Friday, December 16, 2011

St Peter's. Rome.

Josie and I find ourselves outside St Peter's
when we wander from the Vatican Museum and the Sistine Chapel.

As if we haven't seen enough marvels for one day,
we move into this huge basilica..
Basilica Papale di an Pietro in Vatican.

There is the Holy Door
and straight away my catholic upbringing is before me.
I know this door from my childhood!
My mother had an old  78 record with the Opening Ritual of The Holy Door.
How she came by it I have no idea.
This door is bricked over on the inside, and during a Jubilee Year
the Holy Father knocks on the door, three times..and in my childish belief,
the bricks come tumbling down.

I stand there looking at it and feel such a connection with this place.

This church is enormous.
I think of that 18 year old girl who became a nun,
and think how she would have responded to this place.
At 68 I am a bit like St Peter's itself.
The years have added layer upon layer of architectural style to this church,
and I have layer upon layer of learning and understanding
that my belief is quite different from that 18 year old...
(my own physical 'architectural style' has not endured as magnificently I might add!)

but however I express my belief..
my Catholic self is always there.

To grasp the size of this place I notice the people in the distance are so small.
Note the size of the person standing far away to the left below the statue
compared to those standing near.

Bernini's baldochino (canopy) over the altar is thirty metres tall
and yet looks dwarfed by the church.

Michelangelo's Pieta is another familiar icon from my past.
Had I visited at 18 I would surely have kissed the Christ's foot,
worn smooth by the kisses of Pilgrims.
It is behind glass now, since it was attacked and damaged by some mad person.

Bernini's baldochino, that stands over the altar, is like a processional canopy
with a beautiful fabric fringe around the top, but all in bronze.
There are vines and bees on the twisting pillars
and I wonder at their symbolism.
I've read later, they are the symbols of the Pope of the time.
I prefer my own interpretation.

Above the canopy is the enormous dome.

Again, the size is hard to take in
and it's beauty is astonishing.
I can only marvel at its creation.

Behind the altar is the Chair of Peter, and the stunning
sculpture that represents the heart of this place.
To me it always looked like 
 a monstrance that holds the simplest thing..
...Jesus held up the bread and said.. This is my body..

and the beautiful symbol of
The Holy Spirit..

Beneath the altar lies the Tomb of St Peter.
Tradition has it that Peter was martyred during the reign of Nero
and buried on this site.

The statue of St Peter also has a foot worn smooth from
the kisses of pilgrims.
I join the queue for the 18 year old me,
and reverently kiss Peter's foot.

I am more astonished to come across another tomb.
Here lies the body of Pope John XXIII.
Bodies on show seems to me an Italian thing.
It was to me a complete surprise.
I feel quite overcome.
This is the pope we all loved.
The pope who said we must 'throw open the windows
and let in some fresh air ..'
into the ancient church,
to bring it into the 20Th century.
He called the Vatican Council in 1962,
the year that 18 year old entered the Sisters of Mercy.

It was a time of huge change.
The 18 year old changed too.
The thirteen years I lived at the heart of the church
in religious life,
were wonderful, growing, learning years.

Today I do not find the church as open to change as I expected it to be.

I look at the young student priests and wonder
at their response to this place today.

To visit St Peter's
has been an extraordinary experience.
I am so grateful for the amazing heritage that enriches my life.

This is a homecoming indeed,
like visiting one's birthplace
and realizing how
attached and unattached one can be at the same time.

Outside we are enchanted by the Swiss Guards
and think back to the Sad Lion monument in

St Peter's.

You will always be a part of me,
no matter what I believe,
or how I express my belief.
That 18 year old
is still me.

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  1. What a moving post, Joan. The sense of pilgrimage pervades it, and the many layers of growth and meaning that have gathered since you were 18. I was also reminded of my own visit there, in my early 20s, and the beauty of that pieta - not behind glass in those days, thankfully. Thank you for sharing your journey so fully.

  2. ..and thank you Juliet for appreciating it.

  3. It is the end of my day here, Joan, and I am ready to rest; more so after your extraordinary pictures and guidance through St. Peter's. It surely must take one's breath away with all the splendor and beauty. I will close my eyes with it all on my mind.

    I think that we keep much of what beliefs we start out with and then we grow with them. I was not raised Catholic, but, Greek Orthodox and my faith has grown from that over the years, but, you know, there are certain prayers, in Greek, that I still fall back on and, though not Catholic, I would probably kiss the foot of St. Peter's statue as well.

  4. I agree Penny. Those early learned rituals and beliefs
    and prayers stay with us forever, no matter how we change. A lovely response, thank you.

  5. It must be incredibly awe-inspiring and humbling all at the same time, Joan.

    Your photos are amazing. I feel like I'm there with you.

  6. As far as I feel I have come from my beliefs as a child, they are still a part of me. I really enjoyed following along on your pilgrimage to a place that holds such meaning in your life. I had forgotten that you had spent several years as a nun. What an interesting journey you are on in life.

    The photos you've shared are just awe-inspiring.

  7. I visited St. Peter's over forty years ago and was moved by the Pieta -- what artistry to make marble look like limp flesh -- and appalled by the preserved popes. What a pleasure to see it all through your eyes!

    I must ask -- ave you read Rumer Godden's IN THIS HOUSE OF BREDE and if so, did it ring true for you?

  8. I've never read this book Vicki.. but I will. Many books about nuns seem quaint, but not as bad as Hollywood nuns! The local cinema owner in Auckland often had a movie day for nuns especially if nuns featured! He commented once that he loved the way real nuns laughed at parts others found pious movie nuns probably!

  9. I, with almost no experience of Roman Catholicism, loved this book. It showed me the appeal of such a life . . .