Masterpieces of Light and Space: St. Peter’s Basilica, Rome, Italy – Part IV: The Art

So there’s probably close to a billion historically significant works of art in St. Peter’s Basilica, mostly by Italian renaissance artists who later lent their names to a ragtag group of martial arts knowing turtles. The former (unqualified) art history professor in me wants to show you some of the highlights, but I don’t really know in most cases who made what, nor do I feel like looking it all up on wikipedia and pretending I knew all along.

Unlike my previous posts, my comments about the art will appear above the photo. As if we’re on a tour and I’m speaking before you get a chance to look.

Here’s perhaps the most famous piece, Pieta by one Michaelangelo Buonarroti.

Rome, Italy

The Baldachino by Bernini…

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One of the Apostles, who appears to have just hurled something at you.

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Followed by another Apostle, who perhaps caught what the first had hurled.

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Another Apostle (I’m crossing my fingers now hoping I photographed all four…)

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Myriad statues popping their heads out and looking around. It’s like a whole city of the biblically famous frozen in marble…

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Throne of St. Peter:

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I guess I didn’t get a photo of the fourth apostle at the dome, so we will have to travel back to Rome one day. However, upon exiting St. Peter’s you run headlong into Swiss Guard with their Halberds. Their uniforms are artful AF, aren’t they?

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So this will conclude my 4 part series on St. Peter’s Basilica. I think that anyone regardless of faith would enjoy a walk around in this church. There’s literally so much to see. If you attend a mainline Christian church, you will appreciate it from a heritage viewpoint. If not, there are all sorts of curiosities to indulge your brain. Plus the scale is just overwhelming altogether. I’d say St. Peter’s Basilica is not to be missed.

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Masterpieces of Light and Space: St. Peter’s Basilica, Rome, Italy: Part III – The Relics

As I’ve mentioned in my posts about the Abbey of St. Victor in Marseille, Barcelona Cathedral, the Basilique de Notre Dame de la Garde, St. Cecilia, just up the river from St. Peter’s and other churches we have visited, one of the things that REALLY fascinates me about Catholic churches is the presence of holy relics. You know, pieces of cloth or bits of wood that touched someone significant from the bible or the sainthood. Or parts of a saint. Really like, patellas and elbows, hands and fingers, etc. Macabre reminders that the history of the church actually happened outside of the confines of a book. Well, St. Peter’s has some breathtaking relics. The ones that stood out to me the most were the relics of so many Popes from years ago.

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Pope John the 23rd.

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I think Pope Gregory is in that sarcophogus.

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I’m not 100% sure, but I think St. Peter might be in this reliquary.

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Pope Clement XIII.

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Pope Alexander VI (maybe). Otherwise known as Rodrigo Borgia. He was the Pope in 1492 when Spain sent one Christopher Columbus to the new world.

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Pope Innocent XI. Cast in pewter it looks like.

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St. Pius X. There’s literally a catholic school a few miles from my house with the same name. But here he is!

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Perhaps the most attended of the papal relics that I observed was this one, and I’m pretty sure I know why. Pope John Paul II was the pope when I was born. He always seemed so kind, so pure of heart, and like he was actually interested in making the world a better place. I had no idea that I would ever get this close to him. Of course, he’s a Saint now, so perhaps these people were asking for him to intercede for them.

So it’s a bit macabre. That’s the only word I can think of to describe how I feel about holy relics like this. I think they do add something to the church. It took me a few minutes in St. Peter’s to realize that these were sarcophagi, not just altars. Once I realized that, I’ll admit I was a little freaked out to be standing in the midst of not just so many spiritual leaders, but world leaders from the time the Papal States were their own nation. It’s absolutely nuts to think that all that separates you from someone as revered as a pope is a few inches of marble.

 

 

Masterpieces of Light and Space: St. Patrick’s Cathedral, New York, New York, USA

St. Patrick's Cathedral

My first visit to New York was cold, very cold. I was there with my then-girlfriend (now wife) visiting her sister before we moved to Korea for a couple of years, in the middle of the winter, and our visit was bookended with major snowstorms making the streets a slushy, soggy, mess. If I remember the order of events right, we spent the morning at the MoMA, then walked back through mid-Town in the cold on our way to Koreatown for dinner. Frozen, tired, and in need of a respite, we ducked into St. Patrick’s Cathedral for a warm-up and sightseeing break. I was pretty certain at the time that this church was featured in Home Alone, maybe Home Alone 2, but in retrospect I think I was wrong about that.

St. Patrick's Cathedral

I remember that it was warm inside. There was a little music going, and it was very green. I guess that makes sense for St. Patrick. Anywho, I definitely remember it being beautiful and ornate, even more ornate than St. John’s, if a bit darker on the inside.

St. Patrick's Cathedral

When we lived in New York I visited St. Patrick’s again briefly, but it was totes under renovation and I don’t think I even took any pictures because it was all scaffolding everywhere. I would certainly love to go back and check it out again the next time we’re in New York, though.

St. Patrick's Cathedral

I just realized, when I took all of these pictures it was after sunset, in the middle of the winter, no wonder the church seemed dark inside.

St. Patrick's Cathedral

The Chancel was spectacular, though.

St. Patrick's Cathedral

Something about the cloisters of cathedrals really piques my curiosity. I’d probably be disappointed to go on an exploratory expedition in one to find nothing but offices and broom closets, but I imagine there are all sorts of holy relics hidden in them.

So yeah, St. Patrick’s is big and beautiful, right in midtown Manhattan ready for you to walk in and snap a photo or two. If you visit St. Patrick’s though out of church hopping interest and not just because it’s close to Rockefeller Center and on your tourist map, you must head up to 110th and Cathedral Parkway to see the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, too. It’s worth the trip.

Masterpieces of Light and Space: Sultan Ahmet “Blue” Mosque, Istanbul, Turkey

Istanbul, TurkeyComposing basically half of Istanbul’s distinctive skyline (exaggeration) the Blue Mosque is Iconic

Given the current political climate, I thought I would depart from my normal writing about Christian places of worship and instead write about one of the most beautiful houses of worship used by our Abrahamic brothers and sisters who practice Islam. The Blue Mosque in Istanbul is (aside from the Hagia Sophia, which I feel doesn’t “count” as a Mosque or a Church, really…more as a museum now) the only mosque that I’ve ever entered.

Istanbul, TurkeyMosques share many features I appreciate about churches. You know, archways, stained glass, tile work

One of the cool things about the Blue Mosque is that it gets so many visitors of all faiths. So many that you’ve got to stand in line to get in, and the line basically moves through the cloisters around the worship space. Seeing the inside and outside of such a beautiful building close-up is always a treat.

Istanbul, TurkeyLooking up at the imposing “clamshells” that give the mosque its distinctive shape

The mosque appears to be a series of perfect domes and half domes, and frankly, it’s an architectural style for which I have no frame of reference. I grew up with steeples and stuff, so this building style along with the calls to prayer made me feel very far from home. Interestingly, though, I think just about anyone would feel welcome in the space.

Istanbul, TurkeyThe Blue Mosque’s iconic dome

Inside the mosque I was somewhat surprised by how not blue it was. Of course there is plenty of blue, the place is literally covered with blue tiles. It’s just not overwhelmingly blue. I was not prepared for the detail of all of the Arabic script and the detail on every little tile. In an art history class, I learned that Islamic art centered largely around repetitive patterns perfectly executed. Walking into this space I thought “oh, yeah, I get it now.”

Istanbul, TurkeyThe stained glass reminded me of so many churches I’ve visited

The stained glass in the mosque was surprisingly similar to stained glass you would find in a church, except without the figures of the humans in the stories of course (my understanding is that Islam does not like graven images of holy figures, but my understanding of Islam is even lesser than my understanding of Christianity).

Istanbul, TurkeyThe symmetry! The symmetry!

Mostly, I found the differences between Mosque and Church to be relatively minor. One stark difference was the lack of pews. While liturgical churches tend to follow the format of “stand, kneel, sit, stand, kneel, sit, stand, kneel sit – great workout everyone, let’s have a snack” Islamic worship seems to involve quite a bit more time on the knees. I found it interesting that you could see the very neat rows where people have been lining up for hundreds of years and kneeling worn into the rug. Also, the carpets in the Blue Mosque are the ORIGINAL carpets from when it was completed in 1616. I’ve certainly never walked across a carpet that old. They’re still beautiful, by the way.

Istanbul, TurkeyYou could just get lost in those arches, right?

So I don’t know, I really think that we’re all more similar than we would like to recognize, sometimes.

Istanbul, TurkeyNot sure what the deal with the lighting systems in this mosque and the Hagia Sophia is, but I like it!

I find it interesting that so many elements between the houses of worship are similar between these two religions. Maybe inspiration just all comes from the same place.

Istanbul, Turkey