On Monday it was another early morning as it was time for a Scavi Tour. We had to be back at St Peter’s at 8.30am! Yep – back to St Peter’s AGAIN! The Scavi Tour can be extremely difficult to get tickets to – only a small amount of people are able to tour the excavations on any day. Because we knew our dates so far in advance, this wasn’t a problem for us. Also – this is different to visiting the catacombs – a lot of people get these tours mixed up! We could not take photos so I cannot share anything but my memories with you.
We got to the St Peter’s and had to go through security in another ‘secret’ side entrance.
There, we started chatting to a couple from Ohio who had tried for their past four trips to Rome to get on a Scavi tour – it is that sought after!
I would probably say that it was one of the most amazing experiences that I’ve had travelling. We were in a small group of ten and were led through dark, narrow corridors of the necropolis under St Peters – you can view the map here.
Our tour guide was a sensitive, intelligent theologian who led us through and explained clearly what we were seeing. It then ends up, he has written a whole book on the area and was an expert on the excavation, so it was even more wonderful that he was able to explain everything to us in a way we could understand. The tour itself went for about an hour and a half. We kept going through the dark, damp underground area and then came out in a chapel area. This chapel (later found out it is called the Clementine Chapel) was entirely covered in gold with a few small kneelers and an altar.
Here is a photo from the web of the Clementine Chapel –
Our guide gave an explanation of the chapel and then led us up some metal side stairs and into a darkened stone room that had glass on one side looking at some rubble. It was here he explained if we looked closely into the rubble we would see bones and these were the bones of Saint Peter himself. It was chilling and I got goosebumps when he said it then, there was just emotion. He then asked us all to bow our heads for a prayer. Here we were, steps a way from St Peter’s remains. It is something we will always remember. I just held Bill’s hand and we were led out of the room. You do not have to be Catholic to go and do a scavi tour or anything like that but it was such a powerful experience that we were speechless. We then walked back into the Clementine Chapel and then we realized when we turned around that we were. Where were right below the cupola in the middle of the Basilica. The phrase “Upon this rock…” came to life right there.
We were led up a small staircase and up to the middle of the Basilica where our tour ended.
We walked around and tried to comprehend what we just experienced but we really couldn’t. The pangs started happening at that point where I was fretting at having to leave Rome. We needed more time but we didn’t have it.
After this, we went at posted some postcards at the Vatican Post Office and then made out way back into the town to have another look around.
We went to the Gammarelli shop and picked up a couple of pairs of socks for our two Fr Joe’s and then we saw a church across the square from the shop.
As we had got into the habit of doing, we went inside for a look. The church was Santa Maria Sopra Minerva. This church was dark and gothic and there was hardly anyone in there. I walked up to the altar and saw a tomb. On closer inspection I nearly fainted. It was the tomb of St Catherine of Siena. My confirmation saint. It was too much to even comprehend when I saw her tomb was open – because it had been her feast day the day before. I was able to go in and pray over her tomb – it was just too much!
All of this in a little neighbourhood church!! Even just typing about it now gives me chills. We spent a long time in that church full of strange plaques and displays… here are some.
Side chapel –
We then went to a quick place for lunch and to rest our feet… gnocchi time! We stopped at a touristy little place called Trattoria Di Torre Argentina.
Chocolate Mousse was more like a cold fudge –
As we spent longer than expected lazing around at lunch we ended up getting a cab back to the Vatican as we had a 2pm guided tour of the Vatican Museums. As we crossed the river and around the back streets alongside the Vatican walls we could see an ongoing queue of people. I think there was easily 15,000 people LINING up to get in to the museums. This is only part of the line –
Seriously! To make it worse, it was already 1.30pm – these people had NO HOPE of getting in and yet, there they were lining up. This was most probably because it was the May Day public holiday on Tuesday and the Museums would be closed. So those who were in Rome for a short time had no other choice but to try and get in to the Vatican on that day. The thing that baffled me was there was guided tour groups lining up in this line. What kind of tour guide and/or tour company makes people who are visiting Rome spend half of their time lining up in obscene queues in hot weather? I can only feel for these people, probably on a trip of a lifetime and spending all of their timing lining up in endless queues. It is awful and tour companies should know better. We booked our place beforehand so just walked right in. It was absolute scenes of madness in the ticketing area. There were people everywhere. Bill and I found a corner and waited for our tour to start.
We had another great tour guide but the conditions were awful. There were so many people in the museum we couldn’t move through the areas easily and came to a lot of traffic jams that resulted in long waits just to move.
The hot conditions in the museum itself were awful. We were basically dripping with sweat and people were pushing to get their way through – it was difficult to enjoy the surrounds.
View through a window –
When we got to the Sistine Chapel the madness continued. Despite signs everywhere saying SILENZIO! Many people find it impossible to be silent for even five minutes and continued to chat. This resulted in the guards constantly shouting “SHHHHH!” “QUIET!” To make it worse – a lot of the offenders were TOUR GUIDES. It was infuriating and the lack of respect or care by the people in there was making my blood boil. The experience was ruined. I had already seen it before, but I was disappointed for Bill. SIGH! Our guide was actually respectful (being an actual Vatican guide) and explained aspects of the Sistine Chapel to us at the start of the tour using these boards as guides. It is a shame that the shoddy guides don’t use this method as well –
At least we can say we were both there, together but when we go back to Rome, hopefully the museums will be a little bit less stressful!
When we left we headed straight back to the hotel for a little downtime before dinner and some adventures at an Italian supermarket!