Tag Archives: churches

Tuscany

Wow, the dates on this blog have gotten really screwed up!  We were actually in Tuscany on October 1st.  From Florence, we took a tour of four Tuscan towns and one divine stop for a wine tasting.

Our first stop was Siena.  We only had a short time here, so we pretty much confined ourselves to the Cathedral.  But it was a really incredible Cathedral.

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Street in Siena.

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Here’s the outside of the Cathedral.  There were little spiky things sticking out all over and when I zoomed in, I realized they were statues of sitting dogs, complete with leashes.

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Here’s the inside.  It was full of black and white marble.

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The floors were spectacular and they told stories.

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One of the side altars.

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This is where the lector reads the readings.  It was beautifully carved.

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The main altar.

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This was a very pleasant surprise for me.  I love illuminated manuscripts so finding a room dedicated to them was a real thrill.  To find them in such a beautiful room was pure pleasure.  The first pictures one of the many illuminated manuscripts.  The next picture is the ceiling in the room.  The colors were spectacular.  The last picture shows the wall of the room with a couple of the manuscripts on display below.  It was a stunning room.

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We stopped for a drink on the way out of town and this sign made me smile.  The Italians love sparkling water and this is the store owner’s way of saying this is the still water.

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Our next stop was Monteriggionni, a very ancient medieval city.  It was kind of famous historically and its been in many paintings.  It’s also near Voltura, made famous by the Twilight books.

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Some of the scenes from this very small town

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It’s a walled city and here’s what they look like from the outside.

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Our next stop was a wine tasting.  Now, those of you who know us know that we rarely drink.  This tasting included about 10 different wines.  Needless to say, it was a little overwhelming.

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Here we are before we had just a little too much to drink.  : )  Ironically, after tasting all that wine, what did we buy?  We got the truffled olive oil which was TO DIE FOR!  Of course, the wine may have influenced our opinion.  I’ll let you know when we get home and try it again.

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Our next stop was San Gimignano.  It’s also a medieval city, but it’s much larger and people actually live there today.  It was interesting to stroll around.  Luckily, the rain didn’t cause too many problems.

The first picture above is the entrance into the city through the city wall.  The second picture is a view of the street.

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Here’s the city square and the well.

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A view of the Tuscan hillside from the city walls.

Next stop:  Pisa!  What trip to Tuscany would be complete without a stop in Pisa?

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It’s still leaning.  Although there was an effort made in the last few years to shore up the ground around it to stop it’s slow topple.  To everyone’s surprise, the work actually made it straighten a little!

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The tower is actually the bell tower for this church.  We only had a short time and decided more food (after all that wine!) was more important than touring the church.

Santa Croce and the Medici Chapels

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Wow, what a day!  Today we spent the morning with Michelangelo, Dante, Machiavelli, and Galileo, just to name a few.  Really, truly.  We found all their tombs inside Santa Croce, another incredibly beautiful church in Florence.

After a break for lunch we also explored the Medici Chapels which were covered entirely in semi-precious materials such as jade, quartz, lapis, etc.  The workmanship was spectacular.  As always, pictures are the way to go!

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Here’s the outside of Santa Croce.  It’s very similar to the Duomo, but not quite as elaborate.  However, unlike the Duomo, this church is breathtaking on the inside

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This is a view from the back.  It’s quite large and contains many important works of art.  But the thing that impressed me the most is the fact it was literally paved with grave markers.  The entire church is an enormous graveyard.

When we were on the Amalfi Coast, we learned that Italians bury their dead within 24 hours and they don’t embalm them.  A couple years later, the body is exhumed and the bones are put in the family vault where generations of the same family can be found.  I think this church is the final resting place of the bones.

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Here’s the main altar.  It was hard to get a good picture because the sun was shining brightly through the stained glass.  DSC01490

Just to the side of the altar were 10 alcoves, 5 on each side.  Each one was completely different.  You can see Bob here, surrounded by grave markers.

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More of the grave markers.

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And here we have Machiavelli’s final resting place.

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And here’s Dante — the man who wrote the Divine Comedy.

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And here’s Michelangelo.  He lived to be 89 years old, an unheard of age at the time he lived.  He died in Rome and wanted to be buried there, but his body was stolen in the night by several Florentines and he was buried here before anyone in Rome (namely, the Pope) could object.

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This is Galileo Galilei.  I was surprised to find him here because I thought he was excommunicated for his scientific findings.

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More of the grave markers.  They were literally everywhere. Take a look at the floors. Every tile is marked with who’s lying beneath.

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I just liked this poor bored angel.  Although, her long-suffering lion also deserves some sympathy.

Next on our tour was the Pitti Palace, lunch, and San Lorenzos.  But the real show stopper was the Medici Chapels.  They were built in honor of the first several Medici’s who ruled Florence back in the day.  It was also meant to be the place where all the Medici’s would be buried.  To build the chapels, the Medici family sponsored a new kind of art.  They knew frescoes and paintings would eventually fade, so they had the entire inside of the chapels, including all the “paintings” made out of precious and semi-precious stone.  It was stunning. And HUGE!  The main chapel is absolutely enormous.

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Here you can see the scale of this chapel compared to the people on the ground.  Enormous doesn’t begin to describe it.  Above what you can see here is another section of wall just as big, then there’s a beautifully done dome.  Everything you see is covered in perfectly fitting stone.

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It was impossible to get a photo to do this room justice.  Also, half of it was covered by scaffolding because of restoration work.  Apparently, all that precious stone is held in place with nails and a large panel fell out of the ceiling in 1999.  Since then, renovations have been on-going.

Just in case it wasn’t clear before, the big tomb-like things are . . . tombs.  They hold the first two or three Medici’s that ruled Florence.  They were the good rulers.  The next several (the ones who built this chapel) were real tyrants and hated by the people.  Luckily, they got better after that.  : )

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Each of these is close to 2 feet on its long side.  So they aren’t very big, but the colors and detail are stunning. They are made entire out of precisely cut gem stones. There is no grout, they stones fit perfectly together.

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Here’s some close ups of the details.  Every color is a different precious or semi-precious stone that’s been cut to fit precisely with the stones around it.  If you ran your hand over the pattern, it is completely smooth. (Except for the last picture where the stones were purposely three dimensional.)  The workmanship is exquisite.  The benefit is the ornamentation will never fade and the chapel will never lose its splendor.

We saw so many other awesome things today, including more at Santa Croce and the Medici Chapels, but it’s just too much to share.  Plan a trip to Florence!  I’m sure you won’t regret it.

Top of the Duomo

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Wow, what a trip!  Not only does the top of the Duomo offer an incredible view of Florence, it is also an architectural miracle and we were allowed to climb all over it!

The only way to describe this adventure is with pictures.  But, for perspective, here’s what we did.  Inside the church is a little door that leads to a staircase that climbs straight up.  Up 5 steps, turn, up 3 steps, turn, up 5 steps, turn . . . FOREVER!  It’s about 460 steps to the top; I think that’s the equivalent to a 20 story building.  At some point, the staircase turned into a spiral and when we reached the dome, it got pretty creative.  Keep in mind the stairs were built in about the 1400s when the church was built.

So, here we go!

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Here’s the outside of the church.  It has a long part in front and the dome in the back.  Off to the right side in this picture is the tower, which is not attached to the church.   It’s hard to tell that since it is decorated exactly like the church on the outside.

By the way, that little, tiny part sticking up out of the dome — that’s our destination.  It’s called the lantern.

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You enter the church through a side door and go through this door.  It’s the one that gives you access to the stairs.

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The stairs are narrow and the ceiling is sometimes low.  They highly recommend you skip this if you’re claustrophobic or have a fear of heights.  Very good advice!

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The first stop is the balcony, just below the large circular windows.  It gives you a much better view of the ceiling frescoes. Here area a couple of pictures.  The balcony goes all the way around the dome, but only half of it was open.  You had to go around to the other side to pick up the stairs that go up the side of the dome.

To give you an idea, if you look back at the picture of the outside of the church (the one above) you can see one of the round windows at the base of the dome. We were on a balcony just below those windows in the pictures above.

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Ha, ha!  I little late for this sign : )  That’s 500 years of graffiti!

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Thankfully, we had to stop often on the stairs, especially toward the top.  They pack quite a few people in, so it’s crowded.  Also, at the top, the stairs are shared by those going up and those going down.  Unfortunately, the stairs aren’t big enough to accommodate everyone so you have to find a side niche to stand in while the traffic going the other way passes.  It was quite a shuffle!DSC01407

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As you can see, the stairs get tiny in places.  They’re also uneven, steep and they aren’t uniform.  Of course, the lighting is dim, so watch your step!  In the second picture, the one with the person in the red shorts, these stairs take you between the inner dome and the outer dome. You can see how the roof and the floor both curve in the picture.

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While waiting for some downward-bound traffic to pass, we got shuttled into a little side area where I saw this room for the people who work up here.  It was tiny.  And God knows where that odd door on the right goes!

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Finally!  We made it!  We are standing at the base of the lantern, which is the lynchpin that keeps the dome from collapsing.  In actuality, there are two domes.  The inside one pushes out against the outside dome which keeps it in place.  As I said, it’s an architectural miracle that I don’t completely understand.

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Here you can see the rest of the church and the tower beside it.  The rib running down the dome is one of many and they are the weight-bearing part of the dome.

Okay, after cooling off, catching our breath, and soaking up the sights, it was time to head back down.

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After climbing down the ladder, we ended up here, in a little room between the inside and outside domes.  We had to go through the tiny door.

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Then down this staircase.  We had to climb down one exactly like it and luckily we don’t have to share it with those coming up.  This is the part that follows the curve of the inner dome, so it was quite steep.

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On the way down, we got to stop at the upper balcony, the one above the round windows. (The other balcony was below the round windows.)  From here, the frescoes were very close.  The figures were huge, so much bigger than they look from the ground.  You don’t think about how big all the figures have to be painted when you’re standing on the ground.

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Here’s a picture from the ground that shows where we were.  See the balconies just below and above the round windows?  We were there!

I tried to video some of the stairs to give you an idea of what it was like.  See what you think!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KVjLiruupfo&feature=youtu.be

The Amalfi Coast

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What a day!  It was, by far, my favorite day in Italy so far.  It started when we met Aldo after breakfast.  He’s the driver we hired and he made the day magical.  (If you come to the Amalfi Coast DO NOT attempt to drive it yourself — yikes!  Hire Aldo instead.  You can find him at Aldo Limos, and yes, he’s the owner : )

I thought the Amalfi Coast would be a lot like the northern California coast line, but I was wrong.  It has a charm, a character, that’s all its own.  Once again, pictures are worth a million words!

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The coastline is spectacular.  Around every bend is a new vista.  The whole drive  is only about 30 km long, but the traffic is heavy and you want to go slow to savor everything.

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I’ll be honest, I’m not sure which town this is, there are many along the way, but I’m guessing it’s Positano.

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Several times along the road, we saw these miniature villages built into the cliff face.  It turns out they are nativities.  This one is empty now, but beginning on Dec. 8, it will be filled with all the necessary figures and decorated for Christmas.

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I’m pretty sure this is Positano.  There is one road that runs through the town and everything else is only accessible via the millions of staircases.  You need to be fit to live in this very vertical town.

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Some of those staircases I mentioned.  In the markets down toward the beach, there were wide lanes instead of stairs.

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These pictures show the lanes lined with shops, as well as a close-up of one of the more colorful shops.  Positano is known for its whisper thin linen and they make everything with it.  The styles are really beautiful, but I wonder how they would hold up to washing.

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Here’s a view up from the market, and down to the next level.  Evrything is built on top of everything else along the sheer mountainside.

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We found the church!  This one had a permanent nativity.  If you couldn’t tell already, I have a thing for nativities.  If you come to my house, you’ll find several scattered around, all year ’round.  You should be happy I tried to show some restraint in choosing the photos for this post.  When we traveled in Canada I found the Nativity Museum and I went nuts.

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These are all pictures of the beach in Positano.  It was so vibrant and full of energy.  I could spend hours here just soaking it all in.

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Here we are, as well as a picture of Bob and Aldo.  This region is known for its fabulous lemons, and they’re huge and a little gnarly.  These are the lemons used to make limoncello, which was created in this region.

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More of the coast line and the city of Amalfi, I think.  As I said, I’ve gotten the pictures a little mixed up.  My advice if you come to this region:  Visit all of them!

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Every spare inch of soil in this area is planted with gardens. The soil is very fertile because of all the volcanic activity over the years.  In fact, the hillsides are heavily terraced, just like this garden.  This is in Ravello.

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Okay, I have to brag a little about lunch.  It was beyond incredible and if you come to Ravello, you MUST come have a meal at this restaurant.  Aldo told us about it and said the owner cooks just like his mother did before she died.  He recommended the vegetable platter and the pasta sampler, along with a bottle of wine.  Divine, absolutely divine.

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Of course, I was so excited about the food, I forgot to take a picture of the platters before we dug in.  Sorry you missed the presentation, it was wonderful.  Most of you know Bob isn’t big on eating vegetables, especially things like eggplant, zucchini, or broccoli.  All of these things were on the veggie platter, and many more, and he ate and loved them all.  I even got permission to serve eggplant when we get back home!  I’m telling you, a miracle has happened.

I should also mention the couple at the next table (he’s from London, she’s from Portland, Oregon) told us they came to this area with the intent of finding this specific restaurant.  He told us the owner is quite famous in the UK, since she is often featured on their version of the Food Network.

Oh, one more thing.  Public bathrooms in Italy are unisex.  That’s right, potty parity is not an issue here because everyone uses the same facilities.  Often, there is a common washroom and then the toilettes are in little rooms along the wall.  Sometimes, they are just stalls with little privacy.  After a couple glasses of wine (those of you who know us, that’s A LOT of wine for the two of us) Bob used the facilities and told me to steer left in the washroom because those were marked for women.  I thought it was strange the toilet had no rim, but whatever. Only after I came out did I realize Bob must have used the women’s side of the restroom and he directed me to the men’s!  C’est la vie!

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I had to laugh.  The Italians hate this building and often refer to it as the toilet paper roll.

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After lunch, we went to Amalfi and wandered around a little.  We came across this display of treats, mostly candy, and had to stop just to admire them.  I’m guessing the little fruit shaped ones are marzipan, but I’m not positive.  All I know is they were beautiful.

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A little farther along we wandered into this church that was restored in the 10th century.  It is the Church of St. Andrew and it’s also his burial place.  You may remember that St. Andrew was Jesus’ first Apostle.  This church was stunningly beautiful and I’m so glad we stopped.  However, I have to say, it felt really weird to be touring a church slightly sloshed.  I really have no business drinking more than one glass of wine at a time!

By the way, I included the picture of the kneeler for all those who think we have it bad in the US.  It could always be worse!

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Me and Aldo!

On the way home, he was kind enough to stop at one of the roadside nativities that still has its figurines.  It will be revitalized on Dec. 8th, but the gist is still here and so are the fish!

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See the fish?  To the people of the town, they must be like sea monsters.  : )

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Here’s the most important part!

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I’m inspired to get all my nativities out this year for the holidays.  Don’t know where I’ll put them all, but it should be fun!

Catacombs and archeology

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Catacombs of the Capuchin Monks

After the Vatican yesterday, we took another tour that, unfortunately, forbid all pictures.  The ones I’ve included are from the internet. Our tour took us to two of the catacombs in Rome, as well as an ancient church with a rather surprising basement.  First, the Capuchin Crypts.

The Capuchin Crypts were burial places for about 3000 Capuchin monks who died before the 1800s.  At some point, probably in the 17th century, an especially artistic monk decided to get creative with all the bones that were lying around.  He began to arrange the bones in decorative designs and artistic patterns that he nailed to the walls and ceilings.  Soon, the whole order participated and the designs took on more meaning. For example, an hourglass made out of finger bones, with clavicle “wings” signified that time flies and that we will soon be as dead as they are. (See the center of the picture above.) It wasn’t a morbid thing for the monks, but a joyful reminder of the resurrection.  The monks’ work was ended in about 1870 when the new king of Italy forbid the practice because foreigners might not understand it.

The next catacomb we visited was much more like what you’d expect.  It was very like the one depicted in the Indiana Jones movie, except no water and, thankfully, no rats.  Also, the passageways were very narrow and the ceilings very low.  There were tunnels with niches where the bodies were laid.  They were built by, originally, 1st century Christians who didn’t want to bury their dead in the way of the pagans.  Over the next couple hundred years, they built 17 kilometers of tunnels on 5 different levels.  They started the tunnels when all the land on the surface was used up.

Our last stop was my favorite, a church built in honor of St. Clement (I think he was the 5th pope).  He’s the guy who died when they hung an anchor around his neck and pushed him overboard.  Anyway, his church is a beautifully maintained 12th century church.  But when they were doing some work in the basement in about the 1500s, they discovered the first church built in honor of St. Clement that was built in the 2nd century.  They didn’t just find the foundations, either.  They found the entire church which had been filled up with earth and building materials to make it a good base for the current church.  Even the altar was still in pace, perfectly preserved.

But that wasn’t the end of the explorations.  They heard water and they were trying to find its source, so they kept looking.  What they found is the 2nd century church was built on top of an even earlier temple, and that was built on an even earlier workshop which is thought to be a mint of ancient Roman coins.  All of these levels were just filled in and built over; the walls, the doors, the decorations, everything is still perfectly preserved.  The reason they built this way was the Tiber River flooded twice a year, so the higher the building, the safer it was from flooding.  Today’s streets are 30-40 feet higher than the streets at the time of Christ.

It’s little wonder that Rome has earned the description of archeological lasagna.

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This is the 4th century church, just under the current church.  It was filled in with earth and building materials and when it was excavated, the columns were built to give the structure above the support it needs.  However, the floor and walls are all original.  The alter in the picture above is actually the 12th century altar that was originally in the church above.  When the original 4th century alter was discovered in such good condition, it was placed in the church above and the one from above was moved below.  Interestingly, they are nearly identical and both have an anchor on the front.

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This was a side chapel in honor of St. Cyril and his brother (I can’t remember his name) who were sent to the Baltic Sea more than 800 years after St. Clement died there. They were told to bring back Clement’s body.  Good luck!  They knew it was an impossible mission so they decided to make the best of it and convert as many of the people they could along the way.  To do this, they had to translate the bible into the languages of the locals, but the locals didn’t have a written language.  So, St. Cyril created the Cyrillic alphabet, the one still used by Russian and other languages to this day.  In this chapel are plaques from many countries acknowledging the great give St. Cyril gave to them.  St. Cyril and his brother are both buried here.

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This is the temple in honor of the god Mithras.  It’s buried below the oldest version of St. Clement’s church. Only men could be members of the religion that worshipped Mithras and their religious ceremony consisted of re-enacting a famous banquet in honor of the god. Everything about the religious was kept in strict secrecy, even the temples were built with no windows so their ceremony couldn’t be observed.  I think it was the original fraternity, men’s club, or maybe the invention of the man-cave.  In any case, a good time was had by all.

Interestingly, the most important date to the faithful was Mithras’ birthday — December 25th.  Way back in time when the bishops were talking about establishing the date of Jesus’ birth as a holy day, it was suggestion they adopt the biggest party day of the year–Mithras’ birthday.  Only in that way could they hope to gain more converts.

I don’t know who I don’t have pictures of the mint that was found beneath Mithras’ temple. It still has water running through it. Current thinking is the mint was built there because the water was necessary to the minting process, so everything was convenient. This mint would have been the one the made the Roman coins mentioned in the time of Jesus and before.

The Vatican

Well, what a day.  We started out about 8:30 am on a tour of the Vatican Museums.  We didn’t even begin to see it all, but we saw all the best stuff, I think.  The ceilings, walls and tapestries were incredible.

My favorite story is of Michelangelo and the Pope.  Michelangelo didn’t want to paint the Sistine Chapel and even left Rome and tried to hide from the Pope to avoid it, but he was eventually cornered.  So, one of the panels on the ceiling is an image of God, both front and back.  Michelangelo used the Pope’s face for the face of God, which really pleased the Pope, but in the view from the back, his toga doesn’t cover his backside, so he’s mooning everyone.  For that, the Pope was really ticked.  Here’s the panel I’m talking about:

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There are many other examples of such “jokes.”  Like how Michelangelo used the face of his mistress, whom he’d just broken up with, for one of the damned souls.  In another, he used the face of one of his critics for one of the inhabitants of Hell.

After the museums, we went to St. Peter’s Basilica.  It was huge, and quite beautiful.  The burial areas were interesting.  We saw the tomb of Saint John Paul II, and the preserved body of Pope John XXIII, who is also now a saint, I think.  In his case, he was one miracle short, so they couldn’t make him a saint.  But, when they opened his tomb, they found his body was uncorrupted, so they considered that his final miracle for sainthood.  They have him on display in a glass coffin.  I know, it’s a little weird.  Other popes were also in glass coffins, but their bodies decayed, so the body you see was coated in bronze to preserve them.  Again, a little weird.  I only viewed them from a distance.

After lunch, we took a tour of three other basilicas in Rome.  The first was St. Paul’s, which is a new (completed in 1930’s) replica of the one that was built by Constantine, restored a couple of times, and then and then burned down in the 1800s.  There, we saw one of St. Paul’s relics, the chains that bound his hands when he was beheaded.

Next was St. John Lateran.  It was built in honor of the two St. Johns (Baptist and Apostle) and it was built by Constantine on land formerly owned by the Laterani Family, thus the name.  It’s been restored several times. It is actually the most important church in Christianity because it is the home church of the Bishop of Rome, aka, the Pope. Up until the 1300s, the Pope lived at this church.  The popes didn’t move to St. Peter’s until a hundred years later, after they moved the papacy back to Rome from France.

Interestingly, after a Pope is elected and introduced to the world on the balcony, he isn’t yet the pope.  It isn’t official until he says Mass at St. John Lateran, and sits in the Seat of Peter (a chair more than 1000 years old).  Traditionally, the pope leaves the balcony after meeting the crowds and heads right to St. Johns to complete the process.  Pope Francis did it differently.  He told the people of Rome he wanted to get used to being their bishop before he took on the job of Pope, and it was about a month before he went to St. Johns to complete the process.  The Romans really, REALLY love Pope Francis.

Across the street from this church is a building that holds the original stairs to Pontius Pilate’s house that Jesus had to climb after he’d been crowned with thorns.  Supposedly, his blood stains the marble.  Today, it is a place where people climb the stairs on their knees and they have to say at least three prayers on each stair.

The final church was St. Mary Majore. Interesting here is a relic of questionable authenticity.  It is claimed that there is wood from the original nativity under the alter here.  Even the Church says it’s highly questionable, but it is interesting.  The basilica was built in honor of Mary when the pope declared that Mary was indeed the mother of God.

Tomorrow, we have a papal audience (with 80,000 of our closest friends).  Stay tuned!  It should be a circus!

Okay, the pictures loaded out of order, so bear with me : )

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This the exterior of St. Paul’s Basilica. It was quiet and peaceful and the grass was cool in the heat. I could have spent the afternoon here.

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This is the sacred door at St. Paul’s.  Every Basilica in the world has a sacred door that is only opened during the Jubilee Year.  That’s a year that happens every 25 years (the next is 2025) when lots of things happen, but one of them is the plenary indulgences.  Anyone who passes through a sacred door during the Jubilee Year receives the indulgence.  Believe it or not, the idea of the Jubilee Year was adopted from the Jews in the 1300s.

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This is the inside of St. Paul’s Basilica.  It’s about the size of a football field, maybe a little shorter.

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This is the alter in St. Paul’s.

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This sunken area in front of the alter displays the holy relic.  In this case, the item on display is the chain that bound St. Paul’s hands when he was beheaded.  The authenticity of this relic is very good, and scholars agree that it is probably what it claims to be.

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This is a glass panel in the floor, right in front of St. Paul’s chains, that shows the excavation of the crypt below.  Based on carbon dating of samples taken, as well as an analysis of the color of the fabric inside the tomb, it is widely agreed that this is truly St. Paul’s tomb.  This has only been confirmed since about 2006.

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A portion of the walls that originally surrounded Rome.

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This is St. John Lateran Basilica.  Its been rebuilt many times since Constantine’s original church was built in the 300s.

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The sacred door at St. John Lateran.  Did I mention that touching the door when its closed (not a Jubilee Year) blesses a person?  That’s why parts of the door are shiny, its from thousands of people touching it. Of course, we touched them all!

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Inside St. John Lateran.  It is thought that the heads of St. John the Baptist and St. Paul are kept in the little room on top of the alter.  It’s just speculation, though the Church has apparently confirmed that it is in possession of both heads.  I’m just glad they aren’t on display.

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These are the holy doors of St. John Lateran, and they are fascinating for another reason.  These are the original doors to the Forum, yes, THAT Forum.  During one of the restorations of this church, they were pilfered from the Forum and installed here.  So these doors are about 2000 years old.  They are made of bronze, with wood interior, but they are very heavy and make loud creaking noises when opened.  It takes the strength of several people to open them.

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These are the holy steps — the marble steps that led up to Pontius Pilate’s house. They were removed from Jerusalem by St. Helena (Constantine’s mother) in the 300s.  We were allowed to kneel on the first step only and say a prayer.  I’ll admit, it was a moving experience.  Even Bob did it.

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The inside of St. Mary Majore Basilica.  According to our guide, Italian men are mama’s boys.  Perhaps that’s part of the reason why 89% of Italians report they prefer to talk to Mary when they pray, followed by St. Peter, then St. Paul (the patron saints of Rome).  Jesus was in fourth place.

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This is the knave in front (and below) the alter of St. Mary Majore.  In the window below the altar is a huge silver container that allegedly has wood from the original manger from Christ’s birth.  Even the Church agrees the authenticity of this relic is highly questionable.

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Here’s a close up of the container that holds the wood that was allegedly part of the manger.  It looks like a giant soup tureen.  It’s about 3 feet tall.

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The holy door at St. Mary Majore is clearly marked because it’s on the left side of the main entrance, not the right like all the other holy doors at all the other basilicas.  This is because Mary’s place is on Christ’s left, so the door acknowledges that honor.

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We found Saya’s car in Rome!!!

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This made me laugh.  But, if a new store opened with an exotic Italian name, even if the translation was “stop here,” I wouldn’t know the difference.  It might be hard to see, but it’s a clothing store.

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This was part of the breakfast buffet at our hotel.  Apparently Italians are a nation of people who hate crusts, because all the crusts were removed from the bread. : )

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The pinecone (symbolizing eternity) in the Pinec0ne Courtyard in the Vatican.  The lions at its base were “taken away” from Egypt during the time of the Roman Emperors.

In fact, there are many Egyptian artifacts in Rome.  There are obelisks everywhere.  Several hundred years ago, the pope put an obelisk in front of every important church so the pilgrims would know which ones they should visit.  Medieval GPS.  Of course, before he could do that, he had to exorcise all of them to remove any evil spirits.  Once that was done, a small symbol was placed on the top — a dove, a rose, a cross, etc. — to show it was purified.

In modern times, when Egypt came calling and asked for all its obelisks back, the pope said they were now Christian relics and besides, they had spent much more time in Rome than they ever did in Egypt.  Bottom line:  Egypt isn’t getting its obelisks back.

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Just one of the many, many, painted ceilings and walls of the Vatican.  It was overwhelming.

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A working courtyard at the Vatican.  Everyday, about 900 people go to work at the Vatican.  On the right you can see the vehicles of the Vatican’s fire department.

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I really liked this ceiling.  This is the center, and the ceiling is completely flat.  The depth, as well as the apparently molded dividers, are all paint and show the skill of the artist.  In this picture, a marble statue of a pagan god lies in pieces at the foot of the cross.

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Inside St. Peter’s Basilica.  The crowds were incredible.

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This is the tomb of Pope John Paul II, now a saint.  His coffin is under the mantle with all the candles.

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This is the uncorrupted body of Pope John XXIII.  This was as close as I got, but you can walk right past, if you want to.

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The alter in St. Peter’s Basilica. It is directly under the dome, which is huge.  I love the fact that the four pillars supporting the dome (and thus, symbolically, all of Christianity) are decorated with the our relics of the crucifixion — the spear of Longinius, Veronica’s veil, the cross, and something else I didn’t understand when the guide said it.  (sorry!)

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Another of the popes, this one covered in bronze.

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This is what the outside of the Vatican walls looks like.

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Pastries we found at lunch. I only tried a tiny little one, and it was fabulous.

San Antonio, Texas

1400 miles so far.


We’ve had a nice couple of days in San Antonio—and we have the sore feet to prove it.  On Sunday, we walked along the River Walk and found some ice cream for dinner.  On Monday, we saw the Governor’s Palace, the Alamo and a bunch more of the River Walk.  Then we spent the afternoon exploring the other missions.  It’s kind of amazing to think what it must have been like in the 1750s when the Franciscan monks walked to the area from their base in Mexico.  At the time, the Indians were being killed by northern Indian tribes and they were dying of diseases brought to the area by Europeans.  To live in the relative safety of the missions, they had be baptized and they were required to learn a European trade and adopt European habits.  I can’t imagine what it was like for them to leave their life styles, their religion, their language and their culture behind. I’ve put some of our pictures of the day here.


I have to tell you about dinner.  We ended up at a vegetarian cafe, which is very unusual for us.  We wanted to try something new.  Our waitress was adorable and so helpful.  Because Bob often orders chicken parmesan when we go out, he got the Chik-N parm and I had the eggplant parm.  Bob said it wasn’t bad and that if he didn’t know, he would probably think he was eating chicken.  : )  Maybe I’ll go back again when I’m in San Antonio for the Romance Writers’ convention in July.  Tera and Alison, are you game?


Two things to note about the drive through Texas.  1.  The speed limit in Texas is 80 m.p.m.  (Thank you!).  2.  Especially in the western part of the state, the highway runs along the Mexican border.  We were stopped at one station (kind of like the fruit check when you enter CA on I 15) to check for illegal aliens.  It was a little weird.