. Almost every week on Wednesday the pope comes out in St. Peter's square and talks to everyone. The audience started at 10:30 but when we picked up our tickets yesterday the priest gave us a bunch of tips, including to make sure to get there right when the gates open at 8 A.M. since 10-20 thousand people will be there. So a little after 7 A.M. we were on the metro heading towards the vatican. We were supposed to leave at 7 A.M. but I had lost our passports. Couldn't find the stupid things anywere. Jacki figured out that I had put them in the room safe. Stuff like that happens to me a lot when I have to wake up early. We got to the Vatican in plenty of time though. The priest yesterday had also told us where all 4 of the entrances to get into St. Peter's Square were. The line right by the train station was long already, but we went to the far entrance and there was only one person in front of us. When the gates opened we ran to the front and ended up with front row seats a little off to the side were the pope comes in. It was unbelievable. First off, St. Peter's Square is pretty impressive itself. It is a huge open area surrounded by rows of gigantic marble columns. There are hundreds of huge statues lining the tops of the building of roofs and a big obelisk in the middle of the square towards the back (proabably stolen from Egypt if I had to guess.) There were two huge beautiful fountains towards the back and two massive statues (one was St. Peter) towards the front. In the middle is St
. Peter's Basilica, which from the outside is one of the most impressive buildings I've ever seen. When we were at the temple of Karnak in Egypt they said that it would fit St. Peter's Basilica inside it. I hate to break it to you Egypt, but no way, not a chance. Not only is it big, but it is covered from top to bottom with marble, topped with a dozen huge statues, and with huge bronze doors that are 800 years old.There were six big sections of seats, 3 on both sides. We were in the front row on the left side. The energy in the crowd when 10:30 came around was insane. Right before things were about to get started, people started cramming in next to us like it was a rock concert. The Mercedes-Benz Popemobile brought him out from the left side of of the square, right by where we were. When Benny came around the corner into sight the place went nuts. He drove through the entire crowd and about two feet from us waving. We were so excited. I have never seen the pope before, and never thought I'd ever get to see the pope, not to mention be an arms length away. Before today I think we had mixed feeling about Pope Benedict, we really didn't know that much about him and he seemed very different than John Paul II. After seeing and listening to him though, we are huge fans. He is the friendliest most welcoming looking person I've ever seen. When he speaks he is very soft spoken and calming. He is unbelievably smart too. He did everything in about 7 languages. The ones we caught were English, Latin, Italian, German, Spanish, Portuguese, and French
. He didn't struggle at all through any of them and seemed to just rattle them off as if they were his natural language. After driving through the crowd he took his place at the front surrounded by a couple cardinals. The crowd would often break out into chants of Viva Il Popa! Everybody was welcomed to the papal audience and the day's scripture passage was read in their native language by a cardinal, and then Benny did his speech, a reflection on the passage. It was all in Italian and we really wish we knew what he was saying. At first he was reading from notes, but after a couple pages he just started talking and talking and talking. I never heard him say one "um," he just talked slowly and confidently. Like I said, we have no idea what he said, but whatever it was it was coming from the top.
After that he started to thank everyone for coming in their own languages and would read off specific groups that came. People were going nuts waving signs, singing songs and yelling. The Spanish countries were the best. They would yell and yell and every time they did he would wave at whoever was yelling. At one point point they yelled so long he interrupted them with "mucho gracias."
Once that was done everyone did an "Our Father" with him in Latin (a cheat sheet was on the back of our tickets) and he blessed any gifts of objects that you brought with you. We were expecting this so I now have a pair of holy boxers
. I just don't think I can wash them anymore.
It lasted about an hour and a half but seemed to fly by. While leaving he passed right by us again, but then stopped pretty much right in front of us to kiss a baby someone brought up.
It was one of the most amazing experiences ever. While waiting we were talking to a lady next to us from Vegas (but originally from Romania) and she got there early like us even though she is Greek Orthodox and not even Catholic. After a while she said that when she was back home she kind of got away from the church and considered herself Agnostic, but that being here has made her believe again.
Once the pope left we had to rush because we had a tight schedule. Our choices were to go get a quick lunch or to go into St. Peter's Church. We decided to go into the church. It was closed during the audience and took a little while to open, during which there was a line almost the entire way around the square. Once it started moving it went quickly though.
As impressive as the Basilica is on the outside, it is even more amazing inside. It is huge inside and every inch is covered either with white marble, colored marble, or gold. There are statues everywhere, many of them by Michelangelo or Bernini. The church is shaped like a cross with huge paintings of saints and other church scenes
. I doubt anything in the church is less than a couple hundred of years old or not made by a famous artist. The altar was huge and directly under the dome. It is directly over St. Peter's tomb, but more about that later.
Alright, it's later. We had to rush through the church because we had tickets to do the scavi tour. Scavi is italian for 'excavations' and it is a tour where they take you under the church to an area recently discovered that has the tomb of St. Peter in it. By recently, I mean the area was discovered in the 1920's but it has only been open for tours for a few years and the main part of the excavations were being restored the entire time and only just opened for visitors a couple of weeks ago.
St. Peter, if you don't already know, is a pretty big deal in to Catholicism. He was one of Jesus' apostles and started the church and was the first Pope. He is usually shown with keys in his statues and is considered the 'rock' of the church, which is a big reason why the church was built over his tomb. If you remember yesterday's entry, we saw his chains at a different church. This is because when he was in his 60's or 70's he was crucified by some guy named Nero and became a martyr because Christians were being persecuted. When he was crucified, he was crucified upside down.
They only let about 100 people into the excavations every day and only 12 at a time so that the sites don't get warmed up by our body temperature. Jacki got tickets months ago, you had to request them directly from the Vatican.
I don't know how to explain the tour well without being a little longwinded, so bear with me. When St. Peter was killed they tossed him in a grave outside of the city walls near the other Christian martyrs
. He didn't get a casket or tomb, they just wrapped him in some cloth and tossed him in the ground. Since Christians were still being persecuted people would sneak to his burial place and put small markers there that would seem like pagan monuments, then later on people carved 'graffiti' on them that I guess pretty much said "Peter is buried here." Eventually a big wooden temple was built near the site, and the cemetery was buried with earth from a nearby hill pretty much knocking it out of memory. The Christians then put a really tiny monument over the grave though. Then eventually Christians stopped being persecuted and Constantine tore down the other church and built what was to be the main Catholic church around 400 A.D. He had the choice of anywhere he wanted to build the church, but he chose right over that spot, in a marsh, outside the city walls, because he knew that St. Peter was buried there. Eventually in the 1500's St. Peter's Basilica was built directly over that church with the altar directly over the previous altar and the dome directly over that. So it's always been known that the tomb of St. Peter was down there, but since its such a huge church and the foundation is made of the previous foundations they couldn't dig down there.
But eventually they did dig down there. When a pope dies, they are often buried below St. Peter's Basilica in what is essentially the old church that they built it upon. They were cleaning those tombs when they discovered the necropolis which is the old cemetery and then the graffiti that led them to the actual tomb
. There weren't any bones in the tomb, but during the excavation they found bones hidden in the walls behind the alter of Constantine's church. The bones were dated approximately right and they were contaminated with dirt (since he was buried without a coffin, and all of the bones were there except for the feet (and if you remember he was crucified upside down and therefore cut down by his feet.) So they are pretty sure that they are his bones and that Constantine hid them in the wall so that nobody would mess with them. They are 100% sure that the tomb is his though.
Now back to the tour. You have to go through these extremely high tech looking glass doors (kind of like in the Da Vinci Code) to get down to the necropolis. The necropolis is that first graveyard where he was buried. There were a bunch of big mausoleums in that graveyard that since they were filled with dirt were perfectly conserved. When down there it feels like you are walking through an old brick city. Then you go down to where you can see St. Peter's tomb behind the graffiti through a crack. You could not get very close to the tomb, but you could see it well. Then they take you up a set of stairs on the back side of the tomb. There you could see one tiny column of the monument they had built on his tomb before any church was built. It was directly below the remains Constantine's altar and a few feet above that were the remains of the old altar. In the wall above the column was a glass box
. You could only see the corner of the box, but inside were all of the bones that they had discovered and think are St. Peter's. You could only see a couple of small bones, the rest are behind the wall still so they aren't exposed. To end the tour you end on the level of the old church were the popes are buried. There were dozens of tombs for pope's I had never even heard of. In small nook was John Paul II tomb. There were flowers everywhere around it. There were no statues, just a large smooth piece of marble with his name written on it in Latin. It was pretty moving. The whole experience was. Really the whole day was.
Once the tour was done we went back into St. Peter's church since we had to rush the first time. We realized that we were starving since we had been going non-stop since 6 A.M. so we went to a cafe and maybe ordered a little too much since our bill was 38 euros for a cafeteria style place.
We wanted to go to the museum and the Sistine Chapel, but it had just closed so we decided to go back to the hotel and re-energize for the rest of the evening. We ended up passing out on accident around 6 P.M. exhausted. We woke up around 11 P.M. completely confused and the day over. We stayed up till about 2 or 3:00 talking about the day and how amazing it was. And also working on this novel.
Best day of our trip so far? I don't know, maybe. Most important day of our trip so far? Definitely. I feel like in all of these articles I keep saying how awesome and great everything has been. We'd get excited about the food and the ruins and temples, because they all were very different than anything we had seen before. They don't hold a candle to Rome though. The food is better and the churches just put everything else we've seen to shame (it's also nice that we can brush our teeth without bottled water.) We've seen some amazing stuff, don't get me wrong, but Europe and Rome (especially during Holy Week) is just better. We'll see how we feel tomorrow though, maybe we are just getting caught up in the moment and wherever we are at the time we like best. (note: Japan was close though) We were early birds today. Today is the weekly Papal Audience that we have been looking forward to for months. The tickets are free, but they have to be arranged months in advance from the bishops office