Wednesday, February 27, 2013
Papal Audience/Scavi Tour
Via della Lungara leads us straight from our apartments to the side of the Vatican, but upon arrival we were directed around to the Via della Conciliazione which axially approaches St. Peter's Square and the basilica. There was a sizable crowd wanting the same advantage over the rumored 100,000 people to come just hours later, but not so big that we couldn't still nab great seats. I noticed many vocations, and as they let us pass after just a few minutes of waiting, I pulled out my iPhone to record--what else--nuns running for the best seats.
The weather was perfect, and we only had to wait a few hours for the "festivities" to begin. I brought my sketchbook and The Fountainhead, but barely opened either. There was a palpable excitement in thanksgiving for Benedict's papacy, and the thrill alone kept my attention. It's unlikely that we will be present for the conclave (our course schedule prevents us from waiting around for the smoke, but also, we'll be away from Rome), so this was our big moment to see Benedict in his second-to-last day.
Everyone except the little nuns to the right of us sprang to stand on their seats. I looked behind--towards the obelisk--and saw the square filled with people. It was moving to see so many people, when normally at this time of year a Papal Audience commends a "paltry" 10,000 solely through reservations. Then BXVI himself amazingly spoke in many languages, before formally addressing everyone in Italian and blessing all religious objects present. (Transcripts are always available at vatican.va, by the way). It was the chance of a lifetime, really, as one of many I've been blessed with recently considering Cuba, the Notre Dame/Alabama game, and all of the sights in Rome.
The Scavi (tour of the Necropolis) appointment was at 1, so we tore through the massive crowd to the opposite side of the square to regroup with everyone attending for class. We entered from street level beyond but below the steps of St. Peter's, where a narthex might typically be. It was the crypt level of "new" St. Peter's, treated like a museum at this entrance. The old basilica--having been razed in the construction of the present-day marvel--was located intentionally on the old circus where criminals of Rome were killed and buried. The obelisk present in St. Peter's square today originally marked the center of the circus, and was located almost exactly where we entered for the tour before it was moved roughly 200 meters.
Our guide, a Polish seminarian, led us around a corner and down a flight of steps. We passed through a low arch of an old brick wall (one of the few openings I wasn't dismayed to duck for since arriving in Italy) and all of a sudden were at the Necropolis.
Somehow I had never put together the idea that the city of the dead was plural. I kept thinking of St. Peter and some popes, but learned that originally it was the site of many christian martyrs as well. In fact, there are many small tombs or mausoleums underneath the basilica, and the first one seen is that of St. Peter's family. (Side note: the necropolis was discovered in the early 1900s, but kept a secret by the pope from Mussoloni so the Nazis wouldn't capture or destroy it). St. Peter himself is buried beneath an older altar, directly below the altar used today by the Pope, signifying the legitimate seat of the church started by Jesus Christ.
How awesome it is to trace the rich lineage of our universal church, from the Bible (You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church) through the papacy to the architecture present from Roman times to the grand church today. It is very difficult to capture the emotion of this moment, knowing of the love God has for everyone, sending His son to us for our salvation. It is at once exciting and joyful, while concurrently humbling and overwhelming. Physically, I felt as if I had just taken in a big breath after swimming. You are shaken just by being awe-struck.
Separately, my stomach was grumbling. It was past 3 before I had my first bite.