Sunday, March 30, 2008

St. Peter's Basilica - 7th Day (3/07/08)

We awake to an overcast and rainy day in the Eternal City, but our spirits are high and pilgrims are eager with anticipation. The group gathers for breakfast; this time and for the next few days in the cozy restaurant cafe. We learn that the large church adjacent to the hotel is affectionately called Our Mother of the Ovens. In this neighborhood, Mary is patroness of the many bakeries that populate the district.

Fr. Joe has arranged for an early, private Mass in the Basilica. We make our way into St. Peter's Square and take in the grand panorama.

Yet again we experience the priceless advantage of traveling with an Augustinian priest fluent in Italian. We breeze through security - sad but true - before regular opening hours and wait for Fr. Joe to return vested and vesseled, ready for Mass.

Once downstairs, we assemble first at one chapel, then another, but no matter. We are at home.

It is a privilege to be in this Holy place, among friends
to pray for loved ones, the Villanova community,
the needs of the Church and our world.
It is simply the experience of a lifetime.

Before moving back upstairs, we tour the grotto of the Basilica, reflecting on the history of the Catholic Church, the faith of our ancestors and our responsibility for its stewardship. Among the most significant moments are time spent at the Chapel of St. Peter, also known as Clementine Chapel, and the Tomb of John Paul II.

Returning to the nave of the main church, we were pleased to find that the the crowds were only beginning to appear.

The magnitude and beauty of the Basilica was overwhelming. We quickly put our guidebooks away as Fr. Joe demonstrats encyclopedic knowledge of not only religion and art but history, psychology, even engineering.

The Basilica centers around the Papal
Altar where only the Pope celebrates
Mass. It was consecrated by Clement
VIII in 1594. Rising above the altar is
the Baldacchino (a 95ft. canopy over
the cental altar
), Gian Lorenzo Bernini's
masterpiece and first work in St. Peter's.
The ancient tomb of St. Peter lies directly
below the altar.

The Apse
(a projecting part of a church, usually semicircular most often, projecting from the east) is at the end of the central nave. In the center is the Altar of the Chair of Peter, which is again, the work of Bernini. This grandiose sculpture monument was created to enclose the wooden throne of the Apostle Peter. The four prominent statues are of Doctors of the Church. Western Doctors represented are St. Ambrose - Pastoral Doctor, 340-397 (left front) and St. Augustine - Doctor of Grace, 354-430 (right front). Eastern Doctors represented are St. Athanasius - Doctor of Orthodoxy, 295-373 (left rear) and St. John Chrysostom - Doctor of Preachers, 345-407 (right rear).

After amazing stories touching on the rich and famous, on popes and politics, artists and their benefactors too numerous to mention, and learning more about the foundational role of Augustine in the early Church, we returned to the Augustinianum for a brief tour of the Order's chapel, redesigned by Fr. Alan Fitzgerald and for pictures from one of the most prized views in Rome.

After a delightful lunch at a nearby cafe, we return to the Vatican for the SCAVI Tour, where pilgrims are guided below the grotto to an archeological excavation of the burial site of St. Peter. The history of the search for and the subsequent authentication of the relics is fascinating. We learned that the bones of St. Peter's have only left the Vatican twice. At Pope John Paul II's request, the relics were brought to his bedside after the attempted assassination in 1981, and again during his final days in 2005. No pictures are allowed, but Vatican staff hope to have a virtual tour available soon.

For the rest of the afternoon pilgrims are free to select from an overwhelming number of opportunities. Regina and Joan are among our most patient and persistent pellegrini. They are rewarded with eventual admission to the Sistine Chapel. Lou and Michael set out for a life long dream - to see the Roman Coliseum.

Still others make their way along backsteets and alleyways to visit an impressive series of churches with historical significance to Augustinians and the life of Augustine.

Our first stop is the Basilica di Santa Maria del Popolo. Managed by the Augustinian Order since the end of the 15th cnetury, the attached convent is the site where the Grand Union of Toscana hermits and friars took place in March of 1256. It contains both The Crucifxion of St. Peter and The Conversion of Paul by Michelangelo Caravaggio.

Nonetheless, the highlight of the afternoon is our stop at the Basilica di Sant' Agostino. It is here that the relics of St. Monica, mother of Augustine, rest in a beautiful shrine to the left of the main sancutary. A magnificent painting of Our Mother of Consolation hangs above.

Also in this church are a beautiful statue and a portrait of St. Thomas of Villanova, patron of our university.

The Shrine of La Madonna del Parto (Our Mother of Childbirth) is found here as well - all "must sees" for Villanovans and those interested the history of the Augustinian Order and the life of Augustine.

Later in the afternoon and into the early evening, The Twin Churches at the Piazza del Popolo, The Pantheon, Trevi Fountain and even the shops on the Via Condotti are among the sites enjoyed by one and all. As small groups of pilgrims return to the hotel from sharing dinner and perhaps the most adverntuous day of the pilgrimage, all seemed to agree that Rome is even more impressive at night.

Thanks to pilgrim Chris for reconstructing a record for the seventh day of our pilgrimage, and to all who have shared photographs for this entry.

No comments: