Rage and Reverence at the Vatican

Rome - family vacation - Vatican - June 2015 (61) - Pieta

By Judy Berman    

Centuries-old art in the Vatican Museum and St. Peter’s Basilica stir strong passions. Rage and reverence.

In 1972, a deranged man damaged Michelangelo’s Pieta (a statue created in 1499 of the Virgin Mary cradling Jesus’ body after he was crucified). The man dealt 15 blows to this statue, which removed Mary’s arm at the elbow, knocked off a chunk of her nose and chipped one of her eyelids. The restored statue now is protected by a bulletproof acrylic glass panel.

St. Peter’s Basilica, the world’s largest church, covers about 5.7 acres. It was built in the 4th century over the tomb of St. Peter. “Atmospheric factors, the barbarian invasions, wars, sacking and neglect during the Avignon period had reduced the basilica’s structural walls to such a precarious state that it threatened to collapse.”   Construction on the new St. Peter’s Basilica began in 1506 and was completed in 1626.

Rome - family vacation - Vatican - June 2015 (84) - view of St. Peter's Basilica

St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Museum are impressive because of their history, their size and their extensive art collections that included paintings, marble statues that are 15 feet high, and antiquities from Egypt – including a 3,000-year-old mummy.

Michelangelo’s 12,000-square-foot fresco on the Sistine Chapel ceiling was the only art that was off-limits to photographers. It took Michelangelo four years to complete (1508-1512).

A golden globe sits in the courtyard outside the Vatican museum. The “Sphere Within a Sphere,” created in 1990 by Arnoldo Pomodoro, is part of a series of bronze sculptures found in prime locations throughout the world, such as the headquarters of the United Nations in New York.

Rome - family vacation - Vatican - June 2015 (25) - Sphere within a Sphere (1990) created by Arnoldo Pomodoro

Laocoon’s statue, on display in the Vatican, was excavated in Rome in 1506. Legend has it that Laocoon and both his sons were killed by giant serpents sent by the gods. They were angry because Laocoon attempted to warn his fellow Trojans not to take the wooden horse outside the gates that the Greeks offered as a gift.

Rome - family vacation - Vatican - June 2015 (49) - Laocoon and his Sons

Along the base of the inside of the dome in St. Peter’s Basilica is an inscription in Latin of quotes from Jesus to Peter in the Bible. It translates to: “You are Peter, and on this rock, I will build my church, and the gates of the underworld can never overpower it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 16:18)

Rome - family vacation - Vatican - June 2015 (63) - letters are 7-foot tall, quotes from Jesus to Peter in the Bible

The bronze statue of St. Peter is seated on a marble throne. He’s blessing the faithful with his right hand. In his left hand, he holds the keys to the kingdom of heaven. It is a tradition for pilgrims, after they’ve prayed, to kiss or rub St. Peter’s right foot. Over the years, this has caused his right foot to be worn smooth. The toes on his left foot still have individual digits.

Rome - family vacation - Vatican - June 2015 (66) - St. Peter - visitors rub his foot

The entrance to the Confessio – a 17th-century sunken chapel – opens under the center of the dome and “is really the heart of the Basilica.” Its name is in reference to Peter’s confession of faith that led to his martyrdom. Under the papal alter in the Basilica is St. Peter’s tomb. This is where, in the movie, “Angels and Demons,” (2009) – based on Dan Brown’s book – the Camerlengo (Ewan McGregor) met his demise when he set himself on fire.

Rome - family vacation - Vatican - June 2015 (68) - the confessio - under papal alter in Basilica

As we left, we saw the Papal Swiss Guards outside the Vatican.

Rome - family vacation - Vatican - June 2015 (80) - Swiss guards

Don’t be fooled by their colorful garb. These guys don’t play. When a visitor stepped inside an area that was off-limits, the guard strode menacingly toward the visitor, who quickly backed off and stood behind the barricade.

Is there an art collection or site that is part of your bucket list? Please add to the comments below. 

Source: St. Peter’s – Guide to the Basilica and Square.   http://stpetersbasilica.info/Docs/Basilica-Square3.htm

Source: St. Peter’s Basilica and Confessio –   http://stpetersbasilica.info/Confessio/Confessio.htm 

Source: Angels and Demons tour (of St. Peter’s Basilica) http://www.aroadretraveled.com/angels-demons-tour-air-st-peter-basilica-part-2/

Source: Sphere within a sphere. http://vatican.com/photos/gallery/the_sphere_within_a_sphere-p44

Next week, I will post photos from our visit to Venice.

Part 2 of our Rome trip – Roman Holiday – can be found here

Part 1 of our Rome trip – Roming the Streets of Rome – can be found here

    1. The guards’ outfits don’t seem appropriate for the job.

      Kate, there is so much to see there. You could probably spend a couple of days there and still not see or study it all.

  1. I agree it’s an amazing place, and you got great photos. I mostly remember Michelangelo’s ceiling and standing in the courtyard (as in your first photo). I don’t remember what that’s called. I didn’t expect the Vatican to be so big and with so many different areas.

    1. Jill … I agree on the uniforms. But you’d better take them seriously. 😉 Ever since I saw the movie “Under the Tuscan Sun,” I’ve wanted to see Tuscany. Someday. 😉

  2. I learned so much about the Vatican and the art sculptures today.
    The story behind the Laocoon sculpture with the serpent was intense. St. Peter’s Basilica is a great, inspiring story of blessings and hope. I liked the sunken area and the beautiful archway. I love the sphere within the sphere.
    The striped Swiss guards uniforms seem rather comical. Glad to know they are serious guards and thanks for the warning, Judy.

    1. The story behind the art really deepened my appreciation for what I saw. Laocoon’s agony was captured so perfectly in that sculpture that it looked like he could have been alive. Yes, intense, for sure.
      The guards’ uniforms have certainly taken a real beating here. 😉
      Robin … Thanks for your always wonderful and thoughtful comments.

      1. This was a very nice response, Judy. I was wondering if you were going to go some travel suggestions or “bloopers?” Just teasing, thought about Chevy Chase’s “European Vacation.” 🙂

  3. I re-lived our tour of Rome in your excellent shots here. Because I had recently taken an art history graduate course, the paintings really came alive for me. Of particular interest: the works by Caravaggio because of his dramatic use of lights and darks.

    Venice is coming up, you say. Are we going to see photos of Florence too? That city felt more manageable because it was smaller, less to see. A favorite – Botticelli in The Uffizi. Wow! The texture in the fabric on one of the figures in Primavera seemed so realistic I could imagine it real. I would have touched it for half a second had it not been for the guards. Selfish wish – but there you have it!

    1. Marian … The closest we got to Florence was a brother and sister we met in July while on a tour of the Valley of Fire in the Mojave Desert outside of Las Vegas. The young woman invited us to visit Florence – it sounds wonderful. The art course you took is one I wish I’d taken. So much I don’t know. 😉

  4. In the summer of 1970, my parents fulfilled a dream to take our family to Europe before my brother started his job after college and I would graduate from college the next year. It was one of those 11-countries-in-37-days kind of whirlwind trips, and the highlight for my mom was visiting Michelangelo’s Pieta. She sat on one of the benches and wrote about it in her notebook, then came back later and sat and studied it even more. The it was “attacked” as she called it, she was devastated, and she couldn’t understand what could make a person do that.
    She had a collector’s mantle-sized marble state of the Pieta, and from that point on she guarded it like an orphan child who needed to be protected.

    1. Marylin … It’s difficult to imagine what inner demons drives someone to deface or attempt to destroy something. The Pieta is beautiful. I didn’t think to look for a collector’s version of the statue, but certainly wish I had. 😉

  5. how sad about the damage, but what awe-inspiring treasures these must be to see in person. your photos are lovely, and i’ll bet even these don’t do them justice. love the guards outfits and what a contrast to their demeanor.

  6. I’ll be honest, I don’t plan my trips around art. Having said that, I love visiting the art museums and spaces of all the places that I go. I think the art, even if it art from other areas that they have collected, says something about a place.

    1. Amy … The collection of art at the Vatican is extensive. I am glad they are treasured and available to the public. Taking photos of many of them was just the icing on the cake of our visit there. 😉

  7. I really enjoyed all the photographs and the history surrounding them. What an intrsting holiday you and your family had .
    You are going to be shocked when I tell you this Judy . I have been to many places in Europe and toured all over the British Isles but never been to London …I have no idea why . It’s right there on my list. I only have to get on a train be there in a few hours . I could even drive there if i had to …can you believe it .

    1. Cherry … I recall my Mom telling me that she worked right down the street from the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia but didn’t go to see it until just before she left the City of Brotherly Love. By all means, take that train ride. London’s a beautiful city. I’ve been there twice and would love to see it again. 😉

  8. We liked visiting the museums and grounds (and I was not struck down where I stood), but all the pomp and riches reinforced my belief in the hypocrisy of the church when it comes to helping the poor and living by the word of their supposed god.

    It all came across, at least to me, more as a business enterprise than an institution dedicated to the spiritual well-being of their followers . . . but then, I’m predisposed to think that way.

    1. I have been torn by the same things, disperser. That’s been reinforced when we visited the Notre Dame in Paris and a Catholic Church in Mexico City. The church has done much to help the poor. But it could certainly do a great deal more.

    2. Yes, the church has done much to help the poor . . . with other people’s money and only after helping itself.

      Had I no scruples, I could easily do the same. It’s ridiculously easy, as can be seen by the many individuals who cash in on the gullibility of others.

  9. Visiting St. Peter’s Basilica is an amazing experience. It’s difficult not to stand inside it (or any majestic cathedral, for that matter) and not feel awed and inspired. There’s also a sense of peacefulness and gratitude. But yes, don’t mess with the guards. 😉

    1. I posted a video link in one of the comments about the Papal Swiss Guards. They have given their lives to protect him and are a well-trained security force.

      I agree, Carrie, the St. Peter’s Basilica just left me in awe about its size, history and art. Wonderful. 😉

  10. This is a great way to document your tour. I really loved Italy when I was there. Ken and I talked about traveling to Europe next year, but we’ve changed our minds. Other priorities right now.

    Believe it or not, I don’t have a bucket list. Never had one, doubt that I ever will. It just feels to me like more pressure than I need. I need to take life one-day-at-a-time, and stay focused on enjoying the present, or all my medical conditions start flaring up and causing frustration/disappointment.

    I do, however, focus on one “next” thing in travel. For instance, right now, I’m planning a week-long visit to the White Mountains with my parents. They, however, are still jetting around the world, crossing off items on their bucket lists.

    Interesting, how different even people from the same family take life….

    1. I don’t have a bucket list, Tracy. Over the past 20 years or so, I have seen quite a few places. 😉

      Best wishes on your travel plans and I hope that your health improves so that you feel free to travel whenever and wherever you want.

  11. Great photo’s Judy for someone who has not been there, you gave us a great picture show and a wish to be there too. What ever city I go to when I am overseas a visit to the museums and art gallery’s is a must.

    1. Thank you, Kath. We do the same. When we were in Las Vegas this month, we visited an art gallery in Bellagio’s which featured Picasso. Cubism is not my favorite, but it was interesting to see the stages of his work. I think museums can be cool, too. 😉

      1. Im not a fan of Cubism either but had to study Picasso at school. I did not get how amazing his art was until I went to London and saw the painting I had been studying all those years ago and it blew me away. I was captivated Judy.

      2. I wound up drawing and then embroidering Picasso’s “Don Quixote” (with Sancho Panza). I think I still have it. Was that one more impressionist? I wouldn’t put it in the cubist category.

  12. Beautiful photos Judy. I went a long time ago, so this was a lovely refresher. Have missed so much of your posts. Hope to catch up as best I can.

  13. You captured some great pictures here of your holiday! I’m really interested in that sphere sculpture, I think I might have seen that before somewhere on the internet before, unless I’m thinking of something similar elsewhere. It reminds me of an alien sphere they had in Doctor Who a few years ago.

    The guards at Buckingham Palace can be pretty severe with visitors too, although occasionally they have been known to crack a smile. It does leave visitors not quite sure what to expect though, which I find a little odd. But perhaps they like it that way, more fun maybe?! 😉

    1. That sphere – or something like it – is at the United Nations and other places around the world. From what I read.

      Years ago when we were in London, Dave took a photo of two Bobbys and me. They were cracking a smile. I think they were at Buckingham place. But they weren’t the guards in all the regalia.

      1. I did a Google search on the Sphere, and yes, it does appear to be in a lot places round the world, but not in Britain though. Strangely they seem to have appeared after those little machines appeared in Doctor Who, I was convinced it would be the other way round – odd that!

        I guess those in security have got to smile sometime! 😉

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