Sunday, March 19, 2006

Sistine Chapel--(Friday March 3)

Michael DubruielI didn't take any pictures, because first I didn't bring my camera along with me on this day (because I didn't think you could take pictures inside the Vatican Museums--while you can't in the Sistine Chapel, you can in the rest of the complex). However there are plenty of images online, so I'll make use of them--including this one of the Prophet Jonah (of Whale and Nineveh fame) who is hangs over the front panel of The Last Judgment of Micheangelo in the Sistine Chapel. More on that later.
We walked past the long, long lines waiting to get into the Vatican museums (past the gate that recently opened into Vatican City that bears the present Pope's name over it. Every work done in the Vatican always has the pope who was reigning at the time's name attached to it--P. JPII is everywhere--a lot of work was done in his twenty six years!
Unlike the poor souls waiting, we didn't have to, thanks to the generousity of Elizabeth Lev who had told Amy the night before that she could give us a tour of the Sistine Chapel (and also wanted to interview Amy for Zenit--for that interview click here).
Once we were inside what I remember first was the Gallery of Tapestries (although this wasn't the first thing we saw, but I believe it was the first time we stopped on our way to the Sistine Chapel). Here was a hallway lined with floor to ceiling tapestries. I believe it was here that we encountered the tapestry of the resurrection where the stone felled by the emergence of Jesus from the tomb followed you in whatever direction you were at the time.
Next through the Gallery of Maps (which were mainly large maps of regions of Italy). Next I think anyways(kind of like when you are being driven somewhere and you don't remember the exact route--so too when you are being led by someone who knows where they are going)after going down a flight of stairs we found ourselves in the Sistine Chapel pretty much alone. Wow!
I'm sure the Sistine Chapel evokes a number of memories for many people. For people older than me, my guess is that they immediately think of Rex Harrison as Pope Julian barking orders up at Charleton Heston as Michangelo in The Agony and the Ectasy. This wasn't my thoughts were less than a year old when the television cameras for the first time positioned within the Sistine Chapel showed the cardinals walking in procession to the chanting of the Veni Creator Spiritus entered the conclave that would elect Pope Benedict XVI--I thought if these walls could speak!
Of course the walls do speak, the thousands of words that art tells us. Elisabeth told us that Italian artists always positioned paintings in such a way that what was on one wall was speaking to the other. I found myself intrigued by one of the paintings on the wall done by Botticelli The Punishment of Korah, Dathan and Abiram. Why this image?
One of the key phrases to come out of the Second Vatican Council was the Biblical image of the Church as "the People of God." A recent interview says that this image can be traced back to Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI. Now, anyone who has had first hand dealings with "the People of God" since the Second Vatican Council knows how that image and term is often used, specifically to pit the populace against the institutional Church. I can imagine in the last conclave the cardinals looking up at that image during a break in the proceedings and asking some of the more Biblically savy to explain the story behind the painting, which I now present to you from the Revised Standard Version of the Bible:
Now Korah the son of Izhar, son of Kohath, son of Levi, and Dathan and Abi'ram the sons of Eli'ab, and On the son of Peleth, sons of Reuben,took men; and they rose up before Moses, with a number of the people of Israel, two hundred and fifty leaders of the congregation, chosen from the assembly, well-known men; and they assembled themselves together against Moses and against Aaron, and said to them, "You have gone too far! For all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the LORD is among them; why then do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the LORD?" When Moses heard it, he fell on his face;and he said to Korah and all his company, "In the morning the LORD will show who is his, and who is holy, and will cause him to come near to him; him whom he will choose he will cause to come near to him.Do this: take censers, Korah and all his company;put fire in them and put incense upon them before the LORD tomorrow, and the man whom the LORD chooses shall be the holy one. You have gone too far, sons of Levi!"And Moses said to Korah, "Hear now, you sons of Levi: is it too small a thing for you that the God of Israel has separated you from the congregation of Israel, to bring you near to himself, to do service in the tabernacle of the LORD, and to stand before the congregation to minister to them;and that he has brought you near him, and all your brethren the sons of Levi with you? And would you seek the priesthood also?Therefore it is against the LORD that you and all your company have gathered together; what is Aaron that you murmur against him?" And Moses sent to call Dathan and Abi'ram the sons of Eli'ab; and they said, "We will not come up.Is it a small thing that you have brought us up out of a land flowing with milk and honey, to kill us in the wilderness, that you must also make yourself a prince over us?Moreover you have not brought us into a land flowing with milk and honey, nor given us inheritance of fields and vineyards. Will you put out the eyes of these men? We will not come up."And Moses was very angry, and said to the LORD, "Do not respect their offering. I have not taken one ass from them, and I have not harmed one of them."And Moses said to Korah, "Be present, you and all your company, before the LORD, you and they, and Aaron, tomorrow;and let every one of you take his censer, and put incense upon it, and every one of you bring before the LORD his censer, two hundred and fifty censers; you also, and Aaron, each his censer."So every man took his censer, and they put fire in them and laid incense upon them, and they stood at the entrance of the tent of meeting with Moses and Aaron.Then Korah assembled all the congregation against them at the entrance of the tent of meeting. And the glory of the LORD appeared to all the congregation.And the LORD said to Moses and to Aaron, "Separate yourselves from among this congregation, that I may consume them in a moment."And they fell on their faces, and said, "O God, the God of the spirits of all flesh, shall one man sin, and wilt thou be angry with all the congregation?"And the LORD said to Moses,"Say to the congregation, Get away from about the dwelling of Korah, Dathan, and Abi'ram." Then Moses rose and went to Dathan and Abi'ram; and the elders of Israel followed him.And he said to the congregation, "Depart, I pray you, from the tents of these wicked men, and touch nothing of theirs, lest you be swept away with all their sins." So they got away from about the dwelling of Korah, Dathan, and Abi'ram; and Dathan and Abi'ram came out and stood at the door of their tents, together with their wives, their sons, and their little ones.And Moses said, "Hereby you shall know that the LORD has sent me to do all these works, and that it has not been of my own accord.If these men die the common death of all men, or if they are visited by the fate of all men, then the LORD has not sent me.But if the LORD creates something new, and the ground opens its mouth, and swallows them up, with all that belongs to them, and they go down alive into Sheol, then you shall know that these men have despised the LORD."And as he finished speaking all these words, the ground under them split asunder;and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up, with their households and all the men that belonged to Korah and all their goods.So they and all that belonged to them went down alive into Sheol; and the earth closed over them, and they perished from the midst of the assembly. (Numbers 16)

Now, what is the image that this painting depicting the rebellion of Korah speak to? Christ's Charge to St. Peter by Perugino. Amazing how the papacy has survived through countless forms of governments ruling the nations of the earth--and one might counter how those who have broken away have often been swallowed up not so much by the earth but by the culture they exist in to the point that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is lost in the process. It is an ever present tempation for the people of God to think that they don't need the structure that God has put in place. This was one thought, again obviously affected by the thought of how this Chapel is used when it isn't a museum piece.
What struck me about the familiar images of the Sistine Chapel. Several things:
  1. Of the Ceiling images, Michelangelo's interpretation of the "Creation of the Heavens and Earth" surprised me and in trying to search for the image online I can see why. I can't find the other half of the image--the one that shows God's rearend (as if God were mooning the crowd below). This was a surprise.
  2. The second was how Michelangelo uses the prophets and has Jonah (pictured at the head of this post) as the prophet that comes closest to Christ and suspends right over the image of Jesus in the Final Judgment. This is another 3-D image where Jonah's feet literally seem to be hanging over the edge.
  3. The whole panarama of revelation from sin to restoration, from first creation to new creation. One could present the entire teaching of the Catholic Church by viewing the images on these walls and ceiling.

While we were viewing and listening to Elizabeth explain various elements of the art we were experiencing several Vatican workers were shuffling in Chalices and other Mass vessels that she explained were for the Pope's private chapel-they get a very good polishing job.
We left the Chapel and headed back to the beginning of the Vatican Museums where we retired to the Museum cafeteria where Elizabeth conducted her interview with Amy and I chased the baby around until I tired and then Katie chased him around. After the interview we made our way back to the beginning minus Elizabeth. We first went to the Pinacoteca gallery then to the Pio-Christian museum (I think Joseph and I were the only one's to venture to the end and witness the ancient image of Christ as the Good Shepherd). Then we made our way with the mass of humanity through the Sobieski Room, Raphael's Stanze, Sala dei Chiaroscuri, Raphael's Logge the Borgia Apartment and then back into the Sistine Chapel which was packed with people. We worked our way through the crowd and exited the door toward St. Peter's which put us on the staircase leading away from the Apostolic Palace and out along St. Peter's Basilica where there was a very good gift shop with some items that I hadn't seen anywhere else in Rome. We made several purchases here before heading down the side steps of St. Peter's and through a different exit that was opened for that day. This took us right over the spot on St. Peter's Square where there is a red pophry rock marking the spot where Pope John Paul II was shot. Jeff Kirby had told us about it, but we hadn't been able to find it on any of the previous days, now we were stooped on the ground looking at it (the original stone had drops of blood and was removed, while this stone was put in its place as a marker). When we arose, there was Greg Burke and the Fox News crew getting ready to film a spot about the Italian Parliament's proclamation blaming the Soviet Union for the attach on the late Pontiff's life. "How did you know about that?" Greg asked us. "Thanks to Jeff Kirby."
Amy exchanged plesantries with Mario the Fox producer and also the producer of Rome Reports whom she had been working with through the week. We then set out for lunch.