As I remember. I was last “seen” in Santiago de Compostela and heading to Toledo for a few days. Did that, enjoyed the heck out of Toledo! Saw two really old Mosques. I think one was 10th century and the other 11th. There were also two great synagogues from a little later time frame, and I visited at least two great churches. One was the very large gothic cathedral and the other a church dating back to the Visigoth period. Other than the gothic cathedral all the other buildings I mentioned were in some form Muslim architecture either directly or modified into the Mudejar styling. You just don’t expect a church or a synagogue to be in the Arabic style, but for hundreds of years in Spain, the leaders were Muslim. Mudejar was the “in” style!
I spent a quick day back in Madrid and got together with my favorite Madrid painter, David de Ubaldis. Last year he painted a smiling Buddha just for me in my favorite colors. This year I selected an autumn scene in many of those same colors. It’s beautiful! I’m so glad I found it…and him!
Now I’m in Rome… and have been for a little over a week. I had spent considerable time in Rome during my miss-spent youth, but back then I had no particular interest in Christian art, architecture and symbology. This year I came back to really try to concentrate on the Vatican as well as several other great churches outside of the walls of the Vatican city/state. I’ve been doing that.
My first day in Rome was October 31st… Halloween. I really wanted to revisit the ancient necropolis under St. Peter’s Cathedral and reservations can be hard to come by, so that was my FIRST stop in Rome.To do this you must get past several layers of Vatican security, including a pair of outrageously clad Swiss Guard, to the Ufficio de Scavi… the Excavation Office, where a very unpleasant man sneered and said that his next opening was sometime in mid November!
So, I begged! Turns out there was room for one more on the tour gathering in front of the office just then… he had apparently assumed I was looking for reservations for a group. Anyway… got on the tour and found myself UNDER St. Peter’s basilica, UNDER the necropolis that houses the tombs of more recent Popes, being led down the second and third century lanes of a (mostly) pagan Roman burial city… on Halloween! Fun!
I won’t get into the archeology, but archeologists working for the Vatican, believe that they have found the original burial place of the Apostle Peter, pretty much where they expected it, directly under the main altar of today’s basilica. Faith and early Christian stories say that St. Peter had been crucified (upside down) near the Circus of Nero on the Vatican Hill, and buried nearby. Later, the pagan population of Rome began building a necropolis for their dead around the area of Peter’s tomb… and before you know it, there goes the neighborhood!
In the 1940’s, workmen expanding the Vatican necropolis, where they have been placing dead popes, accidentally poked through an ancient pagan tomb. That started the excavations. They dug carefully, mindful not to collapse today’s Basilica, and eventually found the simple first century tomb, which they believe to be St. Peter’s tomb, topped by a second century monument, topped by Constantine’s fourth century altar of his basilica to Peter, all under the present main altar of today’s basilica. Whew!
They also found bones in this tomb… that were not Peter’s. Bummer! Not to fear, though! They DID find bones consistent with Peter’s relics tucked into a secret niche nearby. The theory (and article of faith) says Constantine re-interred the sacred relics in this niche for safe keeping during a time when Christians were not the most popular section of the Roman community!
So, there you have it… the beginnings of the huge and monumental St. Peter’s Basilica! The size and scope ARE pretty amazing! HUGE! But everything is in scale, so it “feels” right. You don’t really notice that those two cute “little” cherubs holding the holy water at the entrance are six feet tall! It is just a really well done example of extreme architecture!
Then there’s the Vatican Museums! Seriously BIG collections! I’ve spent twelve hours exploring so far, and really… there’s so much more to see. And that’s just the stuff on display! It’s mind boggling.
This evening I’m having dinner in a small little restaurant near the Trevi Fountain. I had melon and prosciutto and I’m enjoying some wine while I wait for the sun to set. The Trevi Fountain lit at night is a must see!
I’m home in about a week… and then I start my yearly organizing for Christmas fundraising. Our local Barnes and Noble store invites charities to come in during the Holiday season to wrap customer’s presents. We do so for free, but of course, donations are appreciated! This year I am organizing ten days of wrapping for three different charities! I need to supply two people an hour, for twelve hours a day… so if you are in the Greenville area, you can bet I’m going to call on you to see if you can help for one (or more) of the three groups! The groups are: Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Greenville, Cancer Support Community of Eastern NC (working to bring support services to all people touched by cancer in Eastern NC), and Tong Len USA (a Buddhist group that helps educate and provide medicine for slum inhabitants in India). Come join us to “wrap”!
Life’s a trip!