July 12, Tuesday, Vatican Museum, Richard Donahoe

We left the hotel early in order to meet Magdalena our guide for the Vatican Museum.  She was also our guide for Ancient Rome.  She is very knowledgeable, and her husband works in the Vatican archives.  The Archives have been undergoing a renovation for the past three years, some of us joked it must have been because Dan Brown blew it up in Angels and Demons.  If you come to Rome and want to see the Vatican Museum, engage a guide.  Everyone else was waiting in a line that extended for three blocks at least, while our guide was allowed to bring us past all of those people waiting right into the museum as it was opening.  We saw the Vatican Gardens upon entering.

There are eight miles of galleries in the Vatican Museum so Magdalena had to pick and choose carefully what galleries we would see.  She began with a gallery of statuary.  Pointing out various styles of classical sculpture.


Then we went into the Map Gallery.  One of the Popes was fascinated by maps, and he commissioned map makers to survey the country and then make accurate scale model drawings, that are accurate enough you could still plan a walking tour of Italy using them.  There was an open window in this gallery through which we could see one of the inner courts in the Vatican.  The wall with scaffolding on the right in the picture is part of the Sistine Chapel.

We next visited Magdelena’s favorite painter, the gallery of Raphael.  Raphael and Michel Angelo were rivals.  According to Magdalena Raphael was the better painter and Michel Angelo was the better sculptor.  Many of Michel Angelo’s painted figures look more like sculptures than paintings.  They seem to hang in space rather than fitting into the picture.  Magdalena pointed out that Michel Angelo was bi-polar.  He worked all the time, and was miserable most of the time.  Raphael loved life, loved his mistress, had a good time, was liked by people, and would have been fun to be with.  She pointed out many details in Raphael’s paintings.  Raphael was willing to paint what people asked for.  If a person commissioned a painting, he was willing to paint them into the picture.  Michel Angelo insisted upon artistic freedom and authenticity.  He would never paint a patron into a picture.  In Raphael’s painting of Socrates and Plato, he had some fun by painting Michel Angelo as the tortured depressed looking youth in the foreground of the painting.  Another famous Raphael painting that photographed pretty well was the burning of Rome.  Many of his commissions from the Pope involved advancing Papal propaganda, like the donation of Constantine, the coronation of Charlemagne, Constantine at Milvian Bridge.

Magdelena was not allowed to guide us in the Sistine Chapel, and we could not take pictures there.  A couple of things she pointed out before we went into the Chapel.  First the ceiling is a series of panels depicting Genesis from Creation through Noah. He started working on the panels about Noah and later in Genesis first and he made the figures too small.  He didn’t discover this until he had finished these pictures and the scaffolding had been taken down, and by then it was too late.  The Ceiling is so high the figures in these panels don’t stand out, because they are too small.  On the rest of the Ceiling he draws truly great figures.  One of the details she pointed out was that the background behind God who is reaching out to touch Adam’s hand, that background is in the shape of a human brain.  And this was drawn in a time when human dissection was not allowed.  But Michel Angelo had studied cadavers in order to sculpt and paint.

When we left the Sistine Chapel we went down to St. Peter’s to see the Pieta, one of Michel Angelo’s most beautiful sculptures.  Michel Angelo was expressing that Mary holding Jesus in a way that she is offering her son to the world.  It was carve from a single block of marble, and he worked from the front going in.  The sculpture was damaged by a deranged individual in 1983, who hit it with a hammer.  It required three times as much time to repair the statue as it did to carve it.

As I thought about Rafael and Michel Angelo I had to admit that Rafael was technically the better painter.  He did things with light and dark, proportion, the use of two perspectives so that the painting shifts its perspective as the observer moves.  But Rafael didn’t want any control over his subject matter.  That way he couldn’t get in trouble with his patrons or the Pope.  But it meant that Rafael ended up serving the Pope and his other patron’s propaganda purposes.  The more tortured soul of Michel Angelo insisted on artistic freedom to express his sense of connection with the divine.  He wasn’t serving the Pope’s propaganda.  No he was trying to help ordinary people connect with the divine content of the paintings he envisioned.  In this sense there was a lesson about connecting with the divine in the Vatican Museum.

Magdalena took us around St. Peter’s to point out important art details.  The decoration of St. Peter’s was the responsibility of Bernini.  And something I had not guessed is that all of the pictures over the altars in St. Peters are not paintings.  They are incredibly detailed mosaics.

After Magdalena left, Ray took us down to the crypt where the tombs of many Popes are located.  I took a picture of the tomb of John Paul I, who only reigned for just over a month.  From the Vatican we went to lunch, came back to the hotel to freshen up, and then started off for Treve Fountain one of the most famous fountains in Rome.  This is the fountain, if you throw in a coin over your shoulder and it lands in the fountain, then you will return to Rome – I think Treve appears in “Roman Holiday,” and “Three Coins in a Fountain.”  Although in the movies there are only five or six people at the fountain, rather than 600 people. Rome is completely full of tourists as many of the Romans leave to escape the heat of the City.

From Treve Fountain we walked about two blocks to the Residence for the North American University in Rome.  There we met with Richard Dunahoe a priest from the Birmingham Diocese who has been working on a Doctoral Dissertation about married priests of the Anglican church who want to convert to Roman Catholicism.  The way Rome has welcomed Anglican priests from England is to create what is called an “ordinariat” that acknowledges the diversity of patrimony.  In other words since Anglicans have had married priests for centuries, these Anglicans who convert in order to be in communion with Rome will be allowed to be married priests.  Some people think that Rome may be hoping to make inroads into Anglicanism and create a way for bringing back disaffected Anglicans rather than negotiating for ecumenical communion.

Richard shared with us that another ordinariat will probably be named for the United States next year in order to take advantage of all the disaffected Episcopalians in the United States.  They will have their own liturgy, their own rules about being married, maybe their own bishops.  The clergy will have to be ordained again, when they convert to Roman Catholicism.

Richard started out as an Episcopalian.  His mother was Roman Catholic and his Father was Episcopalian, but he had to take his uncle to Mass each week.  He graduated from Sewanee, and was ordained as an Episcopal priest, but he just felt he wanted to be closer to the history of the Roman Catholic Church, and a communion where everyone shared the same understanding of the Eucharist.  So he converted to and was then re-ordained as a Roman Catholic priest.  He was never married, but the Roman Catholic church in America has accepted some married Episcopal clergy in the past and they have worked out well as married priests.

Richard took us to dinner at an excellent restaurant, and most reasonable restaurant we have found so far in Rome, just around the corner from the North American University.  When we asked him about his own personal spirituality, he said that most profoundly he experiences the presence of God in the people of God.  That is his first and most important experience of the presence of God.  (Richard is a flaming extrovert – surprise – surprise.)   He says he also profoundly experiences the divine in the liturgy, but in the liturgy in community more so than if he has to say the liturgy alone.

The meal was excellent.  This humble restaurant was the scene of many important discussion among the theologians during Vatican II.  Because Richard is a frequent patron of the restaurant they served complimentary after dinner liquor, and the stories flowed.  We returned late to the hotel.

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