Filed under: Italy — Russell @ 1:37 pm  


We spent an entire day in the Vatican Museum.  This is an immense collection of art spanning 500 years of church history.  The line ups to get in are huge but you can skip the line by signing up with a tour group.  We chose one that walks you in, gives you an audio guide and then leaves you to wander on your own.

Parts of the museum were originally the Pope’s private apartment.  Some of the greatest artists have decorated these apartment.  There are a large number of frescoes by Raphael.  These are impressive not just due to their scale and artistry but the fact that they were painted on fresh plaster and had to be completed before it dried.

The hall of maps is something of a time-line of Europe’s knowledge of geography.  Early maps only show areas of European influence with nothing beyond the borders.  As you walk down the hall the view of the world clears to included details drawings of Asia, South America and the East coast of North America.

Collection of Profane Statues

There are two statue collections, one is a collection of medieval Christian works and the other much earlier works from the Greek and Roman periods.  The difference is surprising, the new Christian works look like they were done by a child whereas the early classical statues are lifelike and beautiful.  The pope who started the non Christian (profane) collection felt a need to justify all of this marble nudity and said that god was present in any expression of beauty.

Sistine Chapel

When I visited Rome in 1989 the Sistine Chapel was closed for renovations.  That work took years so I was excited to see the results.  Unfortunately, no pictures are allowed in the chapel so I can’t show you the cleaned up paintings but they are very impressive.  The ceiling is one of Michaelangelo’s masterworks.

While the artwork was amazing the experience was unpleasant.  The space is jammed full of tourists all talking.  There are several security guards who’s thankless job it is to get people to be quiet and stop picture takers.  All the shushing and “No Picture!” yelling detracts from an otherwise beautiful space.  Even with the restoration the paintings are still fragile and there is talk of closing the chapel to the public permanently.  I suspect the reason has more to do with keeping the space sacred than the official story which is that the humidity from all the breathing is damaging the work.

Secret Vatican Archive

Like many people, I’ve read Dan Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code” so I know that any boring historical art or architecture can be spiced up by adding a conspiracy theory.  The Vatican is a centuries old institution surrounded by high walls and mysterious ceremonies.  So I decided to find out the truth about the Secret Vatican Archive.

From the bathroom on the second floor of the museum it is possible to lean out the window and see a large obelisk.  This is not part of the public display and for good reason.  A liberal interpretation of the markings on this ancient stone reveals the shocking truth.  There is a Secret Vatican Archive and incredibly, it has a website!  (Google will also return this information in .02 seconds)

The word secret, according to the site, has an older meaning similar to the word personal.  This is the pope’s personal archive.  It is not open to the public but researchers can view documents if they explicitly ask for them.  It is sort of like the Catholic version of the Freedom of information act.  You have to guess what they might know.  Imagine the questions they must get:

Do you have an early version of the gospels that says the bold will inherit the earth?  No.
Do you have a letter from Henry the VIII asking for a marriage annulment?  Yes
Do you have minutes from the Pope’s meeting with a delegation of visitors from space?  No
Do you have the account of the trial of Galileo?  Yes
An admission that the earth really is round?  No
A pardon for Galileo?  Yes
Pictures of Jesus’s bar mitzvah?  No!

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