“Holy sight-See-ing”

Vatican City photo galleries

When one is in Rome, it would be remiss of them not to stop by the Vatican City, the smallest sovereign state on the planet. The moment one steps inside St. Peter’s Square, they are transported outside of Italy and into the realm of an absolute theocratic monarchy, heading a religion with 1.3 billion members worldwide.

One of my most memorable experiences in Europe was climbing the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica and being the first person on the roof that morning. Just myself and the apostles overlooking Rome at sunrise. The bells suddenly thundered and I watched pigeons explode into the air. Extraordinary.

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The basilica is, without a doubt, one of the most breathtaking human creations I have ever entered. Breathtaking. What a strange word. Can such vaulted scale and religious beauty literally interrupt a person’s breathing? Can such a centrepiece of world culture still strike awe into someone, like me, who holds no faith? I certainly believe so.

I remember being fixated on the dark sculpted canopy that loomed over the high altar. Its twisting columns were like the legs of some titanic creature, but not of this world.

I was also entranced by the large statues that populated the cavernous space of the basilica. They were works of gorgeous craftsmanship which captured the elegant motions and intense expressions of saintly and papal figures. It seemed as though if one were to merely prod them, they would stir into life.

A visit to Vatican City is really an immersion in two parts. The first, of course, is done by entering the great world church of St. Peter’s Basilica. The second is undertaken by exploring the Vatican Museums, where the full force of the Roman Catholic Church’s wealth and influence across time and space is on display. Priceless frescoes, statues, and paintings — all of it hoarded, or created, within the Vatican’s ecclesiastical dominion.

A journey into the Vatican Museums is also a journey into the Sistine Chapel, which is celebrated for containing perhaps the most celebrated artistic achievement in all of human history. The effect of the Sistine Chapel, however, is mildly dampened by the frequent snap of the guards: “No photo! No camera!” It is a space where the demand for hushed contemplation and the burning desire of tourists to capture everything they see is pressed into an unresolvable, endless tension.

I felt too sheepish and too discouraged to take any photos within the chapel, illegal or otherwise. Regardless, I doubt any device of mine could’ve captured Michelangelo’s heavenly ceiling, so far above us. Better to crane one’s head and try to take in as much as possible, for however brief a time.

Instead, I satisfied myself by taking photos of the masterful paintings which, like ceremonial heralds, guided the crowd towards the chapel.

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