Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary Blog

Arriving in Rome, Visiting the Vatican

June 15, 2013

Rhoda Schrag, scribe

We were awakened by the bluster of breakfast on the airplane! It was only 1:45 a.m. Indiana time, but it was 7:45 a.m. in Rome! After our short night, we landed, found our luggage, and boarded a bus to drive the 14 miles into Rome. The rolling hills, round hay bales in the fields, solar energy collectors felt a bit like Iowa . . . and then we came to Rome!

With our bus driver Corado and our tour guide Amelia, we set out to see Rome in two days. We stopped near an old bridge constructed in the first century BC—early enough that Julius Caesar may well have seen it. The bridge connects the old Jewish quarter to the Roman side of the river. We drove by a section of the ancient city wall built in the first century BC.

We visited the Basilica of Apostle Saint Bartholomew, which houses his tomb, brought from Sicily, according to our tour guide. Relics of the New Martyrs are in side chapels—one for each continent. These include persons martyred during the Nazi and Communist eras.

We then drove to the Vatican City, the smallest country in Europe, encircled most of the way by a high brick wall in the center of Rome. Within the wall are gardens, chapels, offices, residences, and St. Peter’s. The present structure took 120 years to build. It was consecrated in 1626.

The artist Michelangelo was commissioned by Pope Julius II to plan the paintings for the Sistine Chapel. This artist had earlier—in 1499 when he was 24 years old—complete the “Pieta,” a carving in shiny white marble of a young Mary holding the body of her son Jesus, which is found just inside the main entrance to the basilica. The Sistine Chapel’s dimensions are the same as Solomon’s Temple built in Jerusalem. Michelangelo planned that the ceiling would depict the creation and the fall of humanity. The life and deeds of Moses were to be on one wall, and the life and deeds of Jesus were to be on the opposite wall. The altar wall contains the Last Judgment, complete with a depiction of a cardinal suffering in hell—someone Michelangelo did not like much! On the ceiling are dozens, if not hundreds, of frescos of prophets, other biblical characters, popes, and popes. The artist spent 20 years painting ceiling frescos and five years painting the Last Judgment fresco. Other prominent artists painted some of the panels.

We spent twenty minutes crowded into the chapel with other tourists. The guards repeatedly commanded loudly, “Shh! No talking!” If they were trying to maintain a reverent ambience, it was a losing battle!

After a short night and a long day in the Vatican, we were happy to sit down in our comfortable bus. We were even happier to sleep in a real bed in uncrowded space in our own rooms at the Albani Hotel in Rome that night, most of us having been in the same clothes for some 32 hours!


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Welcome to this window on the 2013 Mediterranean Cruisetour. As Sara Wenger Shenk, AMBS president, and Loren Johns, AMBS professor of New Testament, and 43 other travelers explore the places where the Apostle Paul traveled, they will share photos and reports here. Come back to this space for what we hope will be daily snapshots in words and photos of what the group is experiencing.

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Visit Menno Travel to learn more about the Cruisetour.