It’s easy to be a saint in the city.
We walked a few blocks from the Temple of Doom to Saint Peter’s Basilica. It’s pretty easy to find if you just follow the massive walls. Or the crowds.
Through the arches, past the columns, a wide boulevard opens up, extending its rounded arms around you, welcoming you in, beckoning you closer. It’s ok. Come closer. Don’t be scared.
It was quite sunny out today, and the line to get into Saint Peter’s wrapped most of the way around Saint Peter’s Plaza. It was also maybe half an hour before it was supposed to close. We never thought we’d get in.
The line inched closer and closer. It actually moved a lot faster than we thought it would. Before long, we were passing through the quick-and-dirty security checkpoint to get into this stunning monument.
The lines did not abate even after passing through security. But Saint Peter was there to greet us as we approached.
Seriously, the stories of the saints are so much more interesting than the Bible itself. Peter spent his life being best buddies with Jesus and before his death, ordained Peter as the first Pope. Then Nero came along to crucify Peter, but Peter didn’t want to allow himself to be killed in the same manner as his bro so he requested it be done upside down. Personally I think he kind of one-upped Jesus on this one but that’s not how Catholicism sees it.
Anyway, there’s a lot of upside-down cross symbolism associated with Saint Peter for this reason.
As we approached the door, we got a little confused as to where we were supposed to go. If you venture off to the right you can pay to go up into the dome and possibly to the crypts. We skipped that though (way too late in the day) and went straight inside.
One thing you’ll notice immediately is the awe-inspiring scale of the building. Everything about it is designed to make you feel small and insignificant in the presence of God.
These tall-looking doors are common to many of the Catholic, Baptist and Methodist churches I’ve seen. When I was a kid I always thought the doors had to be that big because Jesus was like 20 feet tall and he wouldn’t be able to get into the church otherwise.
Of course, these are just the impressions you draw before you even get inside.
The interior is just unreal. I don’t think I’ve ever been moved by architecture itself, but this was certainly a first. The masterful use of light really gives this place a supernatural aura.
Sadly, the pictures just make the place look like a glorified Grand Central Station, but it’s so much more impressive than the Roman-influenced architecture we see all over the place back home.
It may or may not be accurate but I’ve heard that with these old cathedrals, they were always built in the shape of a cross facing the east or west.
Despite not actually being a cathedral (no seated bishop), Saint Peter’s still fits this archetype.
Cathedrals of old would also make extensive use of stained glass so when the sun rose or set, the low sun would perfectly illuminate the window and really make it come to life.
This “ark” thing featured heavily in our tour of Saint Peter’s Basilica. It was designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini and serves as a sort of pavilion over the altar.
Gian Lorenzo Bernini left his mark on many aspects of Catholic culture (the Borghese Gallery houses many of these works) and he did the same here. I thought the sculptures around here were very distinctive, and the reason for such is obvious in retrospect.
When we first walked in, there was a service currently in procession so much of the front of the church was blocked off. As the service concluded the barriers fell and the masses swarmed forward like a starving horde.
Walking around some of the places where the sun didn’t shine, there are a lot of interesting sculptures on display.
But just like Christianity itself, you really are meant to walk in the path of the light. That’s where things are literally the most illuminated.
Saint Peter isn’t the only saint celebrated here. At Saint Peter’s Basilica you can also find Saint Veronica, whose story kinda makes me question just what it takes to attain sainthood.
Jesus is carrying the cross he’s going to be nailed to and she sees he’s sweating. She wipes his face with her veil and the image of his face transfers to her cloth.
The same thing happens if you wear too much foundation on a hot day and wipe your face with your shirt.
Then there are some other characters I’m not familiar with.
This is Saint Andrew, not the God of Breadsticks, and also the namesake of the Saint Andrew’s Cross. A fisherman by trade, he fished to eat. Jesus convinced him to give up fishing in favor of becoming a “fisher of men.” This ultimately got him tied to a cross, whereupon he starved to death.
Remember, kids: you can eat fish. You can’t eat men. If someone tries to tell you to stop eating and go find men, they’re probably a pimp.
And last, we have Saint Longinus.
Jesus was dying on the cross; Longinus was a soldier standing nearby who stabbed Jesus with his spear and spilled more of his blood. Then Longinus converted to Catholicism and became a saint.
It makes no sense to me either.
The cool thing about it is the mysticism that surrounds this “Spear of Destiny.” Emperors throughout history to dictators as recent as Hitler have been obsessed with the thing, believing it had magical powers.
And surprisingly enough, a fragment of the spear itself is supposedly housed somewhere in Saint Peter’s Basilica.
There were some nuns in attendance. She gets really giddy when we see monks and nuns in person. One of these days I’ll take her to the local monastery. Maybe we’ll buy a bonsai tree or something.
Anyway, making a pilgrimage to the Vatican is a rite of passage for many Catholics, same as the journey to Mecca for Muslims. When you forsake your worldly possessions to become a monk or nun, I wonder if a trip to the Vatican is in the cards for them, or if the ones we see around here are just locals.
We did see a monk on the airplane ride in…
On the way out, we saw this totally dope Pope statue.
The outer facade of Saint Peter’s Basilica is something to behold. From afar it doesn’t look like much but up close there is an insane amount of detail to it.
And then, the coolest part? We had learned about the Vatican throughout the years how it’s its own country, with its own police force, its own military…but nothing was out of the ordinary so far.
Hot damn! That guy has a fucking halberd! Who uses those anymore? That’s just badass.
The funny thing about this scene is that literally everybody that comes to the Vatican and sees this will take roughly the same exact picture. Just like the guards at the Korean DMZ, the Vatican guards stay in place, in the same stance, day in and day out.
Anyway, Saint Peter’s was a nice excursion and an important piece of Vatican history. Absolutely beautiful from within and outside, anybody who visits Rome must come see Saint Peter’s.