Jun 16, 2016

Saint Peter's Basilica / Irreverent Tourists

I stand in line waiting for the bag check, Memoirs of Hadrian in my hand. A short distance ahead of me, three girls are dressed in bustiers and skirts, midriffs entirely exposed. One has a jacket draped around her that I'm assuming she'll put on once she's inside; another has a glossy translucent wrapper around her shoulders that looks more like a classy wrapping paper or a huge roll of tracing paper than a shawl. It covers nothing. I can still see her bra strap beneath her bandeau.

On the way in, a small crowd is gathered around a little opening in the wall, taking pictures...it's a Vatican guard! The tourists are raising their arms, tiptoeing, clamoring to click the shutter; the sole lanky young man dressed in pompous red yellow and blue stands upright and unperturbed, his left arm outstretched to grasp a long metal pole.

In the basilica I see so many tourists with cheap translucent shawls carelessly wrapped around their waists as a makeshift skirt in an attempt to cover up. Cheap shawls, shawls that you can still see through, shawls that aren't tied properly so their shorts and bare legs still show - please can they not? If they don't have the respect to bring a skirt or just dress appropriately when they know they're going to St. Peter's Basilica of all churches - how would they feel if they knew they were in the presence of the King of Kings? Is this the way we respect royalty, let alone divinity? Sure, you might not believe in the religion; but at least respect the place by dressing right. Would you tie a "ROME" shawl around your waist as a makeshift skirt if you were going to a nice place for dinner? Why does a church warrant even less respect?

People walking around in berms and sandals, in a jumper and hobo pants, tour guides walking around with a raised umbrella or a small scarf tied on a stick. I mean, would you just look at the grandeur of this place for a second, spoiled by humans. The church adopted the architectural layout of the basilica, which in ancient times was a marketplace full of shops, because it was spacious and covered and it fit the needs of the church. Perhaps the St. Peter's Basilica of today feels more like an ancient basilica than the planners might have expected, with all that noise.

"EXCLUSIVELY FOR PRAYER AND ADORATION" - the chapel behind thick pale green curtains brings relief. Silence. People are kneeling, praying. Sitting there in prayer, when I run out words to say I still feel the presence and peace of God inviting me to stay, to simply be with him and let His presence fill my heart, in a quiet place undisturbed by visitors wandering and cameras snapping and people calling out to one another. I just sit in the little sanctuary enjoying the presence of God. Perhaps this is what adoration is about.

I also spend a long time in front of Michelangelo's Pieta. Tour groups float by me; I simply stand with my elbows on the barrier, taking in the emotion of the piece... I have never had a sculpture speak to my heart like that before, never spent so long staring at a statue before. Were you there when they nailed Him to the cross?
A few days ago in the Vatican museum, a painting by Caravaggio made me think about how the apostles and Jesus' loved ones must have felt the night he died... betrayed, foolish, resigned, despondent. We gave our lives to follow Him... and He turned out only to be man. Dead. Scourged. Humiliated in every way. We thought there might be more and we banked our lives on it. Now He has left us, abandoned orphans, stupid to have believed something so impossible.

Beside me, a mother snaps a photo of her daughter with the Pieta. A pause; she doesn't move away. "Did you get it?" "Yes," the mother replies. "I just want to look at it." That's right. That's the way to be a tourist. Many people just snap a photo and go.

Near the entrance, a monk? - dark grey robe and a rope belt, no priest's collar - takes a rest on the floor, massages his leg. He's got a bright green earpiece in one ear, characteristic of those tour groups. A man comes over, tells him he can't sit there... he looks up with a friendly chuckle, massaging his leg.

At the painting of the transfiguration of Jesus by Raphael, the body of Pope Innocent XI lies below the altar, his face and hands encased in silver. A frail and withered picture, yet quite intriguing. Many simply snap a photo and go; tour groups crowd around for a minute, and then leave; I stay for quite a while. Another woman beside me, too, lingers. Eventually she comments "That's gross" and walks away. A Chinese tour group - ah maybe I'll understand something - unfortunately not. But they're nice, quiet and respectful. They come and leave silently. The tour guide speaks softly into her mouthpiece. Another tour group comes by, brushing past me, carrying musical instruments, orange bandannas tied around their collars.

At the tomb of the popes: the first thing I see is the tomb of Pope Boniface VIII - HURHUR alarm bells go off in my head. Dante hated Boniface. In Inferno, in the circle of hell for bad popes, a condemned soul mistakes Dante the sojourner for Boniface: "Dost thou stand there already, Dost thou stand there already, Boniface?" - he can't put Boniface in hell yet because Boniface is still alive. Talk about sick burns. The description at his tomb says that he "convened the first Jubilee Year in the history of the Church (in 1300) which saw the participation of famous personalities as the poet Dante Alighieri." LOL. Well. Dante would be rolling over in his grave right now. I guess we tell the stories we want to tell, eh?

At the tomb of Saint Peter:
"Who is Saint Peter though?"
"Saint... Peter...Apostle"
"You can take photos, as long as you don't get caught," said a mother to her child. (really? In the church of St. Peter's? In Vatican City???)
(note: this picture is taken from Wikipedia - we weren't allowed to take photos)
Lots of gasps. I too gasped inwardly when I saw it. Didn't realise we could still see the original spot. Saint Peter was believed to have been buried here because Nero's circus was here, where Peter was believed to have been martyred in the 1st century. His tomb was found in a complex of tombs - people wanted to be buried close to the Apostle. Then Constantine built a church over this spot in the 3rd century, the original St. Peter's Basilica, before it was rebuilt in 1506.

(What we see today isn't the original church, but bits of the old church still remains. The obelisk, actually, makes for a great story. The obelisk, was originally quarried around 1314-1197 BC (!!!) and stood in Heliopolis, then was moved to Alexandria by Augustus, and then to Rome by Caligula in 37AD. The obelisk then stood in Nero's circus, where Peter was crucified, and where Constantine's church was eventually built. Today it stands in a slightly different spot from where it originally was - Pope Sixtus V had it moved a little in the late 16th century together with the rebuilding of the basilica. Source)

We can't take photos - some people are snapping pictures but I decide to be a good and honest tourist instead - so I sketch. A tap on my shoulder: "It's beautiful!" Haha, no, not at all; I just got over the fear of being terrible at drawing. I can't sketch, but the sketch is only for me, so that I can remember it, and one doesn't actually need much to be able to sketch.

People walk by the tomb, not realising what's on their right... a guy in a blue polo tee calls his friends back. "That's Saint Peter's tomb." Their eyes open, mildly impressed. "Ooh."

--abrupt ending...wtv--

No comments: