Not interested in what I ate for lunch or how great the busker on the metro was? Click here to go directly to The Vatican Grottoes. Click here to skip to the Vatican Necropolis Tour.
Link to Day 14
Day 15: Thursday, April 24, 2014 — Thursday of the Octave of Easter
Today’s prayer intention: Deacon Tom Johnson
My day started early. After I got dressed and ready to go, I packed the last of my belongings, because I’m switching rooms today. The housekeeper will move my suitcase into my new room, and I’ll pick up my key when I get back this evening. I took the orange juice I had in my fridge downstairs with me and asked the man at the front desk if they would keep it in their fridge until tonight. Of course they were happy to. He also invited me to help myself to the breakfast that he had just set up even though it wasn’t officially breakfast hours yet. They are so kind here.
I took an apple and made myself a sandwich with a roll, some meat, and some cheese, and I sat down to eat. About that time, the usual breakfast lady arrived for her shift. As soon as she saw me, she said she would make me a cappuccino. When I was done with the cappuccino, I headed to the train station. I finished my apple on the way.
Oh, look. Here between Ottaviano metro station and Vatican City are a few chemical toilets of the 1,000 of them that Rome has bragged about having in preparation for the canonizations on April 27. That they are so proud of having 1,000 chemical toilets for 3 million pilgrims makes me laugh. It’s great that they’re thinking ahead, but the math just feels off to me. Maybe I’m wrong.
No wait to get through security this early in the morning!
It looks like they are starting to set up barricades in preparation for Sunday’s canonizations.
Blessed Sacrament Chapel in St. Peter’s
I made it in time for Mass inside the Blessed Sacrament Chapel of St. Peter’s Basilica. I am so happy about this. The Mass was celebrated by an old priest who sang beautifully and was visibly reverent in everything he did. After Mass I stayed for exposition of the Blessed Sacrament. Is there a better way to start your day than with Mass and Eucharistic adoration in St. Peter’s Basilica? I think not.
No photographs are allowed inside the chapel, but I took this picture from outside of the chapel of a glimpse inside it. Please take the time to stop in this chapel if you’re in St. Peter’s. I’m lucky that it was open today since it was closed when I was here last week. I’m glad I didn’t miss this.
Statue of St. Peter
Because of preparations for the Chrism Mass, Good Friday Celebration of the Lord’s Passion, and the Easter Vigil, the whole front of the basilica was roped off last week. Now that it’s opened up to the public again, I can get a better picture of the famous statue of St. Peter. Everybody likes to rub or kiss his feet… or what’s left of his feet.
Vatican Dress Code
If you don’t dress appropriately for the basilica (shoulders and knees covered, for both men and women), and you don’t want to buy one of the large scarves which are usually for sale outside the entrance, then I suppose this will work. Personally, I’d rather not walk around holding my jacket closed behind me the whole time, but I guess she didn’t mind.
Last week I couldn’t get near this part of the basilica, but today I enjoyed looking at the main altar, which is the one further away from the entrance than even the papal altar under the baldacchino and dome. There are stories which supposedly refute Catholicism’s claim to be the Church founded by Jesus because the “chair of Peter” seen here is not old enough to be the chair used by St. Peter. We don’t claim it was the chair that Peter used. It’s St. Peter’s chair because the office of St. Peter is handed down to every pope after him, and this chair was used by some popes. The chair in question has become part of the artwork here, below the dove stained glass window and above the main altar.
The Vatican Grottoes
When you go to St. Peter’s, check the maps displayed inside the basilica for the current entrance location to the Grottoes. There are a few options, and which one is open changes from time to time. Here is what was open today. The fenced off area contains the queue, and this leads to a staircase. Once there, there are notices that no photography or videography is allowed, so I’m sorry that I have no pictures to share with you.
I had no idea what to expect the Grottoes to be like. This space is at the level where the Old St. Peter’s Basilica was, and it’s about one story tall, so there’s not the larger-than-life sense of scale here as in the basilica above you. It’s a modern space, by which I mean it has floors and ceilings and walls the way you’d expect any building to have, not excavations and dirt. There are tombs of many popes here, and a few queens as well. Some areas are fenced off, but much of the space is open to the public.
Silence is required here, and I was quite saddened that so few people followed this rule. There were continual announcements in many languages reminding that silence is required, and those announcements only added to the continual buzz of voices. There is also music being played over the speaker system, which could be rather nice if not for all the talking.
On this level, you will be able to see another view of St. Peter’s tomb, similar to as if you were allowed to walk down the steps into the Confessio from the main level of the basilica. There is a large window here separating the Confessio from the viewing area in the Grottoes. Take time to stop and pray here.
All along the Grottoes, there are markers on the walls showing the height of the floor of the old basilica. There are some places where the stone is original to the old basilica, and these are marked as well. I had two of my rosaries with me today, and I took the time to touch them along these walls. Do I think that something magical will happen because of that? No. Do I think it’s awe-inspiring to know that religious articles I own in 2014 have physically touched part of a basilica so old? Yes.
For the most part, the Grottoes have a one-way traffic pattern. You walk in, you follow the crowd, and you exit together near where the queue is for those people who area going to climb to the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica. When I was done touring the Grottoes, it was time for me to prepare for my Necropolis tour.
Services at the Vatican
If you are facing the front of St. Peter’s Basilica from outside, to the right there is a long hallway with services you made need during your visit: an information booth, a baggage check area, and bathrooms.
The line for the women’s bathroom is quite long.
The bathrooms here are spotless, almost literally. As I was waiting my turn, one woman washed her hands and then dripped water on the floor as she went to dry them. The worker in charge yelled at her and then promptly mopped up the water on the floor. I was especially careful not to drip water.
Money Belt and Coin Purse
When in Europe, I follow Rick Steves’ advice to wear a money belt, where I keep my passport, credit card, debit card, and large currency. A money belt is not a fanny pack: don’t put so much stuff in it that it becomes visible under your clothing. I carry a small wallet with my loose change and maybe a €20 note or two in my day bag or backpack. Remember that loose change in Europe is different than in America. Where in the States the largest coin we carry on a daily basis is usually a quarter and not a terribly big deal if lost, the largest Euro coin is €2, worth roughly $2.75 during my trip. (The smallest note is €5.) So having a small zipper pouch for my coins helped me keep track of these valuable coins.
Vatican Necropolis (Scavi) Tour
The restrictions for what you can bring with you on the Necropolis tour are extensive. Basically, you can just bring yourself. They specifically forbid backpacks, so I had to check mine. I saw a lot of people checking their strollers and very large backpacks. When it was my turn to check my small backpack, the worker told me that was allowed inside, meaning inside St. Peter’s Basilica. I told him I was going to the Scavi tour, and he let me check my small bag. I wonder if this means that large backpacks and strollers are forbidden inside St. Peter’s Basilica.
I received a thick plastic tag with my bag check number on it. That and my two favorite rosaries went into my money belt, so I’m essentially breaking my rule about “don’t make it function like a fanny pack,” but I didn’t have a lot of other options for this tour.
To get from where I was to where I needed to be, I had to leave the secure area. I was nervous, because if I was wrong about where I was going, I’d have to get in the now-long line for security. I asked a few people along my way, and they all pointed me in the same direction. I left the secured area and went to the left side of the basilica (as you face the front). There are guards there who will check your printed confirmation and then let you in at the appropriate time.
About 10 minutes before the tour is scheduled to begin, several of us were allowed past the guards and into the non-public area of Vatican City. The Scavi tour office is not far ahead, on the right. There they accept your payment (only €13 as of April 2014) and tell you where to meet your tour guide just outside their office.
My tour guide gathered all of us gave us an introductory lesson in what we were going to see and what to expect, complete with printouts of pictures and artists’ renderings of what things used to look like. From there, she took us down underneath ground level and started the tour.
We learned that Peter was crucified near here and that he was buried not far from where he was crucified. We learned that from the beginning, his burial site became a place of veneration, evidenced by the fact that people started burying their loved ones as close to Peter’s tomb as they could. Consequently, as we walked throughout these excavations in the cool damp air, surrounded by dirt walls, floor, and ceiling, we were essentially taking a tour backward through time. The first tombs we encountered were more recent, and they got older as we approached the tomb of St. Peter.
Because Christianity wasn’t legal in Rome for a few hundred years, Christian symbols from the old tombs either were not used or were removed because they were illegal. Some families got around this, and we saw one example on the tour. The artwork was made to look like the sun god Helios, but the rays of the sun were made in such a way that it was actually portraying a cleverly-disguised crucified Jesus. I believe our guide said this was some of oldest surviving Christian artwork known. I wish I could’ve taken notes during the tour, because the amount of information shared with us was overwhelming.
The tour continued, going closer and closer to St. Peter’s tomb. Our guide pointed out one particular piece of artwork that was difficult to see because it was so high above us in the excavations and at an awkward angle. She told us just to remember this for later.
When we got very close to the tomb, we entered a small chapel, which is one level up from where we had been touring. We were on the same level as the Grottoes now.
This grate in the floor of the main level of the basilica is above the chapel one level below which is very near St. Peter’s tomb:
Throughout the tour, the twelve of us often would not fit in the same place at the same time, so we took two turns hearing what the our guide said. Here in the chapel, we could all sit down together. We heard more of the story of how St. Peter’s bones were discovered — recently, not even a century ago — in the place where tradition has told us for almost 2,000 years he was buried. Tests were done on the bones and confirmed they are from the appropriate time period and are from a man of the correct age and physical build to be St. Peter’s. The Vatican doesn’t go so far as to say definitely that these are St. Peter’s bones, but we believe that to be the case.
In the chapel, we wait our turn to go into the excavated area adjacent to the tomb of St. Peter. When the tour group in front of us leaves, we make our way up some small scaffolding and stand in the presence of Simon Peter’s bones. Some of his bones have been removed. The ones that were on display recently by the Vatican are not the same ones that are here still in the tomb. The bones here have been encased in plexiglass, and they are not within our reach. We only look. We take a few moments in silence to appreciate what we are witness to, and then together our group recites the Lord’s Prayer.
From there, our tour goes to the Grottoes. I’m glad I took the time to see the Grottoes before this tour, because it’s helped me appreciate more what I’m seeing underground. In the Grottoes, we go past a fenced area that is closed to the public. Here we are invited to lie on the floor and peer through a small grate under a tomb. There we see the piece of artwork that was pointed out by the guide earlier in our tour. It helps with a sense of perspective of where we walked and what we saw in relation to the current basilica and Grottoes.
After an hour and forty minutes, our tour ends here in the Grottoes, where we are free to spend as much or as little time as we wish before going on our way. I spent some more time on this level by St. Peter’s tomb, and then I went back upstairs to the basilica for a few more minutes.
Tradition has told us for millennia that St. Peter is buried here. The first St. Peter’s Basilica was erected here for that reason, its altar placed over the burial location. That altar is now inside a larger altar, still over the place where his bones are. The baldacchino is above the altar, and Michaelangelo’s dome is above it all. It lends a different and slightly more literal interpretation to the words of Christ written on the inside of the dome: You are Peter, and upon this rock I build my Church.
Here’s a view from near the papal altar upward, viewing the baldacchino and Michaelangelo’s dome:
You are Peter, and upon this rock….
There are three lamps burning immediately in front of St. Peter’s tomb. Two are symmetrical at a lower height. The one on the right is hanging at a higher height in front of a red wall. This marks the height at which St. Peter’s bones are at rest in a niche inside the wall.
Contact the Vatican Scavi Office to request a tour as soon as you’ve confirmed the dates of your trip. It books up months in advance. Pilgrims must be at least 15 years old to take the tour; no exceptions. Tours groups are divided by language, and only about 200 people are allowed to tour per day. A note about language: please book your own language. We had one family on our tour where the mother only spoke Spanish. Her son translated everything the guide said, often talking over her and making it difficult for the other nine of us to hear. Our guide handled it professionally, but she let them know they needed to be quieter and that they should’ve booked a Spanish tour if that’s the language they both spoke.
The Vatican has posted a virtual tour of the Necropolis on its website. Take some time to explore it. You can see the image of the Jesus hidden in the sun god in Mausoleum M. You can see the chapel on the level of the Confessio, and you can see the bones of St. Peter. It is not as good as being there in person, but this is a remarkably well-made presentation, and it is worth it to take the time to learn how to navigate through the web page to see each of the rooms available on the virtual tour.
In the virtual tour, you will see part of the actual Trophy of Gaius, a monument built over the Apostle’s tomb, as well as an artist’s representation of what it originally looked like. It was approximately four feet tall. You’ll also see the red wall. Below the trophy and red wall is the tomb of Peter. According to the Vatican website, “Gaius wrote about this monument during the pontificate of Pope Zephyrinus (199-217): ‘I can show you the trophies of the Apostles. If, in fact, you go out to the Vatican or along the Ostian Way, you will find the trophies of those who founded this Church.’”
Also on the virtual tour, you can see the Graffiti wall, where it is written “Peter is here” and “Peter in peace” in Greek. Inside a niche in this wall is where the bones of St. Peter are in plexiglass. The offset lamp in the Confessio visible from the main floor of St. Peter’s Basilica marks their height.
Back to the hotel
After the tour, I was hungry, but if I left the secure area to go outside the Vatican border to buy food, I’d have to wait in line again to get back through security. Plus, my feet were hurting more than they had so far on my trip. I went back inside the basilica to get the last few pictures of the Confessio that I posted above, to stop in at Blessed John Paul II’s tomb once more, and to just take a few moments to reflect on what I’d learned on the tour and to be in awe of this place I was in.
I had considered going to the top of the dome today, but for several reasons (fatigue, foot pain, hunger, and still trying to process the tour), I decided not to. Perhaps I will on a future visit to Rome.
There are always Swiss Guards at the bottom of the stairs as you exit St. Peter’s Basilica, so here’s the obligatory picture of them for you:
Just across the Vatican-Italy border, I bought a sandwich at a food truck and walked back to the metro.
I had considered doing some quick shopping at Casa del Rosario , and I even left Termini and started walking in that direction, but after I got outside I realized how much pain I was in. I changed my mind and went back in to get on Metro B. There was a busker on my train, playing guitar and panflute simultaneously. He was a talented musician, and his music helped take my mind off of my feet. I got a picture and took a very short video so that you could hear him, too. He was the only busker I gave money to on this trip.
I switched from the metro to the Roma-Lido line at the first stop where that is possible: Piramide. My train didn’t leave for another 15 minutes, so I decided to go see if the nice chatty Italian man is working at the food shop today.
Il Buongustaio, just outside the Piramide and Porto S Paolo stations:
The friendly Italian man wasn’t here again, but I got a €1 espresso. Saturday night I’ll be staying awake overnight as I wait for Sunday’s canonization Mass, so tonight (Thursday) and tomorrow night I’m hoping to stay up very late to get ready for that.
I got back to the train a few minutes before departure. All the seats were taken, which usually isn’t a problem for me. I’ve happily been giving up my seats for the past two weeks to people who need them more than I do. Today, though, my feet hurt so badly that I decide I would rather wait for the next train to be sure I have a seat, even though that will be another 20 minutes.
I waited outside near the track from which the next train would be departing. It hadn’t arrived yet, so I sat and waited. While I was there, four young ladies ran from the adjacent Piramide station into the Porto S. Paolo station where the Roma-Lido line trains are and asked me quickly, in Italian of course, when the next train to Lido was leaving. I can’t even tell you how excited I was — how excited I still am — that I was able to 1) understand them without having to stop and think, 2) know when that train was leaving (1 minute from now!) and from which track, and 3) form a coherent sentence to tell them that quickly enough that they made the train. I am not a complete failure in italiano!
When the next train arrived and its passengers had left, I boarded and claimed a seat. I’ve found times like this while waiting on trains to depart and while riding the trains are a great time to make notes in my phone about what I’ve done during the day. It turns out I’m no good at writing in a journal, because inevitably I will think of something I want to add after I’ve written a few paragraphs. By typing on my smartphone, I’m able to easily insert thoughts from earlier in the day as I remember them.
Riding the train is also a great time for people watching. This woman standing near me appears to have a tail.
Oh, I see. This dog is taking the train to the beach. Why not?
I stopped at the junk store — they may not like that I call them that, but I don’t know the store’s name, and I mean it in the nicest way possible as this is a wonderful place. The forecast for Saturday and Sunday say there’s a high chance of rain, and I’d rather not camp out in rain without plastic. So, I’m on a mission to find something plastic. It should be simple in a store like this that has so much … stuff.
Sure enough, I’ve found what I think is a large plastic tarp, which could be a handy way to stay out of the rain and make friends at the same time if it pours on us while we’re waiting for the canonization Mass.
Plus, I found these, which I think are thick trash bags. This will be good for ground cover before sitting down. I love this store. They didn’t even follow me around today.
I noticed this sign on Carrefour Market as I was walking from Lido Centro to Hotel La Scaletta. Tomorrow (Friday, April 25, 2014) is a holiday here, and Carrefour Market will be open reduced hours tomorrow. Grocery shopping was on my to-do list for tomorrow, so I’m glad I saw this notice. I’ll make a point of coming early in the day.
I stopped in briefly today, too, to pick up more yogurt and some chocolate to take home to Eugene and my godkids. Luisa is here today and is friendly to me as usual.
Hotel La Scaletta Room 206
When I got back to the hotel, I picked up my orange juice from their fridge and got the key to my new room, 206, which I’ll be in for the next 3 nights. I mentioned to Stefano at the desk about the reduced hours at Carrefour for the holiday, and he says a lot of places will be like that tomorrow. He says there will also be events in the city because of the holiday. I asked him if that meant celebrations or protests, and he says it will probably be both. Italians don’t seem miss an opportunity to protest.
Here’s my new room, 206. It’s across the hall from my old room, 207, which sort of had a beach view if you stuck your head out the window and looked to the right. That means that 206 won’t have a beach view, but that’s okay.
I have a balcony!
Here’s a view from the balcony in room 206 of Hotel La Scaletta.
I don’t mind my new room one bit, even though Stefano had cautioned me it is quite small. It’s perfectly fine for me since I’m travelling solo on this trip. In fact, I wouldn’t mind staying here for the rest of my time in Italy. I went downstairs and spoke to him about this. I’m happy to pay the higher rate for room 207 when I’m supposed to switch back the last two nights if I can just stay in 206. He can give a complimentary upgrade to whomever had 206 booked those nights. He checked his reservations list and agreed. Great! He reprogrammed my key, and I was able to unpack and really get settled in this room. I can’t say enough wonderful things about Stefano and Hotel La Scaletta. They continually exceeded my expectations.
It’s been a long day, and my feet hurt so much that it’s difficult for me to even walk across this small room from my bed to the bathroom. I do a bit of laundry in the sink and hang that on my clothesline to dry, and then I spent a lot of time just resting. I watched some television, including Cirque du Soleil’s Quidam, which I have seen in person and loved, plus Big Bang Theory (dubbed in Italian), MasterChef Australia (dubbed in Italian), and some music on MTV.
I’m keeping an eye on the forecast for Tuesday in Vienna, too. It’s also looking like rain.
Another glance at the forecast for Saturday and Sunday in Rome doesn’t look any better than the last time I (obsessively?) check it. 70% chance of rain on Saturday and 90% chance of rain on Sunday for the canonizations.
Around 10:00pm, I went around the corner to grab a sandwich and a Fanta. I took more pictures, especially for Eugene, who is still trying to understand what it is that I’m eating so much of over here.
I was up very late tonight. Around 1:30am, I thought I’d go for a walk outside, but the hotel was locked. I ended up accidentally waking the desk clerk. I still feel bad about that.
I came back upstairs and watched more television. This time it was Hell’s Kitchen Italia, which is filled with about as much yelling as on the American version. For what it’s worth, I think MasterChef Austria in Italian isn’t as good as Hell’s Kitchen Italia, but that’s probably because the dubbing is distracting.
I fell asleep sometime after 3:00am. Saying today was a good day would be quite the understatement.
Trip Tips from Day 15:
- The moment you’ve confirmed your travel dates to Rome, email the Vatican Scavi office to request your tour
- To beat the line for security at St. Peter’s, get there early in the morning before tour groups arrive
- Use a money belt
- Bring a small coin purse or small wallet with a zipper pouch for your valuable Euro coins
- Before your Scavi tour, take the time to go through the current St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Grottoes
- Use your time waiting for trains and riding on trains to update your journal or notes
Things I spent money on on Day 15:
- Housekeeping tip
- Vatican Scavi office: Scavi tour
- Lunch: panino from food truck outside Vatican
- Busker on metro
- Food shop by Piramide: espresso
- Junk store by Lido Centro: large plastic tarp and roll of thick trash bags
- Carrefour Market: yogurt and Baci chocolates
- Late dinner: doner kebab and Fanta
Some notes about tweets:
Link to Day 16