The Vatican Museum

I’ve never been religious, neither are my parents… in fact, I’m pretty certain that God has never featured in anything other than marriages and deaths. Therefore it was with a sense of some discomfort myself and Mr Alt decided to visit the Vatican Museums on one of their Friday night ‘open late’ events, as it would certainly have been uncomfortable to do so during daylight hours. As it transpires, the humidity was an issue, but after a while this was forgotten as debate sparked, and then raged.

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This museum is a celebration of two things: history and religion. If my understanding of the history is correct, it wasn’t just a good life and pious deeds that got you into the Eternal Kingdom, but your service to the Church. Some of that was manual, but an awful lot ended up as material contribution. The entire building is the exhibition of that accumulated ‘wealth’: probably billions of hours of work, care and appreciation from all over the Globe. In the most crass terms, this is a storage warehouse full to bursting with God’s gifts from those who worship his wonder. To see it all, you pay a not inconsiderable amount of money for the privilege.

The irony part of my brain last night was having a field day.

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There are areas in this Museum where you cannot go, because it is still a church, and you are expected to dress appropriately… except last night many people didn’t and were still allowed in. Presumably after a while it doesn’t matter and you just take the money regardless. The Sistene Chapel, it must be said, remains an impressive example of religious devotion, but you cannot take pictures. I’m sure the low light levels will preserve Michelangelo’s legacy but still, half a mind flits back to making people buy prints from the Gift shop. Most ironically of all there’s a Priest stop outside which (presumably) is meant for Catholics who wish to discuss the significance of this work in relation to God. Last night, it was disappointingly empty.

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Love of family and others are obviously familiar sensations: doing the same to a non-corporeal being has always been difficult to grasp. However, with respect to those for whom this is both important as well as a significant part of their lives, there’s an awful lot of jaw-dropping devotion to task on show. The amount of time and effort placed into gifts puts modern day efforts to shame. However, and this for me was crucial, all of this remains very much a product of the ages in which it was created. I can wonder at the artistry at work, but am fairly confident that those making the items were very much not a representation of their era’s reality. All of this has to be considered in judgement: art is beautiful and awe inspiring, but unless it truly mirrors the society it is created within, it is not the whole story.

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It was, all told, a very interesting experience. There was only one complaint, and that is that the Ladies toilets are some of the most shockingly awful I’ve had to deal with on any foreign holiday. If there was going to be a metaphor for how I fit into the Catholic Church’s grand plan, this might be it. Making your church more welcoming should really be the order of the day, and if you could start by improving the little things, the larger stuff will end up being far less stressful…

The Colosseum

One of the reasons why our holiday this year is in Europe was because of me. Italy’s always held a special allure, and with European travel (potentially) becoming a bit of a minefield starting next year (cheers Brexit) it seemed like a good idea to push for this trip before that happened. The fact Rome became a Bond location in SPECTRE is an added bonus (*cough* Florence and Lake Como on the way back *cough*) but this belittles a very important part of my real reasoning for being here. I’m a massive history nut, and the home of the Roman Empire’s been on the To Do list since I first learnt what a Gladiator was, and we’re not talking about the spandex clad athletes on ITV who used to battle with giant cotton buds.

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Our farmhouse is on the end of the Metro line which deposits tourists literally outside the front door: this was Nero’s grand plan, to transform the existing structure on the site to a massive stadium. Begun in AD 69, it became the Empire’s centre for entertainment and spectacle and, most importantly, one of the most famous examples of religious persecution in History. For a city that remains deeply Christian, this serves as the permanent reminder of how intolerance must take place for acceptance to flourish. I’ve never been religious but the multiple significances at play continue to fuel interesting and challenging moral dilemma.

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It is also a RIDICULOUSLY photogenic landmark, which has detail and depth that I suspect most tourists don’t even consider. The regulation in brickwork is frankly staggering, and the skill in construction means that it has survived several major earthquakes (and attempts to recycle its structure) to surprising effect. I will be poring over the books I’ve bought in the next few weeks, and the pictures taken are more than likely to end up in a collage in my working space at home. The place is a testament not only to the people who built the structure, but those who perished within it for their beliefs. This was entertainment, pure and simple, and there are still parallels we can draw from within the walls that mirror our own modern existence.

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There are those who will maintain that history is only useful if it provides the means to make good the mistakes that took place, but monuments like this are the exception to that rule. Here is a structure that mirrors the continuation of religious persecution for entertainment: these guys stuck believers in with lions, we vilify opposition via a global arena. When all is said and done, very little has changed in 2000 years. This monument however has survived attempts to destroy it, reminding us that sometimes, it isn’t about the memories of a place, but the place itself which defines an experience.

Once we’d done here, it was time for a change of clothes and then off to the institution that grew from their humble beginnings as cat-food to utterly dominate the same city that once considered them as heretics…

Day Four :: Rome

As I’m writing this, my son and husband are out exploring Rome after dark. My daughter is still recovering from her dodgy ankle, with me here largely in the background, but tomorrow she should be well enough to go out too.

Today therefore has been writing whilst my husband sorted out patching up the van, and our first group meal in the Villa (apart from breakfast.)

Expect some pictures in the morning