Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Celebrating Peter and Paul

Happy Saint Peter and Paul's Day!

As the patron saints of the city of Rome, their day is a special occasion (as well as a public holiday) here in the Eternal City. The day begins with a spectacular mass at St. Peter's Basilica which ends with the Pope kissing the feet of the medieval statue of St. Peter.

On tour in the basilica yesterday, as they were setting up for the big event, I was delighted to see the marvelous bronze all decked out in papal vestments and the famous three-tier papal tiara. Despite my many years in Rome, this is the first time that I have seen it all dressed up. The statue itself was almost certainly created by Arnolfo di Cambio, making it a late 13th-century work. The right foot of the sculpture protrudes slightly and for hundreds of years, faithful (and superstitious) visitors have touched, rubbed or even kissed that foot so many millions of times, that its toes have almost completely worn away.

Across town, Peter's co-honoree is celebrated at his mighty church, St. Paul's Outside the Walls with a street fair that lasts most of the day. The second largest church in Rome, and the 3rd most important (after St. John's in Lateran), deserves a post of its own, so I won't go into detail just now. Just one tiny note: even though most of what we see today is no more than 150 years old, due to the heartbreaking damage the great basilica suffered in 1823, nevertheless its external aspect, the courtyard, the columned portico, the gold mosaic facade, the dramatic pediment, is the closest Rome has to offer to what Constantine's St. Peter's Basilica must have looked like in its day.

Photo sources: 1, 2, 3
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