It’s 4th of July back home which is a non-event here. I did see a few restraunts in the tourist areas offering “4th of July” specials but no fireworks here. I start with a short ode to America: America oh I miss your smooth paved sidewalks, your overly air conditioned buildings and the clear separation of sidewalk and street.
Now, about our day. We started wtih 8am mass in the Irish Chapel in the Vatican Grotto. The Grotto is just one floor beneath the floor of St. Peter’s. Our pastor was able to reserve a chapel and as luck would have it we got the Irish one. When you arrive at St. Peter’s at 7:30 in the morning you see a lot of things the average tourist who wanders in at 10am will miss. First, there are many side altars throughout the first floor and there was a mass, in some language, going on in almost every one of them. A few of them the only person attending was the priest saying the mass. There are also religious of all sorts – nuns, priests, monks, you name it scurrying everywhere. I saw habits and religious garb I have not seen anywhere else. I was told we did not request a side altar because those require the priest to keep his back to the people attending. We had to wait on the main level until our priest, escorted by a Vatican altar boy, came to get us and lead us to the chapel. In the Grotto there are a large number of these small chapels and again masses of all languages were taking place.
We found ours and prepared for mass. I generally do readings at our church at home and offered to do the reading. Here’s where things get a little weird. Our priest hands me his iPad with the day’s reading on it. So I’m reading in a church that is hundreds and hundreds of years old but I’m reading from an iPad. I’m pretty sure the early church never saw that coming! It was a beautiful mass and we were so lucky that we were able to celebrate it. And, while it was way early in the morning it was a great time to see St. Peter’s alive with the work of the church and not with the work of tourists.
The day before I had a few minutes to spend in the church but by the time I got in I was exhausted and the Vatican does not provide seating so I checked it out but knew we would be back the next day. When we finished mass a number of the group headed to climb the cupola which was something I was going to pass on given that even with an elevator it still required you to climb 350 stairs. So I spent my time exploring St. Peter’s in the relative calm of the early morning. By the time I left it was becoming quite crowded and by the time we left Vatican City it was a zoo! TIP – always go early, it’s a much more enjoyable experience. There are really no words to describe the awe and wonder one feels while standing in St. Peter’s.
After the cupola climbers finished we met up for our 12:45 reservation at the Vatican Museum which is the only way to the see the Sistene Chapel. Being both a conclave fan and a Dan Brown fan I was quite excited to see it. I had heard it gets crowded in the summer but nothing could ever prepare me for the crowds we faced. It was a nightmare! Even the people on the trip who had been there before said they had never seen crowds like the one we were in. It was wall to wall people from the entrance all the way to the Chapel, and that’s a long way (especially considering we passed at least 3 souvenier stands on the way to the chapel and there was no A/C)! I can understand the pickpocket issue as there is no way the guards can track what’s going on in there. And, while I thought it was very cool to be in the place where the conclaves take place and, don’t get me wrong, the artwork is amazing I think all of the artwork I’ve seen the last few days has been amazing. We stayed for a few minutes and then fought our way back out and headed straight for the cafeteria where I would have paid an obscene amount of money for a cold water but luckily only had to pay $1.50.
We left and headed for a couple of churches on our list. These included the Pantheon, Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, Gesu and St. Ignatius, a little Jesuit heavy there at the end. Three things stand out from these visits. One – at Santa Maria Minerva there were two little girls signing Ave Maria while we were there and it was adorable. Two (this is a big one) – we heard there was a “show” at Gesu at 5:30 and it was getting close to 5:00 as we headed there so we decided to stay. Best decision so far!! St. Ignatius of Loyola is buried at this church in this awful, huge, gawdy tomb and above the tomb is a painting. At 5:30 they begin to play music and then a story is told (don’t ask me what, I know no Italian) and as it goes on the colors in the painting start to change and eventually the painting is slowly lowered down into the wall revealing a giant golden statute of St. Ignatius himself. Words cannot describe the tackiness of this show and if anyone ever questions where the Jesuits get their egos from you can just look to the start. I’m hoping to find a clip of it on YouTube and link it up, it’s that good. I think it lasted about 20 minutes. I knew it was getting especially awful when I looked over and saw our pastor videoing it with his iPad… Three – I did not actually see the inside of St. Ignatius because I had to find a bathroom which are hard to find and honestly, I had seen enough at Gesu to last me a awhile!
After all that we grabbed some dinner and headed back to the hotel since we had an early start everyone was ready for an early night in bed!
P.s. I promised a picture of the St. Ignatius extravaganza when I had working wifi so here it is!