Sunday, May 17, 2009

Touring Rome, Day 1: Mostly Churches

Touring Rome, Day 1: Mostly Churches

Well, still no photos downloaded here in Rome--but hundreds on the camera card now. I shoulda remembered to bring my USB cable! I suppose if that's all I forgot to bring for 10 days abroad, it's not so bad.

Rita and David arrived on time Wednesday evening, and Fr. Pete Sella very kindly took me to Ciampino airport (a dumpy little place) to meet them and then bring them to their pensione, Bonus Pastor (Good Shepherd), which is a short distance from the back wall of Vatican City but quite a healthy walk around to where you can get into St. Peter's Square. Or one can take the bus that stops across the street. (Fare is one euro, good for 75 minutes, however many changes you make--and a couple of time I had to take 4 buses.)

Bonus Pastor is quite a nice place--a hotel, really--and it's "extraterritorial," meaning it belongs to the Vatican, like the major basilicas scattered around Rome. So my Methodist brother-in-law was the Pope's guest for 4 nites.

On Thursday I took 2 buses in from our GHQ, during rush hour, and then walked uphill half a kilometer to Bonus Pastor, which required some 90 minutes all told, to meet Rita and David. Then we walked to St. Peter's and were pleasantly surprised to find the line to get in pretty short (with some sort of security scanning--in truth, not as rigorous as one would have expected if they were going to go thru all the trouble of installing the equipment and the personnel). Inside the basilica we couldn't get near the Pieta' on account of the crowd, but were able to wander around a good deal. It's still a very impressive church, to be sure, even tho I've been there several times before. And Rita and David were impressed (I hope they'll talk about the trip on their blog--eventually I'll figure out how to provide a link here). We made sure to find Don Bosco's statue and take pictures of it, and I passed by the ancient bronze statue of St. Peter beneath it and touched one of his feet in homage and with a prayer, as many other pilgrims were doing--hurried along by one of the guards.

Rita and David
posing in front of
The Glory of Bernini,
which is in the rear
of the basilica (behind
the papal altar)

This, obviously, is the statue
of Don Bosco, a the head of the
nave, just before the papal altar,
and way up high (above St. Peter's

We then went down to the crypt, where many of the Popes are buried and some archeological remnants from the earlier (Constantinian) basilica are displayed. As many of you know, the present basilica dates only from the 16th century; it was for the purpose of building it that Pope Leo X offered indulgences to contributors and riled up Martin Luther. Unfortunately, no photography was allowed there, my guess being that they don't want photographers clogging up the fairly narrow passages. About the only place where people were allowed to stop was in front of the tomb of Pope John Paul II, where a part of the passage was cordoned off for those who wished to pray there; and there were 4 or 5 people doing that. I uttered a quick prayer as I paused, not having gone on the side of the cordoned area, and in any case had to stay with Rita and David. I prayed at Paul VI's tomb too; he was the Pope of my entire seminary training, elected 2 months before I entered the aspirantate and dying less than 3 months after I was ordained, and I have both affection for him and sympathy for him on account of the many, many challenges he had to face during and right after Vatican II.

Your humble blogger in St. Peter's Square.
A Swiss guard giving some directional help
to some tourists.

We had ourselves an expensive lunch just outside the Vatican--there's no shortage of expensive places to eat near any of the major tourist attractions--and then took a bus to within walking distance of Piazza Navona. Unfortunately the church of St. Agnes on the piazza wasn't open yet (still siesta time).

Schoolkids making journal entries while taking a breather at the Fountain of the Moor in Piazza Navona.

So we went on to the Pantheon, which was open and is simply a marvel: the dome is as high as it is wide, and the opening in its center is 9 meters (about 30 feet) across. It was crowded with tourists, of course, and there was also a chamber concert being set up (which we didn't stay for). Among the notable entombed here are the great Raphael and the first two kings of Italy, Victor Emmanuel II and his son Humbert I.

The Pantheon and the square in front of it. Dome of the Pantheon.

Across the street from the Pantheon is the church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva (St. Mary on top of [the temple of] Minerva). I'd never visited it before, but Rita had it on her list--and that was most fortunate. It is a gorgeous, gorgeous gem of the Baroque period. It's staffed by the Dominicans, and under the main altar is the tomb of St. Catherine of Siena, one of the truly great saints of the Middle Ages. In a side aisle is the tomb of Blessed Angelico, aka Fra Angelico, one of the truly great painters of the Middle Ages. I spent some minutes before the Blessed Sacrament there to pray for all those who count on my prayers. Yes, I was a pilgrim as well as a tourist, and Rome is a wonderful city for both activities.

Tomb of St. Catherine of Siena

Nave and altar of Sta. Maria sopra Minerva

We returned to
via Vittorio Emanuele (a main street from the Vatican into the heart of the city) and walked a short distance to the Gesu', or more formally, the church of the Holy Name of Jesus, which is the main church of the whole Jesuit world. St. Ignatius's tomb is there in one side chapel, and a fragment of St. Francis Xavier's right arm is kept there in another side chapel. I prayed for 2 Jesuit friends in particular before St. Ignatius.

A pilgrim family of Indians praying before
the altar of St. Francis Xavier

Trompe d'oeil ceiling of the Gesu'

We went back up via V.E. to an area adjacent to it called Largo Argentina, where there are the ruins of an old Roman forum well below street level. That spot is famous for the cats that hang out there, and we saw about a dozen; no doubt there were many more. Rita was under orders from someone who shall go unnamed to visit the place, and we also took a few photos.

Temple ruins in Largo Argentina

I tought I taw a puddy tat! Two cats sleeping in a little bit of shade among the miscellaneous stones of Largo Argentina.
We retired to Bonus Pastor for some beer and a little rest. Around 5:30 we went out again, 1st to the train and bus station to investigate buses to the airport, and then to have dinner at a nice little outdoor restaurant that we chose, off via V.E. next to the church of Sant'Andrea della Valle. By the time we were finished, it was dark, which was the plan. Rita had marked out a nite tour from Campo di Fiore (where Giordano Bruno was burned in 1600 and the leftists erected a huge statue of him in the 19th century, which is now the rallying point for any leftist rally) thru Piazza Navona, past the Pantheon, up to 2 more piazze--one whose name escapes me at the moment, and piazza Colonna), and to the Trevi Fountain. That's a sight during the day, and a spectacle at nite. David didn't even try to get close enuf thru the mobs to throw in any coins. By then it was late, so we returned to Largo Argentina and to get buses back to our places--Rita and David the one that would take them just about to the front door of Bonus Pastor, and I the first of 3 back to the Pisana (GHQ).

Trevi Fountain crowded--really crowded--with tourists, about 10 p.m.

Two of those tourists

I mistook my first stop and had to make my way back a block or two to the right street for the 881 bus, which came along in about 15 minutes (this was at about 10:00 p.m.), and that dropped me at the start of via della Pisana in about 10 minutes, where I had to wait about 40 minutes for the 808 bus to take me the rest of the way. I got to our front gate just after 11:00.

So Thursday was quite a day! Maybe I should break up this entry by days instead of making a book out of it--especially in view of adding pictures later.

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