Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Final day with the Beabouts: A Roman Pilgrimage

Vatican Museum courtyard with St Peters
 in the background
The day started out with a morning appointment at the Vatican Museum. We were able to walk right by the ½ mile long line of tourists waiting in the hot sun to see the museum because we purchased tickets ahead of time. I would highly recommend doing this when you come to Rome! The museum took all morning and we were able to see a lot of Roman history. The museum was a palace full of hundreds of busts, statues, old tombs, paintings, maps of Rome throughout its reign, and many other fun things. We took the long way through and at points there were so many people that we were literally being herded through the museum. About 2.5 hours later we finally arrived at the Sistine Chapel!! We didn’t get to see this when we first visited Rome, so that was definitely the highlight of the museum. Of course they save the best for last- you have to walk through the whole museum before seeing the chapel. They have audio guides to tell you about the amazing ceiling and other paintings on the walls. I could have stayed in the Sistine Chapel all day if my neck didn’t start to hurt from looking up the whole time! This was the one thing I wanted to see this time in Rome, and now I’ve seen it. It lived up to expectations!!

Silenus with the child Dionysus-
this one was my favorite statue

Athena- goddess of war,
I really liked this one too

Etruscan exhibit (Josh was pretty excited about this one)

Hall of maps- the ceiling was awesome

the ancient city walls outside of the Basilica
With our necks sore from looking up and our legs tired from walking the museum for a few hours, we decided to grab some lunch at the cafeteria. When I say cafeteria, I mean cafeteria… The food at the Vatican museum leaves a lot to be desired, but it was the only option at that point. At least is filled us up and re-energized us for the afternoon. At that point, Josh and I walked James and Sofia to St Peter’s square so they could see the basilica. Sofia was in awe the whole time and was overwhelmed with emotion. Being a devout Catholic, seeing the Vatican was a solemn experience for her. Since Josh and I had already seen the basilica, we decided to part ways and see other sights in Rome. We wanted to see other famous churches that many tourists don’t see, so we headed to Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano (the Bishop of Rome’s official church).

Basilico di San Giovanni

the HUGE bronze doors (and me)

Emporer Constantine

Being the Archbasilica of Rome and containing the papal throne, it is ranked above St Peter’s Basilica. This makes the Archbasilica the “number one” Catholic church in the world. There are six Popes buried there. Attached to the church is the original Papal Palace that was used before the Vatican was established for the Pope. The Lateran Palace (as it is known) was given to the Bishop of Rome by the Roman Emperor Constantine in the early 300’s. Before the palace was given to the Bishop, it was used for Emperors and their councils. The size of the church is very large, one of the largest I have ever seen (but smaller than St Peters Basilica). Before entering the church you must see the enormous central bronze doors that are original Roman doors brought from the Imperial Forum. To the left of the doors at the end of the portico is a statue of Constantine the Great.

the High Alter with the heads

the amazingly ornate ceiling

Pope Clemens XII tomb

The interior is exquisite and overwhelming. Every time I enter these large churches it reminds me of how small I am compared to the world (maybe that is what they intended when building these churches). The nave of the church has twelve niches with statues of the twelve apostles. The ceiling of the nave has crests of past Popes and is ornately decorated. Above the high alter at the front of the church is what looks like a tomb. It is said to have the heads of St Peter and St Paul, but there are questions surrounding if they are still there. They may have been removed during the French Occupation of Rome in the 18th century. The high alter can only be used by the Pope and it contains a relic that is said to be a part of St Peter’s communion table. Tradition also talks about the “Sweating Stone” which is a part of Pope Sergius IV’s tomb. It is said that when this tomb starts to sweat, it is time to start weeping for the current Pope. When the tomb sweats, the death of the current Pope is eminent.
The "Sweating Stone"

While we were there, many nuns were visiting the church and there was a ceremony about to start (it looked like a wedding ceremony). We also saw about 8 confession booths with four or five different languages offered. There weren’t many tourists in this church, just mainly nuns and people gathering for the ceremony. It seems that the big attraction in Rome is St Peters Basilica.

Outside of the Lateran Palace is the Lateran Obelisk, the largest standing obelisk in the world. The construction of the Obelisk was started by Thutmose III and completed before the Karnak temple in Thebes, Egypt. It was originally meant to be shipped to Constantinople, but it was shipped to Rome instead. It was moved to its current site in 1588. After taking in all of the sights of San Giovanni we walked to another church called San Clemente. Entering this church was like going back in time! Construction on this church was completed in 1123 and the mosaic in the apse is amazing. Titled “Triumph of the Cross”, it has twelve doves symbolizing the twelve apostles and the figures of Madonna and St John, St John the Baptist and other saints surround the cross.

One final stop on our pilgrimage included the Scala Santa (holy stairs) across the piazza from San Giovanni. It is said that Jesus walked up these stairs in Pontius Pilate’s palace in Jerusalem. Because Jesus walked on these steps, you can only ascend them on your knees. The stairs are surrounded by an amazing marble archway with paintings, and at the top of the stairs is a beautiful representation of the crucifixion.
the Holy Stairs- people are climbing on their knees

By the time we were done with our mini pilgrimage, we were really tired and I was cranky because it was so hot. My Scandinavian blood is not cut out for the heat of Rome! So we headed back to the B&B for a nice nap in the air conditioning. On the way, we found a great pasticceria with Sicilian cannoli. Since we had been talking them up to James and Sofia we stopped to buy some. We didn’t forget the cannoli! We also found a travel agency named “Tutti Fruitti”. LOL.

James and Sofia joined us for cannoli before heading out to dinner. They spent all afternoon in St Peters Basilica and experienced mass. I could tell Sofia was emotionally exhausted from the excitement, but she was a good sport and went to dinner with us anyways. Our final night consisted of another great dinner, but calling it early because James and Sofia had an early flight back the US in the morning. We sat in one of the Piazzas and enjoyed the people watching and the great food.

One last look at my favorite fountain

Piazza Navona again
Another great vacation in Italy! And we learned a lot this week about Catholicism (not only from the churches we visited, but also from Sofia and James). I’m impressed with their devotion to the Catholic faith and it makes me question my own faith… Something to think about.


  1. That was great fun, Maren and Josh! I am so happy your blog allows us to click on the pictures for enlargements. Makes a whole lot of difference!

    Cheers and Hugs,
    Jo, Mike's Mom

  2. The only downside of Rome...I didn't find a popener! Darn it! Well, something to come back for!

    It was the best trip ever thanks to you guys. And great job chronicling our adventures. I hope we can do it again very soon!

  3. After Jeffrey Archer you are my next favorite writer! :)

    I agree with James...best trip ever! Thank again for an awesome week!!