***Hi there! Where has all the time gone? October is over half over and I have no idea where it went. We’ve been busy with lots of travel in the Parker Haus and an end to the busy time isn’t in sight yet. -sigh- I wanted to let folks know we are still here (albeit a little sleep deprived) and the Italy recaps are chugging forward.***
Rome is the spiritual home to over 1 billion Roman Catholics worldwide. If you are a Roman Catholic traveling to Rome, there “might” be a few sites that you wish to see and things that you might want to plan for. For Matt and I this part of our trip was definitely worth planning ahead and really made our trip special.
English Mass at Santa Susanna
Santa Susanna Church is the English-speaker’s home in Rome. It is centrally located, near the Repubblica Teatro dell’Opera Metro stop, and the people are very helpful and welcoming. If you are a practicing Catholic and will be spending time in Rome I suggest visiting Santa Susanna for Sunday Mass. The church also will assist you with getting tickets to the Sunday Papal Audience (more details in part 2).
Santa Susanna isn’t the most beautiful church in Rome, but we did appreciate the familiarity of the English Mass and the hospitality of the parish. We went to Sunday Mass twice during our visit and also attended daily Mass on Wednesday morning when we picked up our tickets to the Papal audience. I should note that I found their website very helpful during our planning.
The Church of Santa Susanna
Via XX (Venti) Settembre 15
00187, Roma, Italia
English Mass Schedule
- Weekdays: 6 PM
- Saturdays: 6 PM
- Sundays: 9:00 and 10:30 AM
Dress Code/ Being Respectful
Regardless of if you are Catholic or not, when visiting a Catholic Church please be respectful. This means covering your shoulders and not wearing skirts/shorts that fall above the knee.
Dress appropriately on days you know for sure you’ll be visiting a church and keep a large scarf in your bag on other days in case you happen upon a church you want to visit. The Vatican enforces the dress code strictly but it is also expected at all major basilicas and smaller churches too. If a Mass is in progress, please do not walk around snapping photos. If people are praying keep your distance and keep noise to a minimum. For many people the churches of Rome feel like another tourist destination. They can be but they are first and foremost places of worship- please treat them as such.
::steps off soapbox::
St Peter’s Basilica
Ah, the Vatican and Saint Peter’s Bascilica. So much history, so much faith, so much of everything. St Peters Basilica is awe inspiring. I am almost at a loss for what to write. Perhaps I’ll just overwhelm you with photos…
The first thing to note about St Peters is is the sheer size. The St Peter’s covers over 5 acres. It is 452 feet from the pavement to the top of the cross on the dome. The drum of the dome is 630 feet in circumference and the outer dome diameter 137.7 feet. The “small” ball on top of the dome is 8 feet in diameter and the cross on top of the ball 16 feet tall.
It can be hard to put these numbers into something relatable so let me try to describe it another way. We were on top of the Victor Emmanuel Monument (a great vantage point to view Rome, BTW) when I proclaimed “Look its Saint Peter’s!” Matt asked how I could tell which one was Saint Peter’s, as the city scape is peppered with lots of churches with domes. I said, “Well its the one second from the right, it appears the same size as the others but is clearly much further away from us than the others”. You can see this in the photo below.
This photo was taken from on top of the St Peter’s Dome. Here you can see the reverse perspective with Victor Emmanuel Monument in the distance.
Visiting St Peters is free, but you do have to go through security and through a metal detector to enter the square. Once inside St Peters Square there is so much to see. This areal image provides a great image of the layout of the square and Basilica.
The general layout of the Basilica is in a Roman Cross with the dome at the intersection. The “square” is really an elipse with formed by colonnades. The colonnades are said to be the arms of the Church outstretched.
Nuns walk in front of one of two fountains flanking the Egyptian Obelisk in the square.
162 statues of Saints (designed by Bernini) watch over the square from atop the colonnades.
The Swiss guard’s lively pantaloons made me smile and the large image of Blessed Pope John Paul II nearly brought me to tears. The obelesk in the square was brought to Rome by the Emperor Caligula and stood at the center of the charriot track of Niro’s Circus where Christians, including St Peter, were put to death. Later the obelesik was moved to its present location. The story of moving the obelisk is absolutely fascinating and an engineering feat.
Two famous doors, on the left is the Bronze doors (leading to the Apostolic Palace) guarded by Swiss Guard and on the left is the Holy Doors. The Holy Doors are cemented on the inside at the end of a Jubilee year, not to be opened for another 50 years at the beginning of the next Jubilee year. During Jubilee years pilgrams who pass through these doors receive a blessing.
Lifting your eyes towards the Heavens you see the great dome in all its splendor.
The dome is actually a dome inside a dome. There is space between the outer skin (below) and the inner skin. a stairway winds between the inner and outer skin, this is how you are able to ascend to the top of the dome (more on that in part 2).
Behind the high altar is the holy spirit stained glass window. This image of the Holy Spirit (dove surrounded by rays of sun) is absolutely beautiful. It is my favorite depiction of the Holy Spirit.
St Peters was built on top of the original St Peters Church built by Constantine and much of the old church was dismantled as the current St Peters was completed. Two statues that stood in the original St Peters are the bronze statue of Saint Peter and the Pietà by Michelangelo.
The Pietà was completed by Michalangelo when he was just 24 years old. It is the only work that he signed (after the fact when he reportedly heard an artist taking credit for his work) and is perhaps his most famous. My favorite interpretation indicates that Mary (depicted as a young girl) is, in fact, holding her infant but we the viewer is seeing his future. I love this interpretation and found the statue amazing in real life.
Before our trip I purchased Basilica the Splendor and the Scandal: Building St Peters e-book for my kindle. I could not put it down and throughout our trip I found myself referring to things from the book. The long process to build the magnificent building was captivating. Reading the book really put certain things into perspective when we were visiting Rome. If you plan to visit St Peters I highly recommend reading the book first.
The Vatican Museum
The spiral staircase is a masterpiece. Part ramp, part staircase it is one of the most photographed staircases. Designed by Giuseppe Momo it is actually two staircases twisting around each other in a double helix form.
The Vatican has a wonderful collection of marble statues and busts. Contrary to what I previously believed the white marble statues were actually painted brilliant colors and flesh-tones. They eyes were also inlayed like the photo on the left so that they appeared real. Kinda changes the images you have in your mind of ancient Rome being filled with glistening white statues doesn’t it?
This little fountain in the square made me smile. On the right is the famous statue of Laocoön and His Sons. Laocoön was a Trojan Priest who was trying to prove that the Trojan Horse was a ruse by piercing it with his spear. Serpents sent by Poseidon wrapped around him and held him back. The story of this statue is a fascinating tale of “whoops you put it back together wrong!”
There is so much to see inside the Vatican Museums. If you aren’t devoting a whole day to the Museum you’ll have to pick and choose what you see. My suggestion is that the Raphael Rooms and Sistine Chapel be top on your list. However, on your way there you will go through the fabulous gallery of the maps.
The gallery of the maps is a long corridor featuring 40 maps frescoed on the walls. The maps themselves are captivating considering that they were created in a time where there was no way to get an areal view of an area. More fascinating, however was the ceiling- it was stunning.
The Raphael Rooms are a series of rooms that made up the apartment of Pope Julius II who did not want to live in the apartments occupied by his predecessor. He commissioned the young and talented Raphael to create elaborate frescos on the walls and ceilings of the rooms. The Pope had utter confidence in the young artist and gave him free license to erase work that had already been completed in the rooms by more famous artists.
Ceiling in the Room of Constantine. This room was fresco’ed almost entirely by Raphael’s pupils after his death in accordance with his sketches and designs. The ceiling depicts the triumph of Christianity over paganism as symbolically depicted by the broken statue on the floor.
Ahh, the Sistine Chapel, the Ceiling was painted by Michelangelo and depicts the stories of creation, creation of man and man’s fall from grace. Michelangelo saw the commission as punishment. He was a sculptor and had never frescoed which is difficult on a wall, let alone a ceiling. Michelangelo also frescoed the last judgement on the wall behind the altar.
Photographs aren’t allowed in the Sistine Chapel. Although many people think it is because of flash photography damaging the frescos, non-flash photography isn’t allowed either. The photography ban previously had been because a Japanese Media company had underwritten the $3-4 million restoration in exchange for a copyright of the images. Apparently the Vatican now retains the copyright and the guards have pretty much given up trying to prevent people from taking photos. I was completely conflicted taking these photos, mainly because along with the allowance of photos the guards have also stopped trying to make people be quiet. The Sistine Chapel is still an active chapel. So if you visit, take photos if allowed, but please be respectful as you would in any other church.
Not going to Rome any time soon? You can view an amazing virtual tour of the Sistine Chapel here.
Vatican Museums (and Sistine Chapel) Monday-Saturday 9 am-6
Tickets include Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel: 15 euro can be purchased online
Ron in Rome’s 20 tips on visiting the Vatican Museums is a must read
Coming up next: More Vatican/Catholic resources.