This is the third in my series of posts from my family’s trip to Italy with the St. Mary’s of the Lake Choir from Skaneateles, NY. If you’d like to check out the earlier posts, you can find them by clicking these links – PART1, PART2.
The Vatican Museums:
Day 3 was intended for us to visit the Vatican Museums, the Sistine Chapel and finish with a tour of St. Peter’s Basilica. We had sung in the Basilica the night before for solemn mass, but didn’t get to see the entire church.
Well, man plans and God laughs. For the first couple of days, our tour bus driver, Diego, was a reliable as can be. He was on time and breaking his neck loading and unloading our luggage. He was able to squeeze the bus into places that were unbelievable and was always pleasant.
This happened to be Diego’s day off. Our substitute driver, Gianni, was not as reliable as Diego and we did not board the bus until nearly an hour later than planned. This was the first of many events that snowballed into a day that didn’t meet expectations at first.
On a positive note, this was the first day that the priest that was traveling with us, Father Robert Weber, gave us a little inspiration with the first of his ‘word of the day’ talks. This day’s word was Determination. Father Bob gave us some personal anecdotes related to the word and then finished with a prayer.
When we arrived at the Vatican Museums, there was already a snaking line that seemed to go on forever. We did our best to stick together as our guide, Rita, led us around the crowd and to the entry of the museums.
Once there we were split into two groups and assigned guides. The guide for our group was fantastic. He was an American named Erik who was a college professor and archaeologist that has lived in Rome for several years with the exception of spending time in Austria to earn his PhD. His knowledge was vast and I could have spent hours listening to him speak about the items in the museums.
Unfortunately, the museums were ridiculously crowded and, to top it off, St. Peter’s was closing at noon in anticipation of the next day’s feast of St. Peter and St. Paul and the attendance of a large group of cardinals.
We rushed through the museums in a crowd that was so dense that we were often pushed along. Luckily our guide was quite tall and easy to spot as he tried to corral the 20 of us through the hoards of people.
One of the highlights just before we arrived at the Sistine Chapel was a painting by Raphael, who along with Michelangelo, was commissioned to do extensive work in the Vatican. Apparently, they were competitive with each other and he couldn’t resist depicting his rival in a painting in one of the rooms.
The man in blue sitting on the steps is Raphael’s depiction of Michelangelo.
The Sistine Chapel:
By the time we reached The Sistine Chapel, the crowd was becoming hard to deal with. We were literally pushed through the chapel to the exit with little time to gaze at the ceiling. On the way to the Chapel, our guide explained that Michelangelo was approached six times by Pope Julius. Michelangelo refused. He hated painting and did not want the task. The seventh time, troops were sent to retrieve Michelangelo and, in the words of our guide, they made him ‘an offer he couldn’t refuse.’ From 1508 until 1512 he worked on he ceiling under the conditions that he would paint what he wanted and the Pope could not see it until it was finished.
Pope Julius did not like the finished result, but before he could have it destroyed, he died.
The painting in the chapel were restored in 1994 and this resulted in some controversy. I saw it in 1978 and the paintings were dark and dirty due to hundreds of years of candle and oil lamp usage. The restoration resulted in very bright paintings and vivid colors.
A portion of the restored Sistine Chapel paintings – before and after.
By the time we got through the Sistine Chapel, St. Peter’s was closed for the day. It appeared we would not get to see the church after all. With slight disappointment, we went back to the hotel to rest and prepare for a mass and concert at the Basilica San Marco in Rome.
The Basilica San Marco Evangelista Al Campidoglio:
Next on our schedule for Day 3 was a rehearsal for our concert at the Basilica San Marco in Rome. San Marco is a minor basilica in Rome dedicated to St. Mark the Evangelist located in the small Piazza di San Marco adjoining Piazza Venezia. It was first built in 336 by Pope Mark, whose remains are in an urn located below the main altar.
Once we practiced, it was time to grab a quick bite. For us, it was a gelato run (the first of many). The choir area in the church was quite stunning as you can see below:
The mass was memorable as Father Bob celebrated with the resident priest and he asked my daughter, Lillie to be an altar server and my father-in-law to be the lecter.
The amazing thing about this church was the acoustics. While the original church was built by then, Pope Mark in 226, the current iteration is not exactly new, built from 1735-50. When the choir finished a piece, you could hear the notes resonate around the church for a second or two afterward.
Surprisingly, there was a good-sized local crowd in attendance for the concert and it was very enjoyable to participate in. It made the earlier disappointment of the day seem very minor in comparison.
A very exhausted choir walked back to the bus in a misty rain and reflected on the day and the trip so far. We had sung at St. Peter’s, attended an audience with the Pope, and had sung in an ancient church with great acoustics. Not bad so far with several days left in this memorable trip.