The History of the Church

I think I have realized on this trip why I enjoy traveling with people so much. I live off other people's reactions. I don't mean I can't enjoy something myself. But I think what I like most of all is seeing someone respond to something new, or the joy in their eyes at it. That makes me really happy. I don't care much about food, but when my friend Mary is enjoying all kinds of new foods, then I find it enjoyable. Even something interesting, like ruins, becomes much more so when I have the opportunity to see it through another's eyes.

Today was the last two items, the Sistine Chapel and the catacombs. The Sistine Chapel has a bit of a line. I mean, an hour and a half. Then you get in, and you are lead through one path only, through one museum after another, and then another, till you get to Raphael's frescoes. The one of the Athens crowd was great- with Ibn Sina (Avicenna), Raphael, Michaelangelo, Aristotle, Socrates, Democritus, and many others. I'm not so much of an art museum guy myself, so it was a bit of a hike, to get to the end. But the paintings and tapestries are amazing. I particulary enjoyed the ancient map room, with giant maps from floor to ceiling, and what looks like a gold scuplted ceiling in a hall bigger than any apartment building I've ever lived in. After 2 hours going through giant crowds in the museum, we got to the Sistine Chapel.

I must confess, I always thought the Sistine Chapel was the same as St. Peter's. Kind of got them mixed up in my mind. Probably because it's as big as a cathedral. No pictures allowed in that room unfortunately. But there was God touching Adam's finger, Adam and Eve talking with God, Adam and Eve being tempted, Adam and Eve being cast out of the garden, the flood, even Noah's sons stumbling upon his nakedness. All in amazing restored colour. It was very beautiful, and very vivid. Especially the torment of souls in Judgement Day. Interesting how Michaelangelo painted his picture on the dead discarded skin of one saint who rises to paradise with a new body.

I recall the excellent movie, Shoes of a Fisherman. <Warning: Spoiler> There the new Pope decides the only way to save the world from nuclear distruction is to give up the wealth of the church to the poor. I never realized till today how wealthy the church is. Not including lands and things in other places, the Catholic church has just so much there in the Vatican! All that gold, all that silver. What good will it bring if it does not bring you happiness, as St. Francis said?
So the last stop was the catacombs, outside Rome, on the underground, a bus ride, and a long walk down the oldest major Roman road, the Appian Way, going back to 312 BC. Back to when we were embracing Holy Sister Poverty. Down a deep tunnel, into the bowels of the earth, where 100,000 Christians are buried in narrow tombs, between narrow tunnels of soft lava rock covered in perspiration. Here we breathed our prayers when we first left the houses to live life underground. We conducted death, and life, in a place when we had nowhere else to go. In 7 kilometers of stone we built a life, painting minature frescoes of the Last Supper, the Good Shepherd, and the Garrascene Demoniac. Perhaps fitting that there are no pictures allowed here either. For all the gilt, all the wonder of Rome, here is the true shock and awe of the Church, in humility and poverty.

So tomorrow, hopefully, after a detour to San Marino, I'm going to try for Maundy Thursday and Good Friday in Assisi. Pray for me. I don't have a place to stay there yet, and am still looking.


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