Tag Archives: Pope John Paul II

Silent Night Holy Night: A Vatican Christmas in Rome Italy

St. Peter's Basilica in Rome seen from the roo...

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Rome became the fulcrum of Western spiritual life in the 4th century. The grandeur of church rituals is reminiscent of the glory days of Julius Caesar. Roman senators became bishops, scholars became monks and philosophers became theologians. The pope or high priest adopted the title held by the emperor, “Pontifex Maximus”. Look for this word in the Latin inscriptions throughout Rome.

It’s probably one of the best destinations in the world at Christmastime.

Every year in St. Peter Square, just in front of the Basilica and beside the obelisk, there is a beautiful Christmas tree. On December 7th, the huge traditional Tree and the Nativity Scene are lit up.

Usually there is a midnight mass on Christmas Eve at the churches in Rome but the largest mass is held inside St. Peter’s Basilica, and shown on screens outside to a large crowd that’s assembled on St Peter’s Square.

You can also return to St. Peter’s on Christmas day at noon when the Pope gives his Christmas Day Urbi et Orbi speech and blesses the crowd.  He only does this on Christmas and Easter. The Pope shares his blessing from the balcony above the square.

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An image from the necropolis under the Vatican...

An image from the necropolis under the Vatican in which Jesus = Mithras (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On December 8th, you’ll be able to enjoy Rome’s Christmas market stalls where you can pick up beautiful gifts.

There’s also usually a skating rink set up near Castel Sant Angelo. There will be huge Christmas trees at the Colosseum, the Spanish Steps and at the Vatican, to name a few. Rome’s most famous shopping location – Via dei Condotti is particularly beautiful at this time of year, too.  The whole city is very atmospheric. 

The re-birth of Rome can be traced to April 18, 1506 when Pope Julius II (Giuliano Della Rovere) laid the cornerstone for the new Basilica of Saint Peter to be built over the old Basilica of St. Peter. Bramante was commissioned by Pope Julius II to renovate St. Peter’s Basilica, originally built by Constantine between 324-329.

In the Clementine Chapel in the Vatican Grottos under the Basilica, you can see the precious chest protecting the sepulcher of St. Peter. Behind the altar, protected by a gilded bronze grid, lie the remains of the “Memoria Petri”. This monument was built by C0nstantine to protect the mortal remains of Peter. This is the epi-center of the Apostolic Roots of the Catholic Church.  The grottos contain the tombs of many popes.

St. Peter's Basilica, Rome, Italy - Saint Pete...

St. Peter’s Basilica, Rome, Italy – Saint Peter statue (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is the holy site where the Apostle Peter, the “Prince of the Apostles” was crucified upside down, martyred and buried.  A “Scavi Tour” of the Vatican Necropolis is available with advanced reservations (at least 90 days before your departure). All requests must be made in writing to the excavations office: scavi@fsp.va.  The crypt is located under the Papal Altar. For over 1900 years, pilgrims from all over the world have come to this location to venerate the remains of Saint Peter. The Scavi Tour ends at the Clementine Chapel in the grottos near the tomb of Pope John Paul II.

English: Christ Handing the Keys to St. Peter ...

English: Christ Handing the Keys to St. Peter by Pietro Perugino (1481-82) Fresco, 335 x 550 cm Cappella Sistina, Vatican. Ελληνικά: Λεπτομέρεια από την νωπογραφία του Πιέτρο Περουτζίνο, Ο Χριστός Παραδίδει τα Κλειδιά στον Πέτρο, 335 x 600 cm, Καπέλα Σιξτίνα, Πόλη του Βατικανού. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Sistine Chapel and Vatican Museums are located a short distance from the Basilica. Magnificent works of art are housed in the Vatican City that became sovereign in 1929. It is the world’s smallest country. It occupies 109 acres and it is ruled by the pope.

My favorite time to visit the Vatican is during Christmas. The square in front of the Basilica is lavishly decorated for Christmas with a giant tree and a presepe. The square is equpped with large video screens so that during the holiday festivities, everyone gets a bird’s eye view of the holy events. Every year a different part of Italy or a different European country donates a spuce tree to the Vatican. The tree is decorated with 3000 ornaments and 1500 lights. Watch the tree lighting:  http://www.romereports.com/palio/Vatican-lights-up-Christmas-tree-english-3257.html


The glorious tree is a symbol of life and hope. It signifies the birth of Christ. Listen to Mahalia Jackson sing “Silent Night” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3dsnkuuehmU&feature=fvw. The magnificent tree creates quite a spectacle in St. Peter’s Square. The generous donation of the tree is considered a great honor. This year the majestic 110 foot, 94 year old tree was donated by Luson in Trentino-Alto Adige. In addition, the Vatican erects a huge “Il Presepio” nativity scene in the square. It is generally unveiled on Christmas Eve. On Christmas Eve, the Pope celebrates midnight mass at the Basilica. At noon on Christmas day, the Pope delivers his Christmas message and gives his blessing from the window of his apartment overlooking the square to the crowds gathered at the Vatican.

St. Peter’s Basilica is the most famous Catholic Church in the World with a staircase of over 500 steps that leads to the summit of the dome. The Treasury of Saint Peter’s houses a collection of precious relics.

On New Year’s Day there is a parade in the Vatican City. For the Epiphany, hundreds of people in medieval costumes walk along the wide avenue leading up to the Vatican called the “Street of Reconciliation” bearing symbolic gifts for the pope. The Pope says morning mass to commemorate the visit of the Wise Men bearing gifts for the Christ child.

As the hub of the papacy, Rome had tremendous power and wealth. Artists and architects flocked to Rome to work for the popes. In a lunette over the central opening into the portico of the Basilica is Giotto’s mosaic “Navicella della Chiesa” from 1298. This restored mosaic shows Jesus walking on the waters of the Sea of Tiberias with his right hand extended toward Peter. He is inviting Peter to come with him. Peter is overcome by fear and is beginning to sink. Jesus saves him and says” “How little faith you have! Why did you falter?” This symbolic representation is inspired by the words of Christ, comparing the church to a ship that is constantly battered by storms. Saint Peter’s ship will never sink because it can always rely on the help of its founder.

In the middle of the 17th century, the papacy commissioned Gian Lorenzo Berninito work his distinctive artistic magic on Rome. The world’s greatest Baroque scultptor lavished his creative genius on the ancient city. In 1665, Bernini completed the splendid “Throne of Saint Peter in Glory” at the far end of the nave beneath the glistennig “Dove” stained-glass window in the space behind the altar. The throne depicts the power of the pontiff and is surrounded by the statues of the founding fathers of the church.

English: Bernini's "Gloria" surmount...

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Bernini’s flamboyant baroque genius is apparent in other Vatican monuments. Admire his opulent bronze Baldacchino and tabernacle at the papal altar. The bronze for Bernini’s canopy was taken from the Pantheon. His incredible monument to Pope Alexander VIIis one of my favorite sculptures and memorializes the life of the pope with elaborate marble allegorical figures.  Bernini also designed the Piazza outside the church. The colonnade surrounding the square was designed by Bernini between 1656 and 1666. The configuration represents two outstretched arms welcoming faithful pilgrims to the Basilica. There are 140 statues of saints watching over the Basilica above the colonade.

The dome of the St. Peter's Basilica in Vatica...

The dome of the St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


St. Peter's Basilica

St. Peter’s Basilica (Photo credit: Jungle_Boy)

Michelangelo Buonarotti designed the dome in 1546. It is almost as wide as Hadrian’s dome on the Pantheon. Michelangelo’s magnificent “Pieta” is housed in St. Peter’s Basilica. It was sculpted halfway through the last millennium when he was 25 years old. It has been protected by glass since it suffered glass a devastating attack of vandalism in 1972. A madman struck the face with a hammer and also knocked off the Madonna’s left arm.

English: Michelangelo's Pietà in St. Peter's B...

English: Michelangelo’s Pietà in St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican. Français : La Pietà de Michel-Ange située dans la Basilique Saint-Pierre, au Vatican. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In 1473, Sixtus IV commissioned Giovannni De Dolci to build a chapel for Papal ceremonies.  This Sistine Chapel is located in the Vatican Museum a few blocks away from St. Peter’s.  It houses Michelangelo’s brilliant masterpieces. His monumental frescoes are a magnificent sight to behold and are considered the greatest masterpiece in the history of art. The barrel vaulted ceiling has a scene that represents Adam and Eve’s Original Sin and Expulsion from the Garden of Eden.  The “Last Judgment” is located on the wall behind the main altar and was completed in 1541. Christ, the supreme judge, welcomes the blessed and banishes the damned. St. Peter holds the key that Christ gave him when he appointed him the head of the Church.

Bloomingdale’s Christmas Tree

Happy Holidays from www.vino-con-vista.com

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