Archive for the ‘Vatican Itineraries’ category

Basilica of St. John Lateran

August 18, 2008

Duration: 3 hours


This itinerary takes us to three sites: (1) the majestic Lateran Basilica of San Giovanni, (2) the Scala Sancta and (3) the Lateran Baptistery.


Saint John’s at the Lateran is the Mother Church of Rome and of the world, the place where the papal throne (cathedra) is located. Such constitutes this basilica to be the most important church in Christendom. On its façade is an inscription that proclaims the basilica as: “SACROSANCTA LATERANENSIS ECCLESIA OMNIUM URBIS ET ORBIS ECCLESIARUM MATER ET CAPUT” (The Most Holy Lateran Church, Mother and Mistress of all churches of the city and the World). This Basilica is the Cathedral of Rome, where the Emperor Constantine permitted Pope St. Sylvester I to establish his cathedra in 314 AD.


St. John’s houses some of the most important relics of the Christian faith. The principal sights inside the Basilica, which we visit, are the High Altar, the Confessio, the apse and sanctuary, the splendid cloisters and the lateral Chapels of the Orsini, Torlonia, Massimo, Colonna and Corsini. On this itinerary we also visit the sacred Scala Santa, or Holy Stairs, which pilgrims have ascended on their knees over centuries in honor of the tradition that these were the steps of the Palace of Pontius Pilate in Jerusalem that Christ stood upon during his trial. At the top of the stairs we see the revered Sancta Sanctorum, or Holy of Holies, an 8th century chapel which refers to the inner chamber of the Jewish Temple where only the high priest could enter. Today it is a private chapel for the Pope. Above the entrance to the apse is the inscription NON EST IN TOTO SANCTIOR ORBE LOCUS; “there is no holier place in all the world”.


While in the area we also visit the St. John’s Square where we observe the world’s most ancient obelisk (circa 1500 BC) and study its transformation from a pagan sun-dial into a Christian pilgrims’ marker. We also visit the Lateran Baptistery constructed here by the order of the first Christian Emperor, Constantine. This baptistery, with its elegant lateral chapels, is the first in Rome.


Regarding the educational input on this itinerary, it is an in-depth survey of the origins of Christianity told against the background of one of the most spectacular and lesser-seen sites in the Holy City.




Masterpieces of the Vatican

August 22, 2007

Duration: 4-5 hours


This itinerary takes us to the Vatican Art Galleries, Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica.


 “To speak of the Vatican is to speak of Rome. This is as true today as it has ever been in the past. It is much more than the center of Catholicism, because it has absorbed within itself the great heritage of the Classical world in which our own civilization still has its roots. The Vatican, like Rome of old, is in a sense communis patria – the universal fatherland. It has become the richer for that, and it has suffered too. It has aroused passionate enthusiasm and love, and no less passionate hatred. Even for those who do not share the Catholic faith, and have had no contact with Western civilization, the Vatican is still a symbol, and a historical reality that must be taken into account. Therefore whatever our point of view may be, when we speak about the Vatican we have to realize its unique quality in history. We have to enter into it, to think and feel ourselves into it. Even if we consider it only as a collection of buildings and works of art (St Peter’s, the Vatican Museums, and so on) we are confronted by a unifying vision of two thousand years of Western culture.

Whether we come as pilgrims or as visitors interested in art and culture, we come up against the Vatican as an artifact of history. We can see how it grew, where it was altered or destroyed, day after day and year after year. When we go into St Peter’s or the papal palace, we are immediately immersed in history. The centuries speak to us, and we can touch, as it were, the point of intersection between an ancient and a modern world. And this is something that happens to everyone, irrespective of the breadth or narrowness of his cultural horizon.”


Excerpt taken from: Oreste Ferrari, Masterpieces of the Vatican. English translation from the Italian by Geoffrey Webb (New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1971).


It is, indeed, misleading to think of the Vatican primarily as a museum or a religious art gallery. The Vatican is quite different. It is a complex still alive today, consisting of buildings of unrivaled scope and importance which have grown organically into a multifarious artistic, cultural, political and religious organization.


This itinerary – “Masterpieces of the Vatican” – takes us through the vast and assorted Vatican Art Collections and into the Sistine Chapel and on to the Saint Peter’s Basilica. At each of these sites we explore in depth the art and architecture, and discuss the intricate history of the Papal State and the legacy of its popes and their artists who contributed to making this one of the most extraordinary places in the world.


This itinerary in brief:


Vatican Museums

Pinacoteca (fine arts gallery)
Belvedere Courtyard (Cortile della Pigna)
Chiaramonti Collection
– Apoxyomenos
Pio-Clementino Collection
– Apollo Belvedere
– Laocoön
– Belvedere Torso
– Stanza Rotonda
– Stanza della Croce Greca
Bramante’s Triple Gallery
Fra Angelico’s Chapel of Nicholas V
Raphael Rooms

Sistine Chapel

St. Peter’s Basilica
Portico and bronze doors
Chapel of the Pietá
Statue of St. Peter
Baldacchino, shrines and Cathedra Petri
Monumental Tomb to Alexander VII
Papal Cenotaphs
Monument to the Last Stuarts

Piazza San Pietro
General overview