The Vatican City is located inside Rome and is the smallest city-state in size and population. Only about 800 people can call this place home. It does have a postal service though, so you can send your friends postcards with a Vatican city stamp. The reason the Vatican City exists is because during the unification of Italy in 1861, the pope didn’t recognize the king as the ruler of Rome, and was afraid of the king’s effect on the city-state. It wasn’t until 1929 that the Roman Question (what to do with the Pope) was settled and the Vatican City became it’s own city state. The guards of the Vatican City are to this day, of Swiss decent, and the Vatican City is the only other “country” to have a square flag like Switzerland. The guards have been Swiss since 1506, founded by Pope Julius II and the gaurds must meet these qualifications: “All recruits must be Catholic, unmarried males with Swiss citizenship who have completed their basic training with the Swiss Army with certificates of good conduct, be between the ages of 19 and 30, and be at least 175 cm (5 ft 9 in) in height,” according to Vatican City Today. Their uniforms are quite fearful.
We arrived at the Vatican City late in the afternoon, and I really wanted to see the Sistine Chapel, so I felt a bit hurried while we were there. We went to the nearest line we saw, assuming it would be to the Sistine Chapel, and waited for only a few minutes. We went through metal detectors, had our bag x-rayed, and then got into another line. At the front of this line, we realized that there was a dress code. This dress code was no shorts and no bare shoulders, which if you’ve ever been to Italy in the summer, you know is ridiculous. Luckily, our shorts were not short enough to be considered indecent, but I was wearing a tank top. We kind of stood there for a few seconds, with looks of “are you serious?” When Jeff, being the noble man he is, took his shirt off, and gave it to me to go in. So he stood there shirt less, and waited for me to come back.
St. Peter’s Basilica
As it turned out, I went into St. Peter’s Basilica, and not the Sistine Chapel as I had wanted. St. Peter’s Basilica is a very important building, the end site of many Roman Catholic pilgrimages, and ordained with artwork from Michelangelo and Bernini, but it is not the Sistine Chapel. Disappointed, I still snapped a bunch of pictures and started to explore, but quickly, because Jeff was outside shirtless.
My disappointment quickly turned to excitement when I saw a statue in the northern aisle of the Basilica: Michelangelo’s Pietà. I took several art history classes at UW, but only a few pieces really resonated with me, and surprisingly, this was one of them. I have no idea why, being a religious statue, it shouldn’t hold much significance to me at all. I remember a lot about it though. For instance, at some point the statue was vandalized by an art-terrorist and the nose and face of the statue was damaged with a hammer before guards were able to stop the attacker. Also, the size of Mary is extremely enlarged, making her appear like a giant compared to the small body of Jesus in her arms. The difference is especially noticeable in the hands of the subjects of the statues. The folds of her clothes also suggest that her legs are huge compared to the rest of her body.
Body of Pope John XXIII
After staring at the statue for a good while, I rushed through the rest of the basilica (in comparison to the amount of time I spent in front of the statue). I tried to take photos, but the dark lighting made it very difficult. As I was about to leave, I spotted this, I couldn’t get very close, but with my telephoto lens I was able to get this shot. It turns out that this is the body of Pope John XXIII. The pope died in 1963 and people claim that it is a miracle that his body is in such good condition, but in reality his body was filled with 10 liters of embalming fluid shortly after his death. He is on display for viewing of the faithful, with a wax mask over his face. Pope John XXIII was declared “blessed” in 2000, and his body was moved from below the basilica to its current location. Being declared blessed is a step in the process for someone becoming a Saint, and Good Pope John was the first Pope since 1954 to receive this honor. He may of earned this honor due to his efforts to save Jewish citizens during the holocaust.
After leaving the Basilica and returning Jeff his shirt, we left on a quest to find the Sistine Chapel. We asked a nearby police officer, and he told us where it was, but that it was closed already. Turns out it closes at 15:30, which seems silly early to me. The next day was Sunday so we missed out on seeing it this trip, but luckily Italy isn’t to far, so maybe next time.
The Apostolic Palace detail