Sunday, 31 January 2010

Visit to St-Peter's Basilica

On Saturday our friend Beverly who is visiting from Islamabad wanted to go and visit St-Peter's Basilica. So we took the number 62 bus and went down to the Vatican. Because it is winter and a Saturday not many people around in the Piazza in front of the Basilica, the Christmas tree and the crèche still stand, it should all come down around 2 February. We went through security which is provided, gratis, by Italy, fancy that, Italians pay for the security of another country, while the Swiss Guard stand around in their Medieval costumes looking pretty.
Inside the Basilica it suddenly struck me that it is no more than a museum nowadays, visitors are cordoned off to a circuit which takes them around the central part of the Basilica and out at the other end you go. St-Peter is not used very often except for special days in the church calendar, like Christmas and Easter Sunday, in the Spring mass is said outside in the piazza.
Inside there are gigantic marble statues to several Popes, while a few other Popes dead many decades ago lie in State, they are not all in their coffins down below. No it is not a wax dummy, its a real corpse in all its papal finery lying under the altar of the many side chapels, waiting for Sainthood. Other statues are of Saints like St-Veronica and St-Longinus and of course St-Peter and St-Paul, those two fine jews who just happened to turn Roman Catholic in a nick of time.

Two equestrian statues of interest are of the real political founders of the Roman Catholic Church, without them there would be no St-Peter basilica or much of a Christian church to speak of today, that would be Emperor Constantine and Emperor Charlemagne. The first one made Christianity the official religion of the Empire over all the other religions in 350 AD, when Christianity was still a cult practiced by the plebes and slaves and the second confirmed at a crucial moment in history Christmas Day 730 AD the supreme authority of the bishop of Rome and Christianity as a state religion in Europe when Islam was about to take over in the Mediterranean basin. Bev remarked that it is a very arrogant and pretentious place and that it does not offer a feeling of sanctity and does not invite to prayer. I agree, it is mostly a place for tourists to visit. All in all a bit sad and empty. It looks a lot like what a Roman Temple to the gods of antiquity would have looked like, with the multi-colored marbled floors and gold colored mosaics.

I know a lot of tourists like to visit St-Peter Basilica because it confirms in their mind the supremacy of what they believe and how right they are to believe it too. I remember a different St-Peter when it was still a Basilica used daily for prayers and religious services, you could enter and simply wander around there were priests everywhere ready to hear a confession or help with a blessing or offer a prayer, candles burned as offerings and flowers decorated the side altars and even the main altar reserved for Papal masses. All that is gone today, so sad to see this huge building turned into a tourist attraction, sort of disneyland Christianity, we are probably not far off from Mickey Mouse as some kind of holy figurine.

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