We had the good fortune of visiting the Vatican three times on our trip to Rome. The first came on our pre-paid tour of the Vatican Museum, which included a stop at the Sistine Chapel. On the second, we made it to within 70 yards of the Vatican wall as we joined two million people who came to the Vatican to celebrate the beatification of John Paul II. The third gave us a rare look at the Vatican, and an interview with the man in charge of raising funds for restoration projects at the museum.
I’ll start with the second visit. The catalyst for going to Rome was the beatification itself, which I explained in an earlier column and won’t belabor again here. We knew it would be difficult to get into St. Peter’s Square on Sunday, but we had no idea it would be as impossible as it was. Unbeknownst to us, so many people had camped outside the gates (and inside before they closed it on Saturday night) that the issue of access was mooted by 1 am or so. We arrived six hours later, thanks to a cab driver who erupted in disbelief when I first told him I wanted to go to St. Peter’s Square. He got us as close as he possibly could, though, but it was far too late for us to even get within site of the square.
Instead, we hunkered down behind a big truck where a big-screen display and loudspeakers were set up to allow us to take part in the ceremony near the museum entrance. We couldn’t see the screen, but at least we could sit — and we met a number of other lovely people that day who stayed in the same area. This picture shows our friends Fern and Rosemary from London:
And yes, it was sunny and hot that day — and I ended up with one heck of a sunburn on my noggin after having left my cap and umbrella in a really nice and reasonably-priced trattoria, La Maremma, the night before. (If you go there, say hi to Sabrina, who held on to my cap and umbrella for later retrieval by our friends, Richard and Susan Vigilante.)
Thanks to Fr. Timothy Lyons, we eventually made contact with Fr. Mark Haydu, who runs the Vatican Museum’s Patron of the Arts program, and arranged for both a personal tour and a meeting. Br. Michael Maciborski conducted the tour, which literally had us walking through just about every part of the Vatican, especially the antiquities area of the Vatican Museum. We also got to see the restoration labs, about which I interviewed Fr. Haydu, as well as the importance of the Patrons program to funding those efforts:
We spent quite a bit more time with Fr. Haydu (and his very kind and hospitable staff) and talked at length about his journey to the priesthood and the Vatican. He impressed me with his argument about the Church’s role as steward of the art that has been given to them, and the importance of protecting and preserving the works not just for their own sake but as a liturgical effort as well. These objects represent some of the highest, most noble efforts of the human spirit, and preserving that has obvious import for the Catholic Church for spiritual reasons as well as artistic.
The Patrons program is so impressive that I will be looking into joining it here myself, and given the relatively low cost and the tremendous work it funds, it will be a privilege if we can swing it. The program is structured into regional chapters; for instance, I would join the Minnesota & North Dakota chapter of the Patrons program, which has its own website and is apparently one of the better-organized chapters. The Ohio chapter also has an online presence, while the rest work through e-mail.
For a good look at the stakes involved, here are the slideshows of the public and private tours we took of the Vatican, respectively. I took more pictures on the public tour, but the private tour shots may be of more interest. Pay special attention to the tapestries in the first series, which were amazingly rich and detailed. Again, no flash photography was allowed for obvious reasons, so the camerawork was tricky.
And in the private tour series, the highlights will be the interior “frescoes” of the Egyptian sarcophagi, the mummy on display, the black granite statues that came from Hadrian’s villa (I believe), and the fascinating look at restoration efforts in the labs:
Thank you for allowing me to share my fondest memories of Rome. I know it’s a change of pace for Hot Air, and I appreciate your indulgence.