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March 5, Monday

Vatican Museum | Sistine Chapel | St. Peter’s Basilica

On Monday afternoon, following a morning tour of the Vatican Museums, our pilgrims gathered for a special procession into St. Peter's Basilica.

Father Ryan is joined by our two Seattle seminarians studying at the North American College in Rome, Kyle Poje (left) and Tyler Johnson (right). (A slice of pizza before heading over to St. Peter's!)

Cantors David Hoffman and Lisa Ponten chanted the Litany of the Saints as we processed through St. Peter's Square and into the Basilica.

Yes, it was raining!

The great central doors of the Basilica are rarely opened.

The great procession was followed by a beautiful Mass, which Father Ryan had the privilege of celebrating at the Altar of the Chair. This is the spot where he was ordained in December, 1966. Click here to read Father Ryan's homily for this memorable Mass.

Jubilate! at St. Peter's.

Jubilate enjoys dinner together on Monday evening.


Where we're praying: St. Peter's Basilica!

St. Peter's Basilica is considered the spiritual center of Christianity, built over the tomb of the Apostle Peter. There has been a church on this site since the second century, when a shrine was first erected near the site of Peter's martyrdom.   It is hard to talk about St. Peter's Basilica without using superlatives. The classicist Helen North writes: "St Peter's Basilica is the reason why Rome is still the center of the civilized world. For religious, historical, and architectural reasons it by itself justifies a journey to Rome, and its interior offers a palimpsest of artistic styles at their best - e.g., Bernini's great tomb for Pope Alexander VII, Michelangelo's Pieta, the Baldacchino, and the dome."

Georgina Masson writes: "We now turn to look at the interior of the basilica. At first, to be frank, we are disappointed; we have heard so much about its stupendous size that we expect this to strike us all at once. Only gradually does it dawn upon us - as we watch people draw near to this or that monument, strangely they appear to shrink; they are, of course, dwarfed by the scale of everything in the building. This in its turn overwhelms us."

Walking through St. Peter's is an experience in itself. Henry James commented, "If it were not the most beautiful place in the world, it would be the most entertaining."   A few things not to miss inside the basilica:

  • Michelangelo's Pieta is situated just inside the Basilica, on the right hand side.    
  • The Dome, designed by Michelangelo, is over 136 meters (448 feet) high. (By comparison, St. James Cathedral's towers are 167 feet high.)
  • The famous baldacchino was built by Bernini, and stands directly over the site of Peter's tomb.
  • The "Altar of the Chair," also designed by Bernini, is at the far west end of the church, shows four doctors of the Church (Ambrose and Augustine on the left, John Chrysostom and Athanasius on the right) gesturing to a massive chair, containing the remains of a "throne" thought to have been used by Peter himself. In more recent history, Father Ryan was ordained a priest here in 1966.

What we're seeing: The Sistine Chapel

Our visit to the Vatican Museums will include a stop at Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel. The Chapel is named for Pope Sixtus IV, who restored it towards the end of the 15th Century. It was Pope Julius II who commissioned Michelangelo to paint the ceiling, which was completed between 1508-1512. It was not until more than twenty years later that he returned to paint the Last Judgement (1535-1541) for Pope Clement VII and Pope Paul III.

Giorgio Vasari, in The Lives of the Artists (1568) described the creation of the ceiling this way:

Michaelangelo complained that from the haste of the Pope he could not finish it as he would, for the Pope constantly asked him when it would be finished. "Well, and this chapel, when will it be finished?" "When I can, Holy Father." The Pope having a stick in his hand struck Michael Angelo, saying, "When I can! when I can! I will make you finish it!"

Once he answered, "It will be finished when I have satisfied myself." "But we will," replied the Pope "that you should satisfy us in our desire to have it quickly." And he added that if it was not done soon he would have him thrown from his scaffold.

The work was done in great discomfort from constantly looking up, and it so injured his sight that he could only read or look at drawings in the same position, an effect which lasted many months. But in the ardor of labor he felt no fatigue and cared for no discomfort. The work has been, indeed, a light of our art, illuminating the world which had been so many centuries in darkness. Oh, truly happy age, and oh, blessed artists, who at such a fountain can purge away the dark films from your eyes. Give thanks to Heaven, and imitate Michaelangelo in all things.  

It is in the Sistine Chapel that the cardinals gather for the Conclave to elect the new Pope.


On visiting Rome

What, then, is this city of Rome, so profane and at the same time so mysteriously sacred? Rome is perhaps the most astonishing result of the union between our Christian faith and the physical reality of history. In Rome, almost every corner bears witness to both man's wretchedness and his capacity to be inspired by what is eternal. Why? Because Rome is the seat of the head of the Catholic Church, the Vicar of Christ, as ordered by Divine Providence.   Sisters and brothers, you who believe in Christ, when you arrive in this city, you will be able almost to touch with your own hand the wonderful miracle of your being a Christian, of your belonging to the Church.

Cardinal Roger Etchegaray




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