Italian Food, Art and the Vatican Secret Archives

Italian Food Just Tastes Better
Talk to any visitor to Italy and they’re bound to tell you that two things that they are really struck by are the food and the art. Sitting down to breakfast yesterday at my hotel - Marriott Park Hotel - I can attest to both. How is it, I wonder, that the Italians can take very ordinary food and make it taste incredible? Take for example the case of a waffle and plain yogurt.

For breakfast I had a fresh waffle. Not just any waffle, mind you. This waffle was unlike any I’ve ever tasted before, and it wasn’t just because I was hungry and in a foreign city. The waffle was light, airy, and crisp with an incredibly fresh flavor. The plain yogurt the restaurant served was remarkable as well. And I haven’t even mentioned the pasta, the pizza, the gelato. No matter what you’re eating in Italy, it just tastes better.

Art Where you Least Expect It
Turning toward the lobby, I was similarly struck by a unique painting near the ceiling. Depicting the statues of Sts. Peter and Paul gazing at some angels above Rome, St. Peter is pointing to a sign in the sky - a large illuminated cross, which seems to emanate from St. Peter’s Basilica. It’s both beautiful and distinct, and here it sits in a hotel lobby. Because of where it’s located, it’s not visible when walking into the lobby, but is only visible if you go far enough back into the lobby, where the dining area is located, and then look back towards the entry.

Italy is like that. Everywhere you turn, where you expect it, and where you least expect it, there you’ll find art. And when I say art, I don’t use the term loosely. The art you find here is truly awe-inspiring and uplifting. A bridge isn’t just a bridge when it’s Bernini’s Ponte Sant’ Angelo. A street isn’t just a street when it’s Via della Conciliazione. It’s stunning and it stops you in your tracks. There’s simply too much to look at.

Vatican Secret Archives Exhibit
This afternoon I was fortunate to spend time at the other major exhibit that just opened in Rome, Lux in Arcana - The Vatican Secret Archives Reveals Itself - at the Capitoline Museum. This phenomenal exhibit opened February 29 and ends September 9. If you’re visiting Rome and are interested in Church history, it is a must-see. The exhibit features 10 different galleries arranged by topic. I can only begin to tell you of the treasures you’ll find in the exhibit. Here’s just a few:

- A printed copy of the Lunario Novo - the new calendar (otherwise known as the Gregorian Calendar, for Pope Gregory XIII who created it) from 1582, which is missing 10 days between October 5 - 14.

- The Papal Bull convoking the Second Vatican Council on December 25, 1961.

- Letters to the Pope signed by Copernicus, Voltaire, St. Bernadette Soubirous, Marie Antoinette, Jefferson Davis, Abraham Lincoln.

- The signatures of Bernini, Galileo, Michelangelo, Napoleon Bonaparte.

- The Lateran Pact of February 11, 1929 officially recognizing the Holy See’s sovereignty and independence.

- Documents providing an inside view of the Conclave process, including a letter written in 1294 to the hermit Pietro of Morrone notifying him that he’s been elected Pope (Celestine V).

- The Papal Bull of Leo X excommunicating Martin Luther, dated January 3, 1521.

- The Regula Bullata of Pope Honorius III ratifying St. Francis’ Rules of Life for the Franciscan Order.

- A letter, complete with wax seals, from members of Parliament to Pope Clement VII urging the annulment of King Henry VII’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon, and saying that they will pursue “extreme measures” if the request is turned down.

- A notebook listing the priests held at the Dachau concentration camp, as well as other documents from the “Closed Period” of World War II. I was particularly moved by a giant photograph in this gallery of Pope Pius XII praying for peace with the people of Rome. His arms are outstretched and there can be no mistaking his pose as that of Christ on the Cross. You can see the photo here. While I had seen the photograph before, seeing it up close in such a large size, and the faces of the people of Rome, was quite moving.

I could go on and on, but you get the idea. The exhibit features 100 original documents from the Vatican Secret Archives that cover 12 centuries of history. This is the first time that any of these documents have been available for viewing by the public. There’s even an iOS and Android App available for the exhibit.