Most people visit the smallest country on earth to pay respect to the most sacred church in Catholicism. For me, the religious experience of visiting The Vatican City lies not in the papal tombs, shrines, and artifacts but in the paintings, sculptures, and architecture by Michelangelo. His first contribution was the marble Pieta sculpture which depicts Mary holding the body of Jesus after the Crucifixion. It was rumored that the statue had been created by another sculptor. To claim his work, Michelangelo carved his signature into the sash across Mary´s chest. This is the only piece that Michelangelo ever signed. Although Michelangelo considered himself to be a sculptor and not a painter, he was later commissioned to create the 5,000 square foot fresco ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and was recommissioned to paint The Last Judgment in the chapel and to design the dome of the Basilica.
As I entered the Vatican Museums, the other guests darted directly towards the Sistine Chapel. As per usual, curiosity consumed me and I decided to take the long route to the famous chapel. Thank goodness I did, otherwise, I would have never discovered the vast collection of artwork and history housed in the museum. There are endless rooms filled with pristine Egyptian and Greek art, sculptures and historic relics.
As you move towards the Sistine Chapel you enter a series of rooms which consist of religious paintings from across the decades. I was surprised to see works by Diego Rivera, Salvador Dali and Henri Matisse, some of my favorite artists. The floors alone are awe-inspiring, with colorful motifs and tiles that were brought to the Vatican as gifts from various kings and nobility.
We are all familiar with the Capella Sistina and the fresco of incredibly ornate motifs painted by Michelangelo that consumes the ceiling of the chapel. This painting has always held special meaning for me, as my grandmother used to touch her index finger to mine in the same manner in which God is greeting Adam, depicted in the painting. This gesture is God breathing life directly into Adam. Adam was the first man on earth and God created him in his own image. If you´ve never touched the pad of your index finger to the finger of someone you love, I suggest you try it—the energy you will feel is magnetic. Even as a young girl, I recognized this. I recall feeling electricity pulse through my body whenever my grandmother touched her finger to mine to silently greet me and exchange energy. These memories are precious to me and flooded my thoughts as I entered the chapel. The room was completely full, but I was able to find a seat and spent some time gazing at the ceiling. It felt as if I was the only one in the room. Finally seeing this magnificent piece of beautiful, historical art was an unexpectedly emotional experience for me.
After exiting the museum, to avoid the massive lines and enter St. Peter’s Basilica directly, I snuck through the side door reserved for tour groups. The Basilica de San Pietro is the largest church on earth and is considered the holiest of Catholic shrines. Its vast decadent interiors were extremely overwhelming for this nonreligious visitor, especially from the birds-eye perspective from the balconies of the dome. I decided to climb to the top of the Duomo to see the sweeping views of the Piazza San Pietro from the roof of the Apostolic Palace. 551 steps up tiny corridors and I reached the top just in time to view the Vatican City grounds before the rain came in. From here you can see the manicured gardens, giant obelisk and the 13 statues of Jesus, the 11 apostles and John the Baptist that stand atop of the building´s facade.
After a long morning of exploring The Vatican City, I was eager to refuel and find shelter from the massive thunderstorm that had rolled in. Luckily, La Soffittia Renovatio was nearby offered everything on their menu with or without gluten. I devoured my a pizza that was the perfect blend of basil, fresh cheese and tomatoes made it easy to eat the entire pizza on my own.
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