There’s no other way to say it:
I’m writing today’s post on an empty plane returning to England (confession: I don’t always write the posts on the actual day itself…sometimes it’s the day before) and all I can think about are two of the most breathtaking places I have ever seen.
If I’m honest, I had mixed feelings about visiting the Vatican. I’m uncomfortable with some of the more subtle teachings of Catholicism; in particular, the concept of a ‘Pope’ doesn’t sit well with me. I was distracted with this discomfort through the seemingly unending halls of the Vatican’s museums, and whilst the statues, tapestries and paintings were exquisite (an old-fashioned word, but apt to accurately describe them), the feeling still lingered. After walking for what seemed like miles, we finally descended the dark stairs into the Sistine Chapel‘s main ‘attraction’ (I feel uncomfortable using that word for a holy place). There’s no getting around the beauty of the room – paintings adorn every each of the walls and ceilings, as ornate and as intricate as anything I’m ever likely to see in my lifetime. But as I looked at the contents of the paintings themselves, I felt a nudge from God. From a number of the Old Testament prophets to depictions of numerous accounts of Jesus, the room was an incredible illustration of God’s Word. In that moment, I felt reminded that we worship the same Creator, Sustainer and Saviour. God reminded me that despite our differences in beliefs, there are many similarities to celebrate rather than dwell in discrepancies.
My perception of the building changed – suddenly I was excited about getting the meeting place of a devoted man of God and when we got there, we were not disappointed. Thousands of people were already there as the Pope was driven in an open-topped car around the square. He then led people in prayer and we were on our way. Simple, but powerful.
With all said and done, the ultimate highlight of the trip was the phenomenal Colosseum and it’s surrounding ruins. I knew it was going to be big but I had no idea that it would be quite the scale it was. Easily as high as our own Twickenham Stadium in England and in its own era, it would have sported just as many seats (around 70,000), the Colosseum is easily one of the greatest masterpieces of ancient Roman engineering. Whilst taking in the size of the amphitheatre, I couldn’t help but let my mind wander into images of the past; images of unspeakable cruelty and murder in the name of sport. One recurring image was of a chariot rattling around the arena in the style of the movie ‘Gladiator’ – and yet, it seemed strikingly normal. It wasn’t as poignant as I expected it to be…perhaps because it feels like so far in the past and the thoughts of cruelty so unimaginable in today’s western world that it was hard to attach emotion to them. Nevertheless, it was awe-inspiring. It was everything about Rome that I’d hoped to see and more.
As I reflect on the previous two days, I feel I should revoke some of yesterday’s thoughts on the city. The Vatican and the Colosseum alone has in abundance everything that I felt was missing in the surrounding areas. Having said that, I don’t think I’ll be in a mad-rush to get back here. There are far too many other places in the world to see just yet. Definitely worth s visit though!