Did you know that there are so many uses of the word Vatican? I needed enlightening so I did some research. The word Vatican can mean a city, the Holy See, Catholic church, library, museum or the Vatican basilica. Let me explain.
The Vatican City is a state within the city of Rome ruled by the Pope. Within Vatican City are St. Peter’s Basilica, the Sistine Chapel and the Vatican Museums.
St. Peter’s Basilica is the church in the Vatican City. As I enter the bronze decorated Holy Doors, I am dwarfed by the scale of everything in the building. The marble that I’m stepping on is beautiful. The entire structure reveals the vast wealth and power of the Catholic Church.
Inside the basilica are altars, chapels, sculptures in niches, including the famous Michaelangelo’s marble Pieta (the Virgin Mary cradling the dead body of Jesus). But what peeked my interest is this huge, brown decoration in the center of the church. My research shows that this central feature is called a Baroque baldachin, or canopy over the Papal Altar, designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini. It is massive. It is a very large structure, made of bronze, decorated with leaves and bees and stands above the high altar where the Pope holds his Masses. Underneath the altar is the tomb of St. Peter which gives meaning to every Catholic in the world as it implies St. Peter’s holy presence and his legitimate successors officiating at the ceremonies.
Everything was grand, overwhelming and mind-blowing. The beauty of materials, the forms, shapes, colors and their function. The American philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson described St. Peter’s as “an ornament of the earth … the sublime of the beautiful.”