Got on the bus. Waited. Got on another bus. Waited even longer.
Had a bad feeling this paid in advance tour was going to disappoint.
And it did.
Tours to that revered site in Rome, the Vatican are expensive and seemingly necessary. Otherwise the lines can be hours long.
The Vatican is a must see in Rome. Regardless of religious background or preference there is a majesty to being in the presence of some of the most amazing art and sculpture the world has to offer. And looking up at the Blessing Window where the Pope stands and then pivoting around to observe what it must be like to look out at huge numbers of appreciative and reverent individuals is a stunning moment.
However, that is not where the memorable magic happened for me.
Let me take you on the tour with me.
We were hustled past hoards if individuals waiting in line.
“So far so good” I murmured to my husband.
Then not so good.
Our tour was distinct, we had really pretty green scarves, not so bad actually. We followed our attractive Italian guide who carried a beige umbrella as our point of reference in this sea of humanity. It was a beautiful moving feast of shapes, sizes, sounds and occasionally smells.
Basically all I could decipher as Francesca talked with the speed of a gazelle. was “Here’s a stature, there’s a tapestry, here’s a map, there’s a map, and of course Michelangelo’s name came up every so often as we headed to the Sistine Chapel.
Did you know he died as a very old man (by Renaissance times at least)? He was 89. However, no info about who he was as a man, just lots of mumbo-jumbo dates and statistics with no context.
This marathon kept becoming more intense. We were in a race. We were not in a race to win, it was a race to get as many souls into and out of the Vatican as possible. There were the kindly guards who smiled and said with determination “Keep moving.”
I began to think I was in a never ending TSA line that would not have the benefit of a plane to board at the end.
I simply stopped.
I didn’t care if I lost my tour group. We had not bonded in a meaningful way other than to complain that pretty Francesca talked too fast and walked even faster. We also agree that she had little choice, those were her marching orders.
Finally, the Sistine Chapel.
The colors of the rainbow. The story of man and woman. The beauty could not be denied.
A guard smiled and pointed to the edge of a marble bench and motioned for others to move a bit as he gently pushed me down.
The noise and the constant movement stopped, at least for just a few moments as I was imagined that determined artist on his back figuring out where to put the next dab of paint. I thought I heard him murmuring to himself.
The tour, my husband, who knows. All I knew was I was not moving out of this mystical place so fast.
And then someone said something in Italian and then the magic.
Monks, albeit recorded, monks chanting from ancient times filled the chapel.
Did you ever listen to Gregorian chanting? If not get on Amazon and find a DVD. Then set some time aside, close your eyes and listen.
This is magic.
And here I was, in the one and only Sistine Chapel sitting on a slice of marble, in a room with hundreds of my fellow humans. We all fell silent, even the children, as we sat, out of time and space, in the realm of magic and wonder. The sounds echoed up to the vaulted ceiling and came down on us like a gentle rain to weary pilgrims.
Time stopped. Finally, the chanting ceased.
The modern world reentered. The marathon was back on. I found my tour and had to accept the dirty looks of disapproval from Francesca.
All worth it.
My suggestion. Get a Gregorian chant DVD. Look up info about Michelangelo or if you love to read grab a copy of the story of this incredible man by Irving Stone, The Agony and the Ecstasy (also a film).
With your new knowledge and the amazing music, you then need to take time (I call it a radical sabbatical). Sit in silence for half hour looking at photos of this brilliant art and listen.
This is magic.
And then I heard Marc Zuckerberg was there just at the same time having an audience with the Pope. Oh, well, my time at the Vatican was still amazing.