The Pope, St. Peter’s, and the Pantheon, September 11, 2013

Pope Francis on Jumbotron, September 11, 2013.
Many thousands of people want to see the Pope. Many thousands want to visit St. Peter’s. Pilgrims we all may be, but the journey is not for those with little patience, Speaking only for myself, I did fine when my task was to put one foot in front of another for days on end on the Camino, up hill and down. OK, I complained on occasion, but kept going. Today, however, showed the limits. I can’t stand to wait in more lines.
We got started early enough — out of the house before 8:30, making our way on the sycamore-lined path along the Tiber. The damp breeze swept over us on and off all day long, sometimes with more clouds, sometimes more sun. I didn’t stop to photograph the wonderful busload of Africans with varied and brilliant costumes who were debarking to see the Pope. We didn’t stop for coffee. We just walked as fast as we could to get to St. Peter’s Square to see the Pope.
We found the basilica by 9:30, and then began to look for the ticket office. The guidebooks and web sites said to look for the Swiss Guards’ office to the right of the basilica, but we couldn’t see that. We saw a line of people, six or eight abreast and a couple of blocks long all holding orange squares of paper, making their collective way in through security checks and guards to the plaza in front of the church. We asked, “Where do you get the tickets for the audience?” People — several different sorts — police, bystanders, guides — sent us to the Vatican Museum, and yes, there were people hurrying toward the long line all carrying orange squares of paper. So we hied ourselves off to the Vatican Museum, several blocks away, and finally reached it, to be told, “no, not here.”
Back we went, coming upon the now-longer line, and realized that the Pope was already in the square at 10:00 a.m. So we squeezed in along a railing at the back of the square, watching the “Jumbotron” (Anthea says this is the name for the huge video screen) and trying to figure out what was going on. The Pope was riding through the crowds on a mobile platform, greeting, blessing, waving, and greeting. As the next hour and a half unfolded we realized that we actually had a good location — room to breath, a railing to lean against, a better view than many crammed into the square, and no more trouble hearing what was going on. Plus, we got to watch the people going in; and after an hour, the steady stream of people leaving.
At 10:30, Pope Francis settled himself in a chair on a platform. Priests took turns reading in different languages several times throughout the hour-long event, alternating with the pope reading from prepared notes, then more readings by the priests. Anthea thinks that what she heard the first priests reading were the verses from St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians (verses 12 and 13), in which he says, “for as with the human body which is a unity although it has many parts, all the parts of the body, though many, still making up one single body — so it is with Christ. We were baptised into one body in a single Spirit, Jews as well as Greeks, slaves as well as free men, and we were all given the same Spirit to drink.” It seemed like a good choice for September 11 — Freedom Day for Catalunya (in Spain; we received a reminder of this today from a friend we made in Barcelona last year), September 11 for the U.S.; in 2013, a day on which the world watches and waits to see what will happen in Syria.
The Pope’s own speech, according to a news site on-line, was about the Church as Mama (here’s the link, if you want to read it: After more readings, and cheers, and readings, and speeches, Pope Francis sang the “Our Father” in Latin. Gregorian Chant, and blessed the crowd.
We went off in the hot, nearly noon mugginess, to eat and then go back to see St. Peter’s basilica. But alas, when we returned the lines to get into the church were just as long as the lines to get into the audience, and also involved security screening so the faithful were moving very slowly. The passes that we bought yesterday for the Coliseum and other attractions don’t work in the Vatican — the salesman looked me in the eye and said, “That’s a separate country, isn’t it.” I will have to find some other way to see St.Peter’s because I am surely not standing in line for an hour and a half in the hot afternoon to get there.
On the way to the Pantheon, our alternative to St. Peter’s, we saw plenty of street vendors. Rome is different from Athens and Barcelona where almost all of the people selling things on the street were either entirely temporary (as in, they could get away in five minutes or less from the spot where they had spread their goods), or stationary, with structures and semi-permanent booths and kiosks. Our neighborhood has both of those types, but also tables with awnings and tarps propped above, more like a farmers’ market arrangement. They sell new clothes, shoes, inexpensive plastic kitchen tools, used books (Anthea scored some old Donald Duck comics in Italian this evening), luggage, and more. People patronize them in the mornings and afternoons; not so much in the evenings.
But Rome also has the Africans and Indians/Pakastanis who sell the knock-off designer handbags, sunglasses, and  cheap toys. They line up along the sides of the bridges, and all through Vatican City, and the Roman ruins, and the parts of town with the heaviest traffic. People buy from them — I am always a bit surprised to see that — as well as from the souvenir stands.
The Parthenon, beautiful thing, looks massive but unprepossessing from the outside. Its weathered, intricately laid red brick with no windows dominates until you get around to the front with rows of marble pillars. Inside is the dome with the opening in the middle — when it rains, the marble floor inside gets wet. It seems so odd to have a building like that open to the sky.
Marcus Agrippa commissioned it 27 years before the birth of Christ, and the Emperor Hadrian finished the rebuilding of it entirely in about 146 C.E. (Hadrian left lots of monuments, many named after him, throughout the Empire). The Romans dedicated to the worship of all of the gods. When the Christians took it over in 609 C.E., Pope Boniface IV consecrated it as a church, and it has been used continuously as such since then. Signs in the building say that it is the best-preserved example of ancient Roman work despite the changes made in the ensuing centuries. Pieces of it were taken away (some to the British Museum; some to Constantinople; etc.), but the interior is much the same structure as it was for the Romans worshiping Minerva.
That was our history and art for the day; we found an excellent place for dinner in our neighborhood, along a street filled with interesting little shops — shoes, cheeses, clothes, meat, and plenty of restaurants and bars. It’s exactly the sort of area that one is supposed to discover, and we will go back. We saw the wedding for the day — the bride and groom walking down the street past the cafe where we ate dinner.
Not so many photos tonight — technology and I are at odds; my photos are all located in some obscure hard-to-access site on the computer (and the camera card re-formatted so they can’t be easily re-copied to the correct location).
Regina arrives mid-afternoon tomorrow, so the dynamic of the adventure will change. We will keep you all posted.
Patient novices and others, waiting in line to get into St. Peter’s Basilica.
The dome of the Pantheon.
Anthea photographing the Pantheon dome.
Cannabis and other varieties of absinthe for sale.
An Italian evening sky that you know from hundreds of paintings.
Today’s wedding couple, hastening down the street near the Piazza di San Calisto.


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