Wednesday July 8th
At 7.15am we commenced our second 35 degree day in the eternal city with a five hour visit to The Vatican City, the walled and gardened tiny city with the world’s smallest train system, exceptionally well manicured and beautiful gardens, a cathedral which is twice the size and breadth of York and which for sheer classical and brute strength has no peer. Passionate people from every country on earth pour into St Peter’s Square daily and stand in formidable queues to visit the Cathedral, the Sistine Chapel and its many museums and gardens. We had the privilege of a small and quiet group to visit Michelangelo’s masterpiece in the Sistine Chapel by meeting at 7.15am. Can there be a more well known image than Michelangelo’s muscular and dynamic ancient of days creator passing life by fingertip to a wan and basically limp Adam? And is there a more sustained image of despair than that of Michelangelo’s “thinker” not yet in Hell but being pushed in that direction with a seeming sense of culpability and what might have been; and Michelangelo’s own skin being offered as a dispassionate Christ appears to deliberately ignore a Mary who seems in awe of the power of judgment; and even the saved seem uncertain of whether the decision is for them. To be there in the still of the morning without the teeming crowds later in the day was a spiritual, intellectual and poetic experience I will not forget.
The stretch and breadth of the museums with their ten ancient world globes, every culture on earth it seems represented, ancient near Eastern cylinders and manuscripts, over 30000 classical figures, a pinocoteca with many wonderful paintings and tapestries and the library with the Codex Vaticanus ( a complete Biblical mss of the C4th). The museum of Contemporary Art was equally impressive, mostly but not only of religious themes and the strength of the fresco and tiling decoration of every surface – floor, ceilings, walls including all the corridors is overwhelming. The Papal apartments with Raphael’s work and his stable of students are a study in themselves and the peaceful gardens invite reflection and prayer, something we even managed in a quieter section of the cathedral set apart for the purposeThis is a rich diet of spirit, mind, architectural and artistic skill of the highest and an extraordinary concatenation of faces and languages from all over the globe. The most amazed folk in our group were a family of Ecuadorans who had travelled to Italy to meet the Pope only to find that he was in Ecuador! Photographs from our harried iPhone cannot do any justice to this feast of the mind and spirit. We are glad to have been part of this experience.Michelangelo’s Pieta, even through bullet proof glass , combines love and despair in equal measure; in the entrance to St Peter’s Cathedral, it sets in my view, the perfect tone and overcomes the triumphalism of much that follows.