Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Our Unshaken Day at the Vatican

          Today we spent our second day in Rome exploring the Vatican, over and under (literally)! Although our day remained unshaken, parts of Rome were hit by multiple earthquakes, ranking up to 5.9 magnitudes, around 10:30 am, ending around 2 pm. We were fortunate to be unaffected and hope the rest of Rome shared our luck. Beginning our day by catching the bus, we first traveled to the mausoleum of Hadrian, a Roman emperor, before going into the city-state of Vatican City. Also known as Castel Sant'Angelo, the mausoleum of the ancient emperor once served as a fortress of defense, repurposed by the popes, and today it is more of a castle. Supposedly, there is a secret passageway within this structure that leads to underneath St. Peter's Square--unfortunately, we were not granted access. We took the stairs up to the top of the Mausoleum and were offered an amazing view of Rome. After some free time to explore for ourselves, we met back up and headed straight for the main event: the Vatican City.
          Arriving in the middle of St. Peter's Square was breathtaking. The colonnade that surrounds it shows 140 saints all facing the obelisk, or the vertical structure in the center. From a historical standpoint, we learned that there was once a circus held in this very square, not the kind that we are familiar with, but a horse race. Many architects, over time, came in to assist with the construction and design; one being the famous Michelangelo who created the dome structure. The shape and architecture of the square is very important to the welcoming aspect to pilgrims and visitors worldwide. The shape conveys open arms, almost beckoning brothers and sisters to come forth and symbolizes that they are indeed, home. The space's structure is more important than one may think in the way it gives off a friendly and welcoming presence. St. Peter's Basilica holds around 60,000 people and is one of the largest churches in the world. After congregating in the square to discuss the logistics of the day, we were set free to explore on our own and get a feel for this marvel.
          Inside, there were various important relics of Christianity, such as the towel that Jesus wiped his sweaty brow on and the tombs of multiple popes. We also got to see Michelangelo's pieta, a famous statue of Mary holding Jesus after he is taken down from the cross. The ceiling was breathtaking and many of us touched the foot of the statue of Peter, a symbol of reaching the final destination or the end of your pilgrimage. Although it was crowded with people from different nations all around, you could somehow feel the presence of a uniting force under the sunshine and domed ceiling today in the basilica.
          After a quick lunch break, we headed towards the Vatican necropolis. This is an ancient cemetery that lies underneath the vatican. It is only accessible by an exclusive tour that we were lucky enough to take part in. Necropolis literally translates to city of death, or cemetery. This sector underground was buried by Emperor Constantine I when he wished to construct a basilica. While underground, we were able to view multiple family tombs and ancient Roman roads. We ducked through carved out doorways and braved the artificial humidity they create to help preserve the site. One of the biggest controversies surrounding this part of the Vatican is the argument over the location of St. Peter's bones. Peter was, according to tradition, buried here originally, however his casket was destroyed and his bones were moved at a later time. According to our tour guide, he was reburied here, however there is no way of knowing the truth that lies behind this theory. As our professor Lynn taught us, faith is a great thing and powerful enough to put belief in something even when there is no evidential proof. It is what holds this theory so firmly and keeps the tradition (and tours) alive and convincing.
          Today was an incredible day that not even an earthquake could interrupt. We are glad that we made it to and from these holy sites unscathed and are ready for our departure to Venezia, bright and early, tomorrow!

Mara Walters

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