cecelia

1 comment:

  1. See, you should have bought the Vatican tickets. Now you'll think twice before ignoring my advice. :) I loved all the Saints strewn aroung Italy. Have you seen any sacred body parts yet (e.g., mummified hearts, shriveled thumbs, eyelashes of the most holy of holies)?

    The Secular Lifeguide.