Thursday, April 03, 2014

Today: Vatican Museum, Sistine Chapel

After spending my morning trying to fix my airplane ticket problem, I headed down, after lunch, to the Vatican.

The other priests and I were headed to the Vatican Museum; but on the way, we wanted to get a glimpse of Queen Elizabeth, who was scheduled for a visit with the Holy Father.

So, we were hunting around for a good spot from which to gawk.

Before I joined up with the other guys, I noticed a group of journalists at one gate, and I wondered if they knew anything. "She's coming through the square," a British fellow said.

So I walked around (and met my friends along the way).

"Not here," said the Carabineri.

"Prego, con su permisso," shooed the polizei.

"Put down your #$%@! iPad!" said the irritated journalist with a camera.

We waited and waited. Our tour of the museum was slated for 3 pm; but that came and went. Around 3:15, the entourage finally showed up:

You want a shot of the Queen's car? Silly reader! I missed that shot! Anyway, you know what she looks like.

So next we motored over to the Vatican Museum, where we met our guide, Dr. Elizabeth Lev. First she wanted to show us sarcophagi -- i.e., stone coffins. Why? Because, she explained, these show us some of the oldest Christian art. Here's one she was really excited about: it shows Jonah being tossed to the fish, and later coming back to the living. Jonah, she explained, is a major motif in early Christian art, as a sign of the Resurrection; a sign the Lord himself pointed to.

This statue was once part of a sarcophagus, and it's one of the oldest representations of our Lord -- in this case as the Good Shepherd. She pointed out that Roman Christians would show our Lord in a youthful pose because that's how you showed divinity.

Here is Dr. Lev enthusiastically describing how important this statue -- of Laocoon, a character from the story of Troy's destruction -- to the development of Christian art. She had just shown us a statue of Apollos, which portrayed the god in the manner Romans would have deemed most appropriate: perfection in body, yet his muscles relaxed, no stress; his gaze averted, and his space separated from ours.

Here, she explained, Laocoon is deeply distressed, facing death; his body is straining and his muscles are stressed. She told the story of how Michelangelo wanted to see this statue when he came to Rome -- he'd heard about it -- yet it had long ago gone missing. Then it was found, buried in a field, and he was there when it we rescued, and brought to the Vatican. And she pointed out how elements of this statue would influence how Michelangelo would depict God almighty in his work in the Sistine Chapel. She pointed out other statues that she believed were influential in other ways.

Here's a lovely room just before the Sistine Chapel. It commemorates Pius IX declaring the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of our Lady.

Sorry, no pictures of the Sistine Chapel itself. Not allowed! But happily, it wasn't crowded as it has been when I came before, and we were actually able to sit; which is ideal, because then we could really look up. It was marvelous just to gaze at what is one of the most exquisite works of art ever.  I sat there as long as I could, until the guides started shooing us out.

After this, several of the priests and I found a restaurant nearby and got something cold to drink, and two of us ended up staying to eat dinner. I got back about 2 hours ago, and had the joy of returning to my airplane ticket problem.

Just before I started this post, after 3-plus hours on the phone (from Rome to Chicago, at my expense), problem solved. None of which should have been necessary; Orbitz is still evil.

But it was another splendid day, thank you Lord! Soon we wrap up in Rome, and then spend several days in Assisi. Then home next Thursday!


Jennifer said...

Wow, Assisi! I have always wanted to go there. St. Francis and St. Clare were always so inspirational to me. I hope you and your brother priests really enjoy yourselves. :)

ndspinelli said...

We hired a private tour guide for the Vatican. She had a Masters Degree in art and was worth every penny[$125].

Patrick said...

I've enjoied following your journeys. In my days living in Rome 15 years ago, I recall a most wonderful gelato shop called Old Bridge not far from the entrance to the Vatican museums. If you have the time and interest, stop by and try it again...see if it still holds true.

Fr Martin Fox said...


Ah, I didn't see this in time. Plus, since it's Lent, I've been cutting back on sweets. But I'm sure it was good; gelato always seems to be good in Rome!