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The most amazing experience at the Vatican

Trip to Montepulciano and Rome

September 2016

The most amazing experience at the Vatican

To celebrate our 70th birthdays, my friend Pat and I spent a month in Montepulciano. Joined by our sisters and two cousins, we stayed in a beautifully restored farmhouse on 10 acres of olive trees, conveniently owned by Pat’s nephew, and generously loaned to us. For a month!

We flew into Rome, picked up a car and headed straight for Montepulciano, the Renaissance hill town and comune in the Italian province of Siena in southern Tuscany. It’s most famous for pici pasta and Vino Nobile wine, considered one of Italy’s finest vintages.

The villa is nestled into the base of this medieval hill town. You can actually walk to the top, but it’s quite a climb up very steep streets. A challenge which I managed just once.

It’s a very easy walk, however, to the magnificent San Biagio church, a fine example of the Renaissance Greek cross-central plan. Construction commenced in 1518 with a plan based on a Filippo Brunelleschi design, which was later used by Bramante and Michelangelo for St. Peter’s Basilica, albeit on a much, much grander scale.

Pat’s generous nephew also shared a benefit of his participation in a Patron of the Arts group supporting the restoration of Vatican art. He arranged a private, 4-hour tour of the Vatican Museums. We met our guide an hour before the facility opened, didn’t have to wait in line, and went straightaway to the Sistine Chapel. Even so, there were already two dozen people there, but that’s a far cry from the usual check-to-jowl crowdedness.

Always referred to in the plural, the Vatican Museums host an extraordinary collection of art and historical artifacts. Paintings from several centuries, the great Renaissance of Michelangelo and Raphael, and Egyptian, Etruscan, Greek and Roman, and Christian artists are displayed with decorative arts and historical collections including modern and contemporary art.

Jill, our American tour guide, told us that if you looked at every item in the Vatican Museums for one second, it would take you 80 years to see it all. Of course, a great deal of it is safely stored away.

After this extraordinary tour, we met Patron of the Arts director, Father Daniel, an American priest from Dallas. He offered to say Mass for us on Sunday morning, in the Papal Basilica of St. Peter in the Vatican.

We met him at 7:30 a.m., before the basilica was open. Out of more than one hundred altars, Fr Daniel chose the altar dedicated to St. Gregory the Great (590-604), called the “Savior of the Church” and the “Defender of Rome”. His remains are preserved in a marble sarcophagus beneath the altar. And this choice was amazing because my sister and I grew up in St Gregory the Great parish and school in Whittier, California. It was a wonderful coincidence.

Pope Francis was scheduled to say Mass at 9 o’clock at the main altar, so the basilica remained closed to the public. A choir was practicing, creating a heavenly backdrop for our private Mass, and I read the second epistle that Sunday morning. It was just for our very small group, but it was overwhelming, the highlight of a truly memorable birthday trip.

Nancy McDonald

La Voce della Dante

After many years, the Dante Alighieri Society of Washington has decided to replace it’s monthly pulbication La Voce della Dante with an online journal. We welcome news and articles from members and readers about their travels in Italy and other activities related to Italian culture, music, art, history and cuisine. Enjoy!

The most amazing experience at the Vatican

The most amazing experience at the Vatican To celebrate our 70th birthdays, my friend Pat and I spent a month in Montepulciano. Joined by our sisters and two cousins, we stayed in a beautifully restored farmhouse on 10 acres of olive trees, conveniently owned by Pat’s...

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