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Travel Log
The Vatican
I have been putting off doing this page because the Vatican is so overwhelming! The outside is impressive, but when you walk inside you are just absolutely knocked over by the size, the beauty and the massive amount of art, and this is literally within the first 4 or 5 steps in the door.

The place is HUGE! Unbelievably huge! The next impression is that there is not one inch that is not covered with incredible art, marble, stone or stained glass. This includes ceilings, walls and floors. Not one inch!

Pope Paul III

After you catch your breath you just start walking to the beautiful baldachin which is over St. Peters tomb, then you see the main alter. At that point you don't know which way to turn because you are surrounded by beauty you had no idea could be in one location. No matter what religion you practice, your are humbled by this place of worship.

The Vatican is a three day visit just to put a dent in the things to see. So wear great walking shoes, bring lots of film or batteries for the electronic cameras, and paper to take notes. I will give you the very, very short version of the history. So here goes:

As I said in the catacombs story, the first basilica built here was the Constantinian Basilica in 318 AD. Later to be called St. Peter's Basilica. Pictured is a column from the Constantinian Basilica.
The walls surrounding the Vatican property were built by Pope Leo IV in 847 to 855 after the basilica was ravaged by the Saracens in 846 AD.
In the 1470's Pope Sixtus IV started building a new chapel, later to be called the Sistine Chapel where Michelangelo's masterpiece, Creation of Adam, is on the ceiling. (More about the Sistine Chapel later.)

On April 18, 1506 the building of the current St. Peter's Basilica was started on the orders of Pope Julius II because of the deteriorating state of the old basilica. The building continued until 1513 when the Pope died. Nothing happened until 1547 when Pope Paul III asked Michelangelo to draw up new plans for the basilica. The definitive design was that the new basilica be in the form of a Greek cross, with a nave and four aisles, and the focal point would be the dome which would rise 394 feet over the tomb of Peter. Although Michelangelo died in 1564 the work continued on. Pope Paul V had changed the shape of the basilica into the shape of the Latin cross and three chapels were added to each side. The result was the biggest church of Christianity, consecrated by Pope Urban VII on November 18, 1626, one thousand three hundred years after the first consecration.

The interior decoration was provided by Bernini, in the Baroque style (highly ornate and complex).

St. Peter's is 565 feet long, 180 feet wide across the aisles, and 420 feet at the transept (the arms of the cross shape) and the nave (the central part of a church) is 150 feet high. The copula (dome) is 394 feet high! This is one huge building!

Michelangelo's "Pieta" is in the first chapel on the right. He did this in 1499 when he was only 24 years old. It is the only work he every put his name on. The subject is Madonna cradling the dead Christ's limp body.

The famous statue of St. Peter by Arnolfo di Cambio from the 13th century is a main stopping point. Everybody rubs the right foot for blessings, some also rub the left.

You can see the wear from the hundreds of years this has been happening. People line up to do this.

The papal alter in the middle of the church, is topped by the famous gilded bronze baldachin (an ornate canopy supported by columns), designed by Bernini between 1624 and 1632. The bronze used for the baldachin probably comes from the Pantheon's dome.

The canopy is crowned with an orb of gilded bronze.

It stands 90 feet high and was commissioned by Pope Urban VII Barberini to fill the empty space below the cupola and create upward movement. Mission accomplished!

The baldachin has four colossal, spiraling columns, splendidly fluted and decorated with olive and laurel branches.

A gold dove inside the canopy represents the Holy Spirit. Below the structure is the Tomb of St. Peter.

Soaring above the baldachin is the majestic cupola with paintings by 16th century painter, Cavalier d'Arpino.

Along the base is the gold inscription in Latin, "You are Peter and on the rock I will build my Church, and I will give you heaven."

The Monument to Pope Clement XIII is in the right transept. It was build by Antoni Canova, a neo-classical sculpture in 1784. It consists of Clement at the top above the sarcophagus, flanked by two figures: Religion, on the left, with a cross in her hand and the Spirit of Death on the right, putting out the fire of life. Two lions watch over the tomb.

Where the transept and nave meet there are four large statues which embody crucial moments of Christ's Passion. They are St. Longinus, the soldier who pierced Christ's side with a spear and later converted to Christianity. St. Helen, mother of the Emperor Constantine, who brought the cross and nails of Christ's martyrdom to Rome. St. Veronica, who wiped Christ's brow with a cloth on the road to Calvary. And St. Andrew (pictured), Peter's brother, who was crucified in Greece on a cross with four equal arms.

The Cattedra of St. Peter is one of Bernini's masterpieces finished in 1666 by the orders of Alexander VII.

The first thing you see, even from the back of the basilica, is the oval window, shielded by a thin layer of alabaster, with a dove in the middle. The dove symbolizes the Holy Spirit surrounded by 12 rays symbolizing the apostles. There is a cloud of angels and rays of light surrounding the window.

Inside the Cattedra is a wooden chair covered in bronze, supposedly used by Peter, but was actually a gift from Charles the Bald to the pope in 875. Below the chair is St. Ambrose and St. Augustine, fathers of the Latin Church, and St. Athanasius with St. John Chrysostom, fathers of the Greek Church.

One of the most amazing sculptures is Bernini's Monument to Alexander VII. It is in the left transept. Bernini did this when he was eighty years old, and it is his last work. Pope Alexander VII is at the top.

On the bottom is a skeleton lifting a fold of the red drapery and holding an hourglass representing the passage of time. Religion is on the right, with her foot on a globe showing England. This represents Pope Alexander III's vain attempt to end conflict with the Anglican Church. Madonna and Jesus are on the left. The marble in this piece is absolutely beautiful!
There are numerous smaller domes other than the main cupola. Shown are only two.

The Vatican Grottoes

Just below the church and above Constantine's 4th century basilica, are the Grottoes. They contain chapels dedicated to various saints and tombs of kings, queens and popes from the 10th century onwards.

The tombs of John XXIII (1963) and Pope Paul VI (1978) are also here, although not in view.

This is representative of where John Paull II (2005) was placed. Please remember his motto;"Do not be afraid." Enjoy your spirituality and life.

Thank you to all of the visitors because of the passing of John Paull II. If you have a chance, please drop me a note to say what city and country you are from.

Thank you!

The Cupola

Right after Sharon and I completed our tour of the Catacombs, we found ourselves in line for what turned out to be the Cupola. (Pay the extra 2 Euro for the elevator ride!). First we took the elevator and then walked up a very large circular ramp to find ourselves about 300 feet high inside the dome! It was amazing. I had been there for three days and never saw people when I looked up! Its inner diameter is 129 feet and is 411 feet high from the base to the top of the cross.

Every view was spectacular! In addition to the paintings there were mosaics everywhere you looked.

After taking a zillion, (yes, with a z) pictures we found out we could still go higher. We walked outside for a great view.

Then we walked up 320 very small steep steps.

Some were circular.

To find ourselves about 30 feet from the top of the outside of the cupola! What a trip!

You can see people almost at the top, this is where we were.

We saw the gardens of The Vatican City.

And the city of Rome! Great view.

So, within a few hours we went from more than three stories below the Basilica to 30 feet from the top! Amazing!

The cupola has been used as a model for many other domes throughout the world, including the Capital in Washington, D.C. (1794-1817).

The Facade

Designed by Carlo Maderno, it was completed in 1612.

There are two bell-towers on either side, one with a clock, one with a bell.

At the top are statues which are nearly 18 feet high.

The Piazza

Bernini's square was built between 1656 and 1667. It is 720 feet at it's widest point. Its length is 1,020 feet, which explains how thousands of people can fit in it.

The portico has 284 columns, set out in rows of four, and each column is 45 feet high. Along the top there are 140 statues of saints, each 10 feet high.

An obelisk (a tapering stone pillar of square or rectangular cross section, set up as a monument or landmark) in the center of the square also functions as a sundial. It used to be located in Nero's circus then Pope Sixtus V had it moved to St. Peter's in 1585.

The Vatican City

The Vatican City is the smallest country in the world. The state was founded in February 1929 by a treaty with the Italian Government, later revised in 1984, called the Lateran Treaty

Security is provided for by the Swiss Guards, a corps founded in 1506. Its men, numbering less than 100 presently, wear a uniform that was supposedly designed by Michelangelo. They are all of Swiss nationality and offer their services to the Vatican for brief periods of time.

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