Monday, March 06, 2006

Rome, Italy: Part II

When Teri and I went on our vacation to Rome and Florence, Italy we had an incredible time. We saw so many amazing things. In my last entry about Italy I described in detail what it was like to go through the Necropolis under St. Peter’s Basilica, but in this entry I will briefly hit the rest of our time in Rome. After all, you can pretty much look up photos of all the rest of these sites on the internet. You just can’t find much on the Necropolis though.

It’s worth mentioning, before I go much further, that we met some extraordinary mission workers for the PC(USA) in Rome. One of the first questions I asked them was, “What can Protestant missionaries possible hope to accomplish in a predominately Roman Catholic country?” It turns out Terry and Michele had lived in Italy for several years working with their partner organization, The Waldensian Church. The Waldensian church is effectively the first protestant church. It was formed hundreds of years before Martin Luther nailed his theses to a church door in Wittenberg, Germany. Terry has been working in conjunction with the Waldensian Church to bring youth from both Palestine and Israel out of their contexts to meet each other, hopefully to put a face to the “enemy” and end the cycle of violence. They are doing this in an attempt to prevent another generation of kids from growing up hating each other. Michele worked part time with Terry and went to college. They were extremely hospitable, and Terry even gave us a guided tour of St. Peter’s Basilica.

As it turns out, Victor Makari was in Rome at the same time Teri and I were there. Victor Makari is the PC(USA) missions coordinator for Europe and the Middle East, so we see him in Dawson Hall from time to time. In this case, Victor was visiting Terry and Michele to facilitate their move to Jerusalem where they will begin a new missions post under the PC(USA). Interestingly, this leaves a vacancy in Italy… one Victor strongly hinted that Teri and I should look into. After visiting Rome, I can’t say I’m not interested.

Teri and I went to the amazing Vatican Museums and saw works of art I had only dreamed about seeing. Room after room was filled with ancient Roman sculptures, and Renaissance paintings and sculpture. Flip open any art history book and you will find hundreds of examples of art from the Vatican Museums.

I fell in love with the Sistine Chapel in college and marveled at seeing the actual building. I still can’t believe that my eyes have actually gazed upon Michelangelo’s famous ceiling and his Last Judgment, which was painted on the end wall. I stood there in silence for nearly forty minutes, just awestruck.

Another masterpiece I was happy to see was the School of Athens by Raphael, which you can see photos of on my photos page. It was a gigantic fresco. I think that’s when it really hit me. Much of the art in the Vatican Museums are frescoes. That means they are painted directly on the walls and can’t be moved. The Vatican Museums are works of art in and of themselves. They contain artwork that can’t ever be viewed anywhere else in the world.

We met up with Terry later and took a tour of St. Peter’s Basilica where he showed us an unflattering sculpture of Martin Luther being stepped on by Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuit Order. He showed us another sculpture by Bernini that showed Truth personified with her foot resting on the globe. It just so happened that her foot was resting on England. The sculpture was made ‘round about the time King Henry VIII split from the Roman Catholic Church and formed The Church of England so he could divorce his wife.

And of course we saw Michelangelo’s Pieta. It was a marvel to behold. Several years ago my church gave my mother an anniversary gift for working at the church. It was a copy of Mary’s portrait from Michelangelo’s Pieta. It hung on the wall of our dining room as I grew up and I became very familiar with its image. I never thought I would see the real thing.

Terry led us into the grottoes under the main floor of St. Peter’s where we saw the tombs of many, many popes including Pope John Paul II who died just last year. Many of the old popes had ornately carved tombs, some of which bore an effigy.

After we thanked Terry for his tour and parted ways, Teri and I climbed the dome of St. Peter’s to the cupola. The dome of St. Peter’s is actually a double dome and we had to climb up between the domes. As the domes curved more and more near the top, the walls on either side of us made us lean over further and further. It was a surreal sensation akin to being in a funhouse. Upon reaching the top we had an incredible view of the city and St. Peter’s Square in all its grandeur.

Later we visited the stunning Pantheon, the Trevi Fountains, Trajan’s Column (another favorite of mine from art history), The Roman Forum, the remnants of a colossal statue of Constantine, the famous sculpture of Romulus and Remus nursing from the she-wolf, Constantine’s Arch, the Coliseum… well, I guess you get the point. We saw tons of famous, incredible, unbelievable places, things, works of art, and churches. I have seen things I never believed I would see and I am still in awe over it all.

Next up… Florence.

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