The Basilica

Piazza San Pietro or St. Peters Square

You approach St. Peters on the Via Del Conciliazione which was built in 1930 by Mussolini to connect the Vatican with the rest of the city. Shops on both the right and left sides of the street were selling religious articles or books. There are also swarms of vendors selling rosaries, medallions, key chains, figurines, and anything else that might appeal to the emotions of their prospective clients.

Bernini built the colonnade sometime prior to 1667. His beautiful design represents the arms of the church reaching out to embrace humanity. The colonnade is 340Meters wide with a 240M center oval enclosed by 4 rows of 284 columns and 88 pillars. The balustrade topping the columns supports 140 statues of the saints. In the center of the oval directly down from the grand staircase are eight-meter high statues of Saints Peter and Paul. In the center of these statues is an obelisk that Caligula had brought from Egypt to Rome to decorate Nero’s Circus.

Piazza San Pietro

Pope Sixtus V had the obelisk moved here as a witness to the martyrdom of St. Peter and perhaps to indicate the triumph of the church over the degradation imposed during these early years. This huge area is where the public gathers for the Papal Audiences every Wednesday and also to hear the words of the Pope every Sunday. The colonnade is beautiful in the size, strength, and delicacy of the design and is a fantastic addition to the structure of St. Peters itself. We walked into the Piazza and looked around trying to get our bearings. The large center area was open and fairly devoid of people. There was a large fenced area which we later discovered was used for seating during the Papal Audiences ; and a long line of people on the right side of the colonnades waiting to enter something. We went to the left side of the colonnades, where there was a much shorter line. As the line moved slowly forward we looked upward at the magnificent Dome and the front of the church.

 

The Dome

The huge dome 137M (meters high) seems to cap the Basilica as a Miter or a crown, a fitting tribute to complete such an immense and imposing structure. The dome was designed by Michelangelo and was completed under the direction of Giacomo Della Porta in 1590. Eight-hundred men worked night and day for two years to complete this marvel.

The Facade

Made of travertine marble and extending 114M long by 45M high this beautiful front was designed by Carlo Moderno. At the top are thirteen six-meter statues representing “The Redeemer”, John the Baptist, and 11 of the apostles. The missing two, St. Peter and St. Paul are in the Piazza below. In the front of the Basilica are five doors, among them are: The Holy Door, The Center Door, The Door of Good and Evil, and The Door of Death.

The Interior

The huge Basilica measures 25,616 Meters square; the outside perimeter is 1,778 Meters long. It has 44 altars, 11 domes, 778 columns, 395 statues, and 135 mosaic pictures. The central nave is 187 meters long, 140 meters wide and 46 meters high. The Dome rises 137 meters into the Roman skyline.

Mark and I gravitated toward the crowds of people on the right side of the Basilica and found the famous Pieta. The Pieta is a sculpture of the Virgin Mary holding the body of her son Jesus Christ immediately after He had been taken down from the cross. Her face reflects serenity in the knowledge that her Son’s earthly battle has been completed and that He can move on to the next phase of his life accompanying His Father, God. Michelangelo created the sculpture when he was merely 24 years old. In 1972 it was damaged by a vandal who destroyed Mary’s hand and nose. It was restored and is now protected by a sheet of transparent acrylic.

Pieta

We slowly wandered around past the Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament. Bernini designed this most beautiful chapel. The sight you remember as you leave is of two beautiful gold angels inviting you to worship.

We walked past the statue of St. Peter where a long line of people were waiting to rub the toe of the statue, praying for him to open the Gates of Heaven for them when they die. Near the statue is the central and most holy area of the church. This area fittingly contains, The Baldacchino by Bernini, the Tomb of St. Peter, The Altar of Confession, and crowning it all, as a source of illumination, Michelangelo’s Dome.

In front of all of this is the Tomb of St. Peter. After Christ’s death the future and the expansion of the Catholic Church rested on Peter’s shoulders. He was the Rock and is the main reason that pilgrims visit the Basilica today. In front of the tomb 99 oil lamps burn constantly as a reminder to be faithful to Christ and St. Peter.

Bernini designed his Baldacchino when he was only 26. Can you even imagine such precocity? Four spiral columns richly trimmed in gold support this beautiful bronze canopy. The Baldacchino was started in 1624 and took 9 years to complete. It is the largest known bronze artwork. The Baldacchino covers the Altar of Confession, which is made from a single block of marble. This altar is referred to as the Main or Papal altar because this is where the Pope presides during religious services.

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Framed by the Baldachino, is the Chapel of the Cathedra featuring another fabulous creation of Bernini, the highly stylized, Chair of St. Peter. This is not a usable chair; merely a representation of what could be considered a chair suitable for someone of St. Peter’s magnificence. Topping the colossal chair is a fabulous stained glass work representing the Holy Spirit as a dove in flight.

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The Roof

We wandered around looking at the myriad of altars, mosaics, and statues wishing we had more time. We both desired to go to the top of the Dome. Reluctantly we went out the door on the right side of the Portico and saw an elevator. I paid 12,000 Lira for us to take the elevator, well worth the price for the view we would soon enjoy. Silly me, I soon learned that the elevator only took us to the roof and that the rest of the way to the dome was by stairs; not only by stairs, but extremely narrow steeply winding stairs. I decided to walk around the roof and allow Mark to fill me in on the high spots, no pun intended.

In the middle of the roof I spotted a toilet facility and a souvenir stand. Whoever heard of a toilet on the roof? I made use of the one and then visited the other. The souvenir stand was fairly small and crowded. A few nuns who were busily conversing with visitors in various tongues operated it. I picked up a small gift box adorned with one of Michelangelo’s angels and a few token key chains and walked to the edge of the roof using one of the 13 statues of the Apostles as a shield to ward off an attack of vertigo, I looked down on the Piazza and far out onto the Via Del Conciliazione. What a beautiful view, of course, it was nothing compared to the view that Mark was getting from the top of the Dome. But then I’ll let you be the judge, take a look at the postcard quality photo my private lensman shot.

Acropolis

Mark soon descended from the Dome and joined me on the roof, we walked around and took a few photos from the roof and then realized we had to move on. It was getting late and we still wanted to visit the Catacombs. We grabbed a soda and candy bar for nourishment and went to the bus stop. We waited for Bus #660, it would take us to the Via Antica Appia. This was very difficult for me; I never ride the buses at home. But there seemed to be no other way to get to the Catacombs. As an apology, let me state that the bus system in Rome is very easy to use and my reluctance was ignorance and bias on my part. After reading about the catacombs we decided to visit the Catacombs of San Callisto which seemed to be the largest.

This is an excerpt from my book “Fulfillment is a Place”, a trip taken by my son and I to fulfill my desire to travel Europe. The book is .Available through Amazon Books

 

 

History of St. Peter’s Basilica

St. Peters Basilica

History of St. Peter’s Basilica

It is said that St. Peters is the largest church in the world; I believe I have heard the same statement made about St. John the Divine in New York City. Perhaps it would be best to state that it is the largest Catholic Church in the world.

St. Peters was originally built on the grounds of a pagan cemetery next to Nero’s Circus. It was on this site that the Apostle St. Peter was crucified about 67 AD. His body was taken to the cemetery and entombed. The remains of that cemetery are still visible beneath the Basilica. Excavations that took place between 1939 and 1950 unearthed the tomb and the remains of St. Peter.

Pope Anacletus, who succeeded Peter, had a small temple built over the tomb. As you can imagine it became a place of worship for the early Christians who came here in spite of the danger of being persecuted by the Romans. The persecutions came to an end with the reign of Constantine who brought official recognition to the church through the Edict of Milan in 313.

In AD324 Constantine built a large ornate Basilica over the cemetery and part of Nero’s Circus. Extensive excavation was required to level ground, move graves, and tear down Nero’s Circus. Throughout the next few centuries the Visigoths, Vandals, Saracens, and Normans sacked the Basilica. Even though the church was being destroyed throngs of pilgrims continued to assemble for worship, after all, it was the resting-place and reliquary for St. Peter.

In 1506 Pope Julius II began the construction of a 120 years project that was to culminate in the completion of the new and existing Basilica of St. Peters. The greatest artists of this era worked toward completion of this magnificent monument to man’s faith in God. Can you imagine hiring Bramante, Raphael, Michelangelo, Fontana, Della Porta, Bernini, and Maderno? I imagine many of these superior artisans donated their time and work for the honor and glory of God.

It’s beyond understanding to think of all these legendary artists working to bring this magnificent structure into existence.

How many of you have visited St. Peter’s? Were you as impressed as I was?

Next we’ll visit the Basilica.

This is an excerpt from my book Fulfillment is a Place, a trip taken by my son and I to fulfill my desire to travel Europe. The book is .Available through Amazon Books

Pantheon and Trevi Fountain

The Pantheon was significantly built at the confluence of two small streams, the Aqua Sallustiana and the Annis Petronia. Legend stated that near this area Palus Caprae (the mythical founder of Rome) was transformed into a Hero by Mars and taken into the Heavens. In 27BC Marcus Agrippa built a temple on this site. After suffering through two fires the temple was totally rebuilt by the Emperor Hadrian. You remember Hadrian don’t you? This is the same Hadrian who built the monuments in Athens. He really got around! When the temple was rebuilt Hadrian gave Agrippa written credit for the structure. The temple was dedicated as the Pantheon (Pan means All and Theo means God, therefore dedicated to all the Gods).

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The front of the temple is a large columned square with six steps leading to the portico. As you go through the portico you enter the Great Hall itself. A huge dome shaped like a half-sphere tops the Hall. The dome has a radius and a height of 21 meters and was made from poured concrete. How did they ever get a cement mixer that high? It seems that I read somewhere that huge mounds of earth were packed around the top of the structure and the concrete was poured down into the forms. This dome stands today as an architectural miracle and was the model for the Jefferson Memorial and the dome at the top of St. Peters. Over the years the Pantheon has been restored several times. In AD202 Septimus Severus and Caracalla did a restoration. In AD608 the Emperor Foca gave the temple to Pope Boniface IV who dedicated it as a church to St. Mary of the Martyrs. Fifty years later Emperor Constantine stripped the dome of its beautiful bronze panels and left it up to Pope Gregorius III to replace the missing panels with lead sheeting. Pope Pius IX also did some major restoration in 1857. As previously mentioned the Great Hall is a large open circle with seven chapels and eight tabernacles surrounding the walls. These tabernacles presently house the bodies of King Umberto I, Victor Emanuel II, and that most famous of artists, Raphael.

Trevi Fountain

Built by Nicolo Salvi in 1762 under commission of Clement XII, the Trevi Fountain is based on a design by Bernini. The water flows into the fountain from the ancient Aqua Vergine aqueduct. This also supplies water to the fountains in the Piazza Navona and the Piazza di Spagna. You may wonder what a Trevi is? Legend states that the fountain is named after a young maiden who directed the Roman soldiers to the original spring where they might drink. She is depicted in one of the bas-reliefs above the fountain. image020 The huge fountain is 26 meters wide by 20 meters high. It depicts two large Tritons (Mermen) pulling a seashell serving as Neptune’s chariot. Legend states that anyone throwing a coin into the fountain will return to Rome. I can assuredly state that this works since I returned to Rome with my wife (yes, the same wife that would not go with me on this trip, but that’s another story) in the Fall of 1999. The next stop is The Vatican. Hope to see you there.

This is an excerpt from my book Fulfillment is a Place, a trip taken by my son and I to fulfill my desire to travel Europe. The book is .Available through Amazon Books

 

Roman Antiquities

The next day was spent visiting antiquities:

The Colosseum:

This immense amphitheater was built by the Emperor Vespasian to immortalize his family name. The Colosseum took 8 years to build and was inaugurated in AD80 by Vespasian’s son Titus. Ancient documents state that the Colosseum would seat 87,000 people, it is commonly believed that 50,000 is a more likely number. It stands 165 feet tall and is built as an ellipse with axes 610 feet by 515. The Colosseum is three stories tall with eighty arches around the perimeter in each story. There was a cover called a velarium that could be pulled into place and provided shade for the spectators on sunny days. The floor of the structure was wood and below the surface were cells and holding pens used to house the human and animal combatants before the battles. Acropolis

The Roman Forum

Once the center of commerce and activity for the ancient Romans, the site of the Senate House, the meeting place for the decision-makers and ruling body of the citizens of Rome. It was also the site of many temples and monuments to the power and grandeur that once was Rome, however only the faintest vestige remains of these once enormous edifices, much of the stone has been either taken by collectors (don’t try to take any) or reused in other buildings

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We headed down the Via del Corso toward what seemed ,to be a huge block of marble surrounded by a traffic circle. This enormous monument gleaming whitely and topped by its twin charioteers, appropriately named “the Wedding Cake”, was built in 1885 to commemorate the unification of Italy. The monument houses the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier as well as a museum. I can’t begin to communicate the feelings that this monument inspires in me. It is so wide, and so tall, and so white, and so imposing that it insinuates itself into many vistas of the city. For example, as you look out over the Roman Forum from the Arch of Titus, you can see the twin charioteers looking down protectively.

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The Coliseum and the Forum were exactly what I had expected. I was blown away by the Memorial to Victor Emmanuel.

Were any of you surprised by this monument?

This is an excerpt from my book Fulfillment is a Place, a trip taken by my son and I to fulfill my desire to travel Europe. The book is Available through Amazon Books

Rome

 

We enjoyed cruising the Mediterranean and visiting the islands of Poros, Hydra, and Aegina.

Acropolis

By the time we got to Poros my face was really sunburned. With my fair complexion I had to get a cap to shield me.

Actually, I was in search of protection from the sun. My face was starting to redden and I could feel my forehead burning. I searched the many souvenir shops for The Cap. It had to be the perfect cap, one that fit both my demeanor and me. It must be a cap with attitude that shouted to on-comers as it approached them. I finally found it, it was bright, it was my favorite shade of yellow, and it had emblazoned across the front where everyone could see it, POROS.

I wore The Cap proudly. It was my badge; it stated that I had been to Greece. When Mark rejoined me and saw The Cap He merely smiled, murmured something unintelligible, and humored me.      image009

The next day we departed for Rome.

Rome

The train station in Rome Stazione Terminin Roma was huge. On the wall of the main concourse was a map listing all services available and their location. On the first floor was a bar and restaurant. On the lower level were more conveniences, a barbershop, hairdresser, showers, and a lounge. ATM’s and money exchange stations were readily accessible.

We stopped at the Information Center to get a city map and directions to our hotel, The San Remo. I would recommend the San Remo to anyone visiting Rome. It was near the train station, subway, and St. Mary Major Cathedral.

This is an excerpt from my book Fulfillment is a Place, a trip taken by my son and I to fulfill my desire to travel Europe. The book is .Available through Amazon Books