In a previous post, I mentioned that I was In Rome last August and boy let me tell you that the heat was more than penitential. The trip was made possible courtesy of my wife who decided that my eldest daughter needed to be endorsed to the group she was joining for the World Youth Day in Madrid. So she said that since I hadn’t been to Europe since I was twelve, why not go around and visit what I have been wanting to visit for years. Who would object to the wisdom and generosity of such a sage like my wife, I didn’t!
So off to Rome for a total of 7 days. What excited me most was the thought of visiting central headquarters, that is, the Vatican. The trip was nothing short of magnificent and the best thing about not joining a formal touring group is that it allows one to take their time and look at everything in detail. However, it also means getting a crash course on the public transport system of Rome, which, apart from the pickpockets and subway musicians, was a wonderful experience. Rome’s transport system is very efficient and took me everywhere I wanted to go, cheaply.
Before the trip, I booked an online tour of the Vatican archeological excavations under St. Peter’s Basilica. Okay I know I said I didn’t join a tour group but to go to this place you aren’t given a choice. The beauty of this is that to get to the site, one has to go passed the Swiss Guards (photo op) to an area at the side of the St. Peter’s Basilica rarely seen by most people. This area on the left side of the main Basilica is the actual place where Nero’s Circus was located and yes, the original place where St. Peter was crucified upside down.. The Obelisk at the center of St. Peter’s Square was originally found at the center of this Circus where many Christians were martyred. It is now marked by a pillar of one of the arched entrances.
(In the image below the center pillar in between the two arches marks the original site of the obelisk)
The tour was conducted by an American lady doing her doctorate in systematic theology. Apparently doing this tour is a sort of hobby of hers. I didn’t get her name, well it’s more like I don’t remember it (I am so bad with names especially of women who are doing their doctorate in systematic theology) but what I remember is that she proudly announced that she was getting married in a few months. So if your thinking of doing this tour, maybe you can request for that American lady taking her doctorate in systematic theology who just recently got married, I think maybe they will be able to find her. Oh and she is also a blond, so there. What an enviable hobby she has I can tell you. The fantastic thing about the tour was that it was not scripted. In other words, each tour is unique and is only as good as the research done by the volunteer tour guide and boy was this one well-researched!
We went through what was a pre-Christian Roman necropolis. Eventually we could see a mix of both pagan and Christian burial areas and all these, an entire ancient city of the dead, right under the Basilica itself! The highlight of the tour was the actual tomb of St. Peter and a glass-encased relic of some of his bones. There were 132 pieces (or was it 133 hmmm) found in the site, with each part of the body represented. One could argue that a pair of binoculars would have been handy here as one could barely discern the relic from our vantage point while peering through a square hole about three meters away with only a soft red light shining on it. Okay, okay maybe I imagined that I actually saw it but it was enough for me to have seen the actual burial place of the prince of the Apostles. I am not a particularly emotional person, though my kids will disagree with that assessment, but the moment was so overwhelming that tears started to well in my eyes. After saying a prayer, on my knees of course, I realized that after all the reading (and debating) I have done on Catholic apologetics, the buck stops when you are confronted with the actual archeological evidence of the origins of the Catholic faith!
Alas we were not allowed to bring our cameras to prevent falling into the temptation of taking pictures in spite of the dozens of notices and warnings saying NO PHOTOGRAPHS! So no pictures of the burial place but as I had been there already I advice those who are planning a trip to Rome to definitely take this tour but before you go, buy (and read) the book by John E. Walsh entitled, “The Bones of St. Peter”, and did I mention that you should try to ask for that lady who is doing her doctorate in systematic theology?