Saturday, March 15, 2014


There's not much need of an introduction to this church, is there?!

My first visit to St Peter's was back in the spring of 1973, while on a between-terms break during my time studying in England.  I was in what I might call my "semi-Protestant" phase, pretty well convinced of the evils of institution and the rightness of the Reformers.  So I was pretty well convinced that I would despise the building that was built at the cost of the Reformation.

In those days, the lira was still the Italian currency, and I was sharing a bedroom with 2 other guys in a pensione near the train station for £900 (the equivalent of $1.85/night, with fixed price suppers £600 or about $1.25--students know how to do cheap).  Once I dropped my backpack at the pensione, I walked toward St Peter's.  The closer I got, the more confused I was because I was loosing sight of the dome.  After coming out from a side street into Piazza Venezia and seeing the monument to Victor Emmanuel in all its glory, I kept walking and did what Bernini always wanted folks to do:  come through the back alleys of the Borgo area and break through his colonnade into the piazza--it was a bigger surprise than Piazza Venezia was.  And so I went in (no metal detectors and one-way entrances back then).

I was absolutely stunned when I entered:  the size was out-done, so to speak, by the perfection of the proportions:  everything seemed so wonderfully in balance.  So much seemed so miraculous there, especially Michelangelo's Pieta` (the first and most famous of the four he sculpted), and Bernini's monumental Altar of the Chair.  Mass was celebrated every day at 5:00 pm at this altar, and I found myself back there every day to participate--5 times in a week I headed back (always on foot) to this incredible basilica.

At the beginning of seminarian life in Rome, St Peter's the first place we come for Mass; at the end, it is the place where we are ordained transitional deacons.  When I take groups to Italy, we always have Mass here--sometimes in one of the crypt chapels, and more recently at the altar of Bl (soon-to-be St) John Paul II. 

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