13 Aug The Comedown
The Vatican City, St Peter’s Square, 13:15, 22 September 2017. The euphoria of reaching the end of the pilgrimage on the Way of St Francis nullifies any tiredness. We take our arrival pictures. Perchance I take Niels’ arrival picture in front of the obelisk. He jokes that it’s the “wrong religion.” I retake it with St Peter’s Cathedral in the back background.
The True Meaning of the Obelisk in St Peter’s Square
It puzzles me that there should be an Egyptian obelisk in St Peter’s Square. Sure, it looks impressive, and it does predate Christianity, but would a large cross not be more appropriate? Niels tells me the obelisk is known as The Witness because Peter was crucified in front of it. It’s quite possibly the last thing Peter saw as he died, crucified upside down in front of it.
The Obelisk is crowned with a Cross, containing a relic from the original cross of Jesus. At the base of the obelisk there is a Latin inscription: Christus vincit. Christus regnat. Christus imperat. “Christ conquers. Christ reigns. Christ commands.”
Now it makes sense to me.
Into St Peter’s Cathedral
We make our way to the queues to enter St Peter’s Cathedral. I’m not surprised at the length of the queue. Popularity and the need for thoroughness when it comes to the security checks would explain it.
Tiredness is rapidly replacing the initial euphoria of entering St Peter’s square. It feels like we’re in a cattle herding machine as we approach the checkpoints. It takes 40 minutes to clear the queue, go through the security check, and checking in our backpacks at the tourism office. Niels has to sacrifice his little Swiss Army knife.
We amble through the crowd into the cathedral. In spite of masses of people, I’m overwhelmed by the glory and splendour of the building. The first thing in particular I note is Michelangelo’s Pieta behind bulletproof glass. This is something I’ve always wanted to see, but I can’t get close enough due to the crowds.
I drift towards the Pope’s altar. Above it is a large Baroque sculpted bronze ciborium or baldachin (a canopy) with twisted bronze pillars. The altar is directly above the tomb of St Peter. I contemplate the life of a man who was so important to early Christianity. In essence, the first Bishop of Rome was a simple man who just loved Jesus Christ, with a simple yet unshakable faith – a faith which ultimately cost him his life.
The Last Timbro and Testimonium
We make our way to the office to present our pilgrim credentials. There they tell us that we’ll have to wait until 16:00. That leaves us with more than 90 minutes to kill. Add to this our mounting tiredness and that we still have to get to our pitstop. I groan inwardly.
We slowly make our way out, feeling disappointed. I’m not too concerned about taking pics because we have a full three days in Rome, and we shall definitely come back to the Basilica of St Peter. Outside on the steps we come across a group of pilgrims dressed in white robes. They are making their way into the Cathedral, singing in full voice.
Niels decides to ask at a mobile police post whether it can’t be arranged for us to get the timbro (stamp) for our credential and collect our testimonium. The officer takes pity on us and makes a call. He directs us back to the Sacrestia and tells us that someone will meet us there to stamp our credential and give us our testimonium.
There is a twenty-minute wait. I practically fall asleep on my feet before someone calls us into the office. Our names are written in a book along with those of other pilgrims. The official does the necessary with the timbro on our pilgrim passport and gives us our Testimonium. We have to fill in the certificate ourselves. This is such a strong contrast to our reception in Assisi that it feels like a big comedown.
Niels takes out a note and drops it into the donation box. I knew this was coming. Without hesitation I reach into my pocket and drop the €10 note into the box. The officer looks surprised.
It feels as if I’m fulfilling a sign given to me by God. This morning I picked up the note. I never felt as if the money was mine, so what better way to dispose of it than as a donation from a pilgrim who has just completed the Way of St Francis. It’s also a very small token of gratitude. Not only has the pilgrimage gone well but also, the Lord has always provided in my life during times of need when I’ve felt desperate and in despair.
We leave the Vatican, passing the Swiss Guard, who have protected the Pope and his residence since 1506. Rome is a bustling mass of people, some commuters, but also many tourists. Telling the difference is relatively easy. The Italians are the stylish fast moving ones. Either that or they’re walking dogs.
We reach Residenza Montecitorio, without too much effort. This will be our base until Niels and I go our separate ways. We enter through an enormous door into a courtyard. A very small lift, similar to the one in the Hotel Duomo in Florence, barely fits the two of us with our backpacks. After getting out, we still have to walk down a flight of stairs to get to reception. The room is small but very pleasant.
Although it was an easy day’s walk, all the waiting and standing around has made me feel quite tired. A lukewarm shower and half hour’s rest spent dozing a bit goes a long way to repairing my tired body.
I already know that the three full days we have left in Rome won’t be enough. There is such a vast wealth of treasures to see, even a month won’t be enough.