It's been six years since I set foot on Italian soil. The last time I was working in Rome covering the funeral of Pope John Paul II. This time it's vacation. What a difference not having to worry about deadlines, interviews, writing, editing, feeding the reports back on time and preparing for live shots. While all of that is exciting and rewarding, THIS is far more relaxing!
Memories cascade over me as I step back into St. Peter's Square. Sunshine and temperatures in the mid-70s. School children on break. Nuns from different countries. Priests. Street sweepers. Locals. Taxi drivers. Police (the Roman Guards). Lovers holding hands and stealing kisses from one another. Tour guides. Vendors selling every religious relic imaginable. ALL of this creating an amazing painting on this single canvas in the middle of Vatican City.
Looking straight ahead, there it is. Catholicism's mother church, St. Peter's Basilica. Majestic and beautiful. Housing great art and altars, St. Peter's welcomes all...at no charge. We enter through the museums with our guide Maria. An art historian by education, the young Roman leads us through history with great gusto. We see the works of Raphael, 500-year-old tapestries, masterpieces, and then the greatest masterpiece of all...the Sistine Chapel.
In 1999 I was privileged to be part of a documentary team taking the first HD camera into the Vatican. We spent an hour and a half in the Chapel...just five of us. This time we join a crowd of hundreds, but it doesn't matter. The works are still breathtaking. I am no less stunned at the genius of Michelangelo today than I was 13 years ago.
We move on into the awe-inspiring sanctuary. There is so much to absorb, but Michelangelo holds our attention as nothing else can. The Pieta: Mary, holding her dead son in her right arm while extending her left hand as if she is offering Jesus to the world. Michelangelo was only 24 when he brought his vision of Mary and her crucified son to life from a block of marble.
Before leaving St. Peter's, we decide to climb to the top of the dome. The cupola is 320 steps...AFTER the elevator. I'm breathing heavily as we finally make it, but the view is worth it. Hard to believe we made the same trip in 1999 with camera gear.
The Coliseum is our next stop. Much of the outer shell is still standing, a testament to the engineering of 64 AD. What went on inside these walls is incredible. The true history of this arena is not what many of us have been taught. In fact, most of the slaughters of Christians by wild animals actually happened in a nearby location, The Circus. When Constantine became Emperor, most of those killings stopped. The "entertainment" of gladiator fighting, however, continued for years.
Before leaving Rome there was much to see. The Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain. More art, more walking, more food and wine. Great sunshine and warm weather...after Rome, three days in Florence awaits us.
This was my first time visiting Florence. It is far less chaotic than Rome, and civilized in a manner that can only be understood by experience. There are graceful people and magnificent countryside views. A little shopping...and preparing for the next day in Pisa.
Shortly after leaving the train in this small town we begin walking toward the tower. We turn the corner and there it is! YES, it leans! The closer you get to it the more you sense the pitch of the building. No way to be here and not climb...up we go...297 steps...leaning. Once again, it is worth every step! The view and the accomplishment of climbing it is rewarding.
The last day in Florence is reserved for David. Not me, I'm talking of what many consider to be the masterpiece of Michelangelo. Three years of work...seventeen feet tall...breathtaking. (No pictures are allowed to be taken.) No matter how many pictures or renderings you may have seen of David, nothing can do true justice like seeing this in person.
On the way to the airport we stop to look over Florence and to see the grave site of Michelangelo.
Time to leave Italy and join colleagues from Duke Divinity School in Cambridge, England. Our first stop…more climbing, this time to the roof of the Chapel of King's College. Snaking our way up the narrow corkscrew steps, we reach the vault of the ceiling (the space between the interior side of the ceiling and the roof). Much to my surprise we find graffiti from 1783! Finally we pop out to the roof...rain and clouds, yet again, a marvelous view.
Wednesday evening I was honored to join three others in a special performance of "Rumours of the Passion," written and produced by Duke and King's College Professor Dr. Jeremy Begbie. This hour long presentation included choral music (with several voices from Duke), poetry and readings. I was asked to join in the readings along with Professor Dr. Ellen Davis, The Rev. Richard Lloyd Morgan, Chaplain of King's College, and King's College's Donna McCullough. It was a moment I will never forget.
More to come...