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Climbing the Cupola
BY Tim Drake
My second day in Rome was a full one. In the morning, we were treated to a bus tour of Rome, which included long stops at both the Church of St. John Lateran, the Holy Staircase, and the Colosseum. A striking thing about Rome is that as you traverse the neighborhoods, you see modern buildings and Churches right next to ancient ruins, defensive walls, monuments, and ancient Roman aqueducts. To see one culture and time period semi-preserved against another time period and culture is rather striking. One can’t help but think that so much of what exists today will not possibly stand as long as some of these ruins have lasted.
When in Rome, one has to get used to doing things on Rome time. Work-wise, for example, that means that journalists can utilize the Holy See Press Office only between the hours of 11 and 3. Just prior to 3 p.m., journalists are asked to leave and the doors are shut.
After interviewing visitors and others at the Verbum Domini exhibit, I took some time for two personal excursions. First, with the help of Vatican security, I was able to locate the precise spot where Pope John Paul II was shot on May 13, 1981.
A small white plaque bears the symbol of Pope John Paul II’s pontificate and the date of the assassination attempt. Interestingly, Dominican Father Michael Monshau, who teaches at the Angelicum, shared with me the story that as the Holy Father was shot and laid down, he searched with his eyes for some image of Mary, begging for her to embrace him, but could find none in St. Peter’s Square. Therefore, after his recovery, he sought to have an image of Mary and the Christ child added to the facade of one of the Vatican buildings seen from St. Peter’s Square. The image is indeed visible, and is also lit up at night.
After finding the plaque, I was determined to make the climb to the cupola of St. Peter’s. To prove to myself that I could do it, I skipped the initial elevator, and paid the 5 Euro to climb the hundreds of stairs. The cupola trip - which I will refer to as the Vatican stairmaster - is simply breathtaking. After climbing circular stairs, visitors emerge out onto the roof of St. Peter’s only to take more stairs to reach the dome. High up, from inside the dome, one gets a better view of the beautiful artwork and can look down upon the altar and Bernini’s colossal bronze baldachinno. From there, it’s increasingly smaller stairs in a tighter space to reach the balcony up on the cupola. From that vantage point one gets a bird’s eye view of the Vatican, the Sistine Chapel roof, and St. Peter’s Square itself. If you’re visiting Rome, I highly recommend the cupola climb, as long as you’re in good health, can climb the stairs, and are not claustrophobic.
Through a strange Godincidence, I ran into Father Monshau at the Verbum Domini. After interviewing him, he invited me to tea. That tea then led to an extended Italian supper at La Vittoria restaurant with Father Monshau and EWTN bureau chief, Joan Lewis. We spoke of our work, of faith, and both being from Chicago, Father Monshau and Joan had much in common to discuss. It was a delightful dinner and the perfect ending to a very full day.