Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The intimacy of St. Peter

I walked quite a distance today. My tour guide from yesterday (in apology that we couldn’t see more of the museum because of the physically impaired people on our tour) told me about a rare opportunity to tour the excavation sight of St. Peter’s tomb and the other tombs that are beneath St. Peter’s Basilica. After my tour yesterday, I found my way to the right office and the man gave me fifty reasons why all the tours for the next year were booked. “But I’m only one person.” I pleaded, “If there is just one cancellation can you fit me in?” After a bit more prodding, the man relinquished that if I came at 1:00 p.m. the following day and only if there was a cancellation… I could get in.

So this morning I played my cards right and while the rest of the world was listening to our dear pope give his weekly address (remember I attended the canonization, so I got the long version on Sunday) I got into the Vatican in under ten minutes. The ticket person quickly convinced me I was the right age for a student ticket and I spent a glorious morning touring the many hall of the Vatican. I got very lost at points but found my way eventually to the Raphael rooms and the art of de Vinci. After elbowing my way through the Sistine Chapel for a second time, I took off once again in search of the excavation office.

Now let me explain, when there are 100,000 people in St. Peter’s square attending a weekly event, the Swiss Guards cannot be persuaded by anyone (not even a cute American girl) to let new people onto the square before 1:00 p.m. But as I noted before, I had to get to the excavation office, which I only knew to be accessible by the square, by (or preferably before) 1:00 p.m. What’s a young theologian to do?

I got some pizza and sat down to wait. Worst thing that could happen is that they would let me in at 1:00 p.m. and I wouldn’t make it to the excavation office on time. So… let me think… I found myself staring at another portal off to the side of St. Peter’s Basilica that was guarded by Swiss Guards. Now this portal didn’t lead onto the square but it did lead in the general direction of the excavation office. Finishing my pizza, I walked up to the guard and smiled my big American smile. After briefly explaining where I needed to go and demonstrating that I knew where the office was, he let me inside the Vatican without so much as a bag check.

From then on out, things were easy. I went to the office, got my ticket, joined a group and traveled two stories underground to view the massive excavation that occurred during WW2. Now there are many stories here and I won’t go into those details right now, but I did find it fascinating that the entire excavation was done secretly and under the cover of darkness. The pope at the time didn’t want Hitler to find out what was going on least Hitler demand to acquire what was found. It turns out that Hitler never set foot in the Vatican…ever!

So I got to hear the stories, I got to see the tomb and a few of the bones of St. Peter. The end of the tour brought me into St. Peter’s Basilica once again and it was quite rewarding to have seen a little of what was underneath all the gold and the glamour.

What next? Well since I had been down into the belly of the beast, it made logical sense to head up to the tip of its nose. I walked up over 550 steps to the inner part of St. Peter’s dome and then to the cupola. It was well worth the exertion. Although I took quite a few pictures, I also spent some time on each of the levels just sitting in silence, sitting in prayer, and listening beyond the river of people around me. The day was beautiful.

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