We started the day with a
forced march walk to St. Mary Major one of the four papal basicalls in Rome. At some point during the stroll I and another group member became separated from the group. Lucky for us I was carrying a map and since we are both over the age of 25 we were able to read the map!
The church was stunning. I’ve noted that most of the churches over here do not look like much from the outside but that says nothing for what’s inside. Many of the churches we have seen look like regular buildings from the outside, it’s very strange but I’m told it’s Roman architecture. St. Mary Major is one of the “proper” churches where girls’ knees and shoulders were required to be covered. They sold thin pieces of material if you had nothing. I saw more than one girl wearing a piece around her legs and a piece around her shoulders. Now, I know the Sistene Chapel is all famous for its ceiling but I have to say almost every ceiling in any church in Rome is a masterful piece of art. All of these basicallas have side chapels and at any given time any number of masses can be taking place in any number of languages. Two of the most interesting observations: 1. We saw a guy who was so involved with taking a picture that he would not move out of the way of a bishop and a couple of altar boys who had just finished mass and actually looked annoyed that he had been disturbed and 2. We saw a priest waiting to hear confessions who was clearly playing on his cell phone. (note – I had hoped to be attahcing pictures but wifi issues have prevented that, hope to have better wifi at the next stop.)
Then it was off to the Vatican to get some quick lunch, explore what you could and then meet up for the Scavi tour.
If you are not familiar with the Scavi tour you are probably not alone. It’s a super secret tour that one must book months in advance. I knew it was going to be interesting when the e-mail directions I received sent us down a back alley to a gate with two Swiss Guardsmen, who I have to say are quite nice (the security people in real suits are a whole other story…). They check your stuff and your paperwork and send you to another back office where this guy prints out tickets and yells at the guys to put long pants on. Watching boys try to put jeans on over shorts is pretty amusing. And then you wait and out of a side door comes your guide. We got this strange woman from Austria who spoke English with a heavy accent. It was 10 of us and a family of 4 from New York.
The Scavi tour takes you underneath St. Peter’s to the original cemetary remains that it was built upon. Most importantly it takes you to see the grave of St. Peter which is directly underneath the altar in the current church. I was excited because I figured since it was underground it would be a nice way to cool off on a hot day. I was wrong, really wrong!!! Apparently to keep the remains in good shape they must keep the humidity at 98%. I was sweating out of places I didn’t know could sweat. The air was thick and close and many of the passageways were extremely narrow. At times it felt like something out of Willie Wonka’s chocolate factory as door would appear out of nowhere.
It was really hard to the see the tomb of St. Peter but it was a very cool tour and it ended in St. Peter’s. I would highly recommend it to anyone planning a visit to Rome but request it as soon as you set your dates!
I did not do much exploring of St. Peter’s as we were going back the next day and I was exhausted and dehydrated from the tomb visits. So more on St. Peter’s tomorrow.