The Splendor of Rome, Part 3
by Mary Wakefield Buxton
Urbanna, VA — Leaving the dogs and traveling far from home is always difficult for me, but taking a bus tour in order to tour the Vatican along with 25,000 other people scheduled to visit that day (an “off day” in November) is even more of a challenge. There was nothing to do but grit my teeth and board the bus with the Virginia Bar tour. My reward would be St. Peter’s Basilica where the bones of St. Peter were laid to rest, Michelangelo’s famous “Pieta,” and finally view what I have wanted to see for many years—the world renowned Sistine Chapel.
The Vatican is home to the Pope who wears a triple crown: spiritual head of the church, Bishop of Rome, and King of the Vatican, which is a separate country from Italy. St. Peter’s Church, the largest cathedral in the world, is home to “Pieta,” a statue carved in marble when the renowned artist was only 23. Great art is among the things I value most from religion and the Catholic Church has inspired much of it to the world’s great fortune.
Once seen, “Pieta” is never forgotten; Mary holding her crucified son in her arms. The message is universal: a mother suffering death and defeat her children will one day experience. What mother today cannot identify with such agony?
Our tour took us through the many halls of the Vatican, one massive museum of collected sculptures, mosaics, paintings, murals, and tapestry, one hall more beautiful and breathtaking than the other. Also remarkable was the hall of maps where artists had painted the entire country of Italy in sections, capturing each mountain, each bay, each hamlet placed in position before Italy had even been united as a nation, and before GPS to help direct each latitude and longitude. Amazing.
The Vatican certainly portrays what man inspired by God can do. I have yet to be impressed by artistic output of man inspired by government, but who knows what the exciting future will hold?
Finally I entered the Sistine Chapel jammed with people with their heads flung as far back as possible to view the ceiling that Michelangelo had painted with the famous scene of God reaching out to man. It was magnificent. As remarkable was his “The Last Judgment,” which took the entire front wall. I finally squeezed onto a bench along the side of the chapel where I could also study his exquisite wall panels. Michelangelo made the arduous trip worthwhile. Man cannot live without art.
Vatican officials patrolled and when our gasps of wonderment became too audible, they would shout “Silence!” in various languages, making far more noise than we did. It was laugh-out-loud funny.
Italian food was delicious but the pizza I sampled was not as good as Urbanna’s Colonial Pizza. We ate homemade pasta every day: ravioli, lasagna, spaghetti, penne all served with lovely fresh-roasted vegetables like eggplant, squash, cherry tomatoes and mushrooms. Most dishes came with very little meat. The meat, such as shrimp, diced bacon, or finely-ground beef, was used as seasoning or accent. Every menu included ham, lamb, local seafood, chicken and veal. I tasted olive oil in everything. They served outstanding home-baked crusty rolls and bread and luscious-looking ice cream, “gelato,” which was softer than our brands and covered in many different toppings such as rum, peppermint, caramel, chocolate, and fresh fruit.
I walked everywhere to avoid the daily offering of bus tours, and I soon became familiar with the major routes. I noticed every corner looked like the last corner with a fountain featuring some beautifully sculptured marble of a Roman God or Goddess. The ancient Romans used fountains to deliver water to citizens and I saw many Romans stopping to drink the water flowing from fountains even today.
It was fun walking to the Coliseum, Roman Forum, Roman Circus and many other sights on my own. One day I came across the little hotel where I had stayed in 1963. It was where I was supposed to meet Chip, who was in the US Navy then and at anchor off Naples. (I missed him in Rome but later caught up with him in Naples.)
I walked inside the hotel to look around. What I had remembered as a svelte little hotel now seemed a bit seedy with a small lobby filled with worn furniture. I stood there filled with a sudden surge of déjà vu, that sweet sensation of the past that returns every now and then. Oh, to be back in Rome 49 years later and standing in the very same hotel!
It was as if I were still just 21 years old and all that time had never passed and I was about to meet the man I would marry all over again . . . for me just more of the splendor of Rome.