Tuesday, December 9, 2014

European Vacation Day 9--Milan

Our last full day in Europe, we took a high speed train to Milan.  After milling around the outside of the train station in Milan looking for our hotel, a kind cab driver pointed us in the correct direction.  We dropped off our bags and took the subway into the city to the Duomo.  Wow.  The Duomo is pretty spectacular, inside and out.  Photos are not allowed inside unless you are willing to pay to get permission, which I wasn't.  After seeing it in person, I'd say the Duomo is my third favorite church in the world, just behind Saint Peter's Basilica and Saint Paul Outside the Walls.  It has some truly amazing history behind it as well, which I'll go into a bit later.  We did a quick look around and then went into the Galleria next door to find a place for lunch.  We ended up in a rather fancy restaurant--white table cloths and napkins, crystal stemware, etc.  The food was really wonderful and they treated our boys like little princes and did not mind the pizza sauce on the table cloth.  There's always bleach, right?

After lunch we caught the subway to Santa Maria delle Grazie, otherwise known as the Last Supper Church, as Wingnut Jr. and I had tickets to see the famed fresco at 3:15 pm.  They have so much to try and preserve Leonardo's masterpiece.  Visitors must have advance tickets, arrive 15 minutes early, and then move through a series of closed off rooms before entering the painting room, where they are allowed just 15 minutes to take in the painting.  At first, Wingnut Jr. was disappointed he could not stay outside the church with his dad and little brother playing in the square. He was certain I was dragging him through yet another museum.  In the end, I believe he really did enjoy seeing this particular attraction with me, especially since he only had to see two paintings and only had to stay 15 minutes.  We sat together and discussed what he saw in The Last Supper and then we turned around and took in Giovanni Donato's Crucifixion, which is actually in better condition than the Last Supper, even though they were painted at nearly the same time.

Once our time was up, we made our way back to the Duomo, as we hadn't had time to explore the historic "basement" of the church.  We arrived just after 5 pm and purchased our tickets.  What a blessing we came so late, as the excavated basement was completely empty of tourists and pilgrims.  Contained beneath the Duomo is an ancient baptistry.  This particular baptistry is significant, as it was there Saint Ambrose baptized Saint Augustine.  As faithful readers might recall, our oldest son's middle name is Augustine and Lil' Wingnut's middle name is Ambrose, making this visit doubly significant to us.  What a wonderful way to end our trip to Europe.

The next morning, we rose quite early and took a train to the airport.  We flew 9 hours to New York, where we parted ways with Wingnut as he made his way back to Salt Lake City and the boys and I flew another 5 hours to Seattle, spent the night and flew on to Spokane the next morning to be reunited with the girls.  We relaxed with family for the next few days and made the 10 hour drive back home just in time to prep for Thanksgiving.  I still can't believe it is over.  Wingnut and I are already making plans to return to Europe, just the two of us.  I'm already working on a list of places and sites we missed and are definite go-sees next time.







The incredible and imposing Duomo of Milan





This photo doesn't do them justice, but the bronze doors are spectacular.  Figures reach out from the main carvings, they are an amazing work of art in themselves.







The Galleria is an enormous upscale shopping center.








The exterior of Santa Maria delle Grazie--I wish we had toured the church as well as the famous DaVinci painting.  I've read we missed a great deal by not touring the church.







The excavated ancient baptistry in which Saint Augustine was baptized by Saint Ambrose


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Monday, December 8, 2014

European Vacation Day 8--Pompeii

Our final day in Rome, we decided to take the train into Naples and then on to the ruins of Pompeii.  We thought this would be a fun excursion for the boys.  We took a really nice train into Naples and then transferred to the rundown Naples line.  The little I saw of Naples guaranteed I would not want to ever go back. Naples is a dirty, rundown, graffiti covered armpit.  Ok, that sounds pretty harsh, but what we saw from the train was pretty trashy looking and a pickpocket attempted to rob me on the Naples train.  Grrrr!

Pompeii was really quite fascinating and the boys enjoyed romping through the maze of ruins.  There were so many well preserved frescoes, mosaics, statues, and other artifacts to explore.  It really is an amazing place.  Wingnut Jr. especially loved seeing the human body casts in their sad, grotesque forms.

We toured Pompeii for a couple hours and then headed back to Rome for gelato, and one last Church--Santa Maria Sopra Minerva (Saint Mary above Minerva).  I had really wanted to see this particular church, because it is one built over the top of an ancient Roman temple to Minerva (or an ancient Egyptian temple to Isis depending on the source of information one reads) and I love that the Catholic Church chose to do so as a demonstration Our Blessed Mother, through her Son, is above all pagan gods/goddesses.  Inside is another spectacular work of sculpture by Michelangelo--Chris the Redeemer.

Unfortunately, I did not get very good photos inside or outside the Church.  Lil' Lamb had had it at that point and was throwing a rip roaring tantrum over the sorbetto he dropped in the alley.  He'd been gearing up for a good tantrum for several days.  He was tired of touring; being dragged around from one church to another; from one museum to another; and he was definitely tired of having to be good.  We took him to get one last pizza from Dar Poeta and headed back to the hotel to pack for Milan.




The boys did thoroughly enjoy climbing about on the ruins.














I loved the patina on this bronze bust.






A plaster cast of human remains from Pompeii






The excavations are on going







So many lovely and well preserved frescoes
























and mosaics




wandering the ancient streets of Pompeii









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Friday, December 5, 2014

European Vacation Day 7--Saint Peter's Basilica Rome


Our seventh day of vacation was a Sunday and we were in Rome.  I can't think of a better place on earth to be for a Sunday!  We went to the 10:30 am Latin Mass inside one of the most beautiful churches in the world.  As the mass began with the choir singing, it was just like a little glimpse of heaven.   The choir was absolutely wonderful and angelic.  The first reading was in Italian, of which I could understand a word here and there.  The responsorial psalm was sung my a little boy, not older than our Special K, in English.  He was phenomenal!  The second reading was in Spanish, and then the gospel was chanted in Latin.  The homily was given in Italian, and I think Wingnut was able to understand most of it.  Regardless of the language, the mass was easily followed and I enjoyed it and spending time in prayer in such a wonderful place thoroughly.

After mass, Wingnut struck up a conversation with the seminarian sitting in front of us.  Wonder of all wonders, not only was he an American, he was a Utahan from Salt Lake City.  Yup, right in the midst of Italy, we managed to find one of the only seminarians from Utah studying in Rome.  He informed us he had come to that particular mass that day to hear the choir.  The choir happened to be the Cathedral of the Madeline Children's Choir, also from Salt Lake City!  How cool is that?!  What a treat in divine providence.


Following mass, we toured the basilica, including the crypt of the Popes and managed to find Saint John Paul's newly moved tomb in the nave.  We then took the elevator to the base of the dome and climbed the 520 steps to the top for an amazing view of Saint Peter's Square, and surrounding areas.



After a fantastic lunch at Taverna Angelica near Vatican City, we decided to take another look at San Giovanni in Laterno and then found a bus that would take us to the final of the seven pilgrim churches, San Lorenzo fuori le Mura.  Wingnut was particularly pleased in making it to this church, as he had never been able to make it there in previous trips.  The seven pilgrimage churches we visited ended up being : Saint Peter's Basilica, Saint John Lateran, Saint Paul Outside the Walls, Saint Mary Major, Saint Lawrence Outside the Walls, Santa Croce, and Saint Sebastian Outside the Walls.


For dinner, we had invited the son of my dear friend who lost her battle with cancer last May.  He is studying for the priesthood with the Legionnaires in Rome.  We met him for a late, Italian dinner at Taverna Angelica (yes, we had lunch there earlier in the day. Don't judge. The food is phenomenal).  When we arrived at the restaurant, it was crowded with a large, noisy, group of Americans having cocktails and hor d'oeuvres.  We noticed several men in collars and wondered at the gathering.  Once seated, we could hear they had gathered for a ceremony honoring none other than Father Spitzer!  As their group was served, several members came to our table to apologize for their taking over of the restaurant for the evening (we had the only other available table) and to ask about the young seminarian we had sitting with us.  This ended up being a wonderful opportunity for our young friend, Brother Eric, as this group happened to be part of the Napa Institute, a very vibrant and faithful powerhouse of American Catholic laity and religious.  William Cardinal Levada was in attendance, as well as Father Spitzer, co-founder of the Napa Institute.  We met John Meyer, the Executive Director of the Napa Institute and Timothy Busch, founder of the Busch Firm, Trinitas Cellars and Chairman of the Board of the Napa Institute.  They were all very interested in Brother Eric and exchanged cards and contact information.  A second instance of divine providence for the day!  We had a wonderful dinner with Brother Eric and enjoyed getting to know him a bit better.  We shall be covering him in prayer and support as he continues his journey to the priesthood.  To learn more about Brother Eric and his journey, you might check out his blog: godlights.me  





First view of Saint Peter's Square






Wingnut Jr. eagerly awaiting mass.







Lil' Lamb in line for security in Saint Peter's Square.







This Swiss Guard was very cooperative in posing for this photo ;)









Detail of a mosaic inside the base of the dome










View from inside the dome down into the area mass was celebrated








Climbing the staircase inside the dome.  Lil' Lamb climbed everyone of the 520 stairs himself.










View from the top of the dome of Saint Peter's Square









View of one of the domes from the outside








Bernini's statues for the exterior of Saint Peter's Basilica







Jumping beans








Bernini's fantastic baldacchino over the main altar







Saint John Paul the Great's tomb within Saint Peter's







Brother Eric and Wingnut

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Thursday, December 4, 2014

European Vacation Day 6--Rome

Our visit to the catacombs in Rome was one of the highlights of our pilgrimage.  We toured San Callisto first; which is the largest of the Christian catacombs covering more than 90 acres.  The guided tour was truly interesting; so much Christian heritage buried and documented here.  Unfortunately, the gallery containing the remains of 16 popes and the tomb of Saint Cecilia was closed for renovations.

As impressive as the catacombs of Saint Callixtus were in scope and size, I was far more impressed with the catacombs of San Sebastiano.  At one point, during the height of their use, the remains of Saints Peter and Paul were moved to the site for safe keeping and veneration.  Their remains were moved again to their original burial sites by Constantine once Rome was Christianized.  During excavations, numerous clay tablets with prayer petitions etched upon them to the two saints were discovered and are on display in the catacombs today--Sts. Peter and Paul, pray for us!

The ancient Christian frescoes are especially well preserved.  Within the depths is the crypt of San Sebastiano with its restored altar and a marble bust of St. Sebastian, believed to be the work of Bernini!  Yes, deep underground inside a rough cavern is an artwork of incredible beauty and value.

Right above the catacombs of San Sebastiano is another of the traditional seven pilgrimage churches, San Sebastiano fuori le Mura.  Within, one finds the relic remains of St. Sebastian, as well as the tip of one of the arrows which pierced him during his martyrdom, and a cast of the supposed footprints of Christ from the biblical "Quo Vadis, Domine?" Pretty awesome, no?

Our afternoon was spent touring the highlights of the Vatican Museum complex.  So many treasures of faith, art, and history make the museum awe inspiring and a bit overwhelming.  The Raphael Rooms were among my favorite--absolutely jawdroppingly gorgeous!  The color and images are spectacular to see in person.  My favorite scene is one of the Angel of the Lord miraculously releasing St. Peter from his chains and imprisonment in Rome.

The iconic Michelangelo Pieta can never be done justice in words or photographs.  It is a stunning masterpiece.

Lil' Wingnut and I spent a good while taking in just the side wall paintings of the Sistine Chapel, which weren't even painted by Michelangelo.  They vividly depict scenes from the life of Moses. The ceiling will have to be revisited on another trip!

While the statuary, map, tapestry, cabinet, and Raphael rooms were amassed with tourists making their way to the Sistine Chapel, the crowds thinned out significantly after the Chapel as the tour continued on through the Vatican Pinacoteca; a shame so many bypass the paintings' gallery; but a relief for us who tired of the crowds.  Contained within the Pinacoteca are so many wonderful artworks from Medieval, Renaissance, and Byzantine artists--Giotto, Lippi, Battista, Raphael, Caravaggio, Da Vinci, and Wenzel Peter.  I particularly enjoyed the Carravagio, of course.

After the Vatican Museums, we made our way to the Pantheon and arrived there during a downpour.  This was actually an awesome thing, as the oculus is open air and rain poured down into the center of the Church.  We visited the Pantheon twice on this trip, both times at night, and I am not certain I've actually seen as much of it as I'd like, so it is on my list to see on our next trip to Italy.





Outside the Catacombs of San Callisto in November








I snapped this photo, because I found it humorous the way in which ancient ruins are used even today as filler for retaining walls, etc.





San Sebastiano fuori le Mura






The lovely bust of Saint Sebastian--I actually had to look this up online because I thought my notes had to be wrong.  I thought this bust looked more like Christ than the typical clean shaven depictions of Saint Sebastian.  Who am I to question Bernini?!








Relics of Saint Sebastian's martyrdom and the famous Quo Vadis footprints.
We did not visit the Quo Vadis church on this visit.  It was a bit of a hike from the catacombs and the weather was beginning to look ominous.  Quo Vadis is on my list for next time.







The tomb of San Sebastiano





Crazy boys dancing on ruins







The boys loved the spiral staircase exiting the Vatican Museums. While photography in much of the Vatican Museums is not forbidden (the Sistine Chapel being the exception) this is the only photo I took.  I just don't think photos of artwork do the artwork justice, in general and I just wanted to take everything in without lifting my camera to shoot.









Outside the Pantheon








Raphael's tomb within the Pantheon








The open air oculus of the Pantheon







Rain pouring onto the marble floor of the Pantheon



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Wednesday, December 3, 2014

European Vacation Day 5--Rome


We slept in past 10 am on our second day in Rome.  It was a much needed night of rest after all the traveling, walking, and touring we'd done so far.  My notes for this day are pretty sketchy so I am using my photos to help my memory along.




Our first stop was the Basilica Santa Maria degli Angeli e de Martiri, otherwise known as the Michelangelo church, as he is credited as the main architect of the church built upon the ruins of the frigidarium of the Baths of Diocletian.  This church had some truly amazing features more to the liking of the scientist than the artist, but still a gorgeous church.






I absolutely loved the stained glass in the dome.







Across the marble floor there was an inlaid meridian solar line (a type of sundial) that marks the day of the year as the sun shines through a special portal at solar noon.









The sun shines through a tiny cut out at the right of the arch where you can make out a cut out piece.  









Facing the window used for the solar meridian source.








Our next stop was to visit the 3rd of the 4 major Papal Basilicas; San Paolo fuori le Mura (Saint Paul outside the Walls).  This church is as splendid outside as it is inside and was probably my favorite of the four.



The square outside the church is surrounded by marble colonnades.






The exterior of the church is covered in exquisite mosaics.






The courtyard in front of the church with the magnificent statue of Saint Paul in the center.





The mosaics within the church are equally magnificent.  One of the main attractions of this church are the circular mosaic portraits of each of the 266 Popes--from Saint Peter to Francis.






Constantine commissioned the building of Saint Paul's in this location as tradition had indicated it as the spot of Saint Paul's tomb.  Paul, having been a Roman citizen convicted of being a Christian heretic, was afforded the right of death by beheading, rather than crucifixion.  Such executions of Roman citizens had to be carried out outside the walls of Rome--thus the title of the church Saint Paul's outside the Walls.  From 2002 to 2006 the area beneath the main altar was excavated and it was confirmed there is a marble tomb beneath inscribed with "Paolo Apostle Mart" and then further confirmed to be the final tomb of Saint Paul (his remains were moved about during the persecutions to the catacombs outside Rome and then moved back to this spot by Constantine).  Above the tomb is a glass reliquary containing the chains which bound him during his imprisonment before martyrdom.  It really was an honor to be able to pray at his tomb.








We visited Santa Maria della Vittoria next and saw Bernini's amazing masterpiece The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa.

The lighting within most of the churches we visited was pretty poor, making it impossible for me to use my good camera (especially since most churches would not allow flash photography, if they allowed photography at all) so obviously my iPhone could not even come close to doing this statue justice.  It is truly an amazing piece and I was thrilled to even see it in person.








The exterior of Santa Maria del Popolo.  She seems like such a simple unassuming church, but contained within are some of the most beautiful works of art by famous Renaissance artists.  There is a chapel designed and decorated by Raphael and in another obscure side chapel are two amazing pieces by my favorite Renaissance master, Caravaggio.  I nearly missed seeing them, as not only are they in a side chapel, they are the side artwork of the side chapel!







Throughout Rome, there are running fountains with fresh, potable water.  The boys loved getting sips from the ancient drinking fountains.






At the end of another long day of walking, we found our way to Dar Poeta, which, in my opinion, has the absolute best pizza in Rome.  Of course, the 4 euro carafe of delicious red wine raised my opinion of the pizza ;)



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