Ruminations Episode VI Show Notes

Scavi Tour

  • The exclusive Scavi tour must be booked months in advance because it fills up very quickly–only 250 people go through the necropolis under St. Peter’s each day. Some additional tips on how to snare tickets can be found here.
  • The Fisherman’s Tomb: The True Story of the Vatican’s Secret Search (2018) by John O’Neill is a breezy read on the secret excavations that occurred under the Vatican in the 1940s, a project that was entirely financed by a Texas oil baron!
  • A brief overview of the Scavi was featured as the June 2019 cover story of the Knights of Columbus’ Columbia magazine.
  • It appears chief archaeologist (and identifier of Peter’s bones) Margherita Guarducci’s entire 1960 book The Tomb of St. Peter can be found online.
  • St. Peter’s remains were first displayed publicly by Pope Francis in November of 2013.
  • Check out Illume for more information about the tomb and necropolis. These diagrams are helpful in picturing the layout of the necropolis and the placement of Peter’s grave.
  • Jesus without a beard? Here is Christ as Sol Invictus from Mausoleum M, also known as the Tomb of the Julii.

St. Peter’s Basilica and the Sistine Chapel

  • I can’t recommend Basilica: The Splendor and the Scandal: Building St. Peter’s by R.A. Scotti highly enough. (This sort of history is my bag, baby.)
  • Here’s Pope Julius II, the “warrior pope,” and his predecessor and bitter political rival, the infamous Rodrigo Bordia who became Pope Alexander VI.
  • Michelangelo’s giant Moses statue was originally meant for Julius’ tomb-that-never was; it is now located in San Pietro in Vincoli, a church we were unfortunately not able to see
  • I haven’t read Irving Stone’s 1961 biographical novel The Agony and the Ecstasy, but I have seen its 1965 Hollywood adaptation starring Charlton Heston and Rex Harrison (available to stream on Amazon Prime). While taking many liberties with the real-life events, the movie still accurately captures Michelangelo and Julius’ volatile relationship as expressed through the artist’s anti-social tendencies and pope’s incredible temper. (Bonus: for the fellow Bond fans out there, check out Thunderball‘s Emilio Largo as the Medici cardinal and future Pope Leo X.)
  • Here’s Wikipedia on the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling and a close up of its center panels. I’m currently reading Michelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling (2003) by Ross King, which is about, well… it’s pretty self-explanatory. My (illegally taken) photo of the amazing chapel:
  • Raphael painted many of the rooms in the palace adjacent to the Sistine Chapel. His masterpiece, The School of Athens, was incredible to see up close. (Here is a diagram explaining the figures.)
  • Though the bronze for Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s Baldacchino most likely didn’t come from the Pantheon, the sardonic phrase “Quod non fecerunt barbari, fecerunt Barberini (What the barbarians did not do, the Barberini did)” is still associated with the casting of Bernini’s immense sculpture. Fun fact: Bernini decorated each column with “the stages of a woman in childbirth.”
  • Here is a diagram and explanation of the “church size” medallions that run the length of St. Peter’s nave. New York’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral is apparently…not that big.
  • Wikipedia on St. Peter’s dome. The aforementioned Scotti book goes into great detail about the series of architects who each tossed out their predecessors plans. The final product is a combination of Michelangelo and Giacomo della Porta’s designs.
  • Chris mentioned how it was Emperor Caligula who placed the 370-ton, 83-foot-tall Egyptian obelisk on Vatican hill in the first century AD. In the 1580s, Pope Sixtus V realized that leaving the obelisk on the side of the new St. Peter’s would distract from its grand entrance, so he tasked Domenico Fontana with the incredible engineering feat of moving it a few hundred feet to the front.

St. Paul Outside the Walls

  • St Paul Outside the Walls looks like it’s located in a tropical paradise, and its giant, sword-wielding statues make the saint look like The Lord of the Rings‘ Gandalf the Grey and Game of Thrones‘ Tormund Giantsbane.     
  • St Paul’s tomb was much more accessible than St. Peters: it was literally under the main altar (and therefore free to see).

John Lateran and the Scala Santa

  • The 122-foot-tall obelisk outside of John Lateran is the tallest ancient obelisk in the world, although it’s at least 13 feet shorter (and about 120 tons lighter) than it had been in antiquity. It was also erected in its present spot by the aforementioned Fontana, the Pope’s go-to obelisk mover.
  • John Lateran’s enormous nave, with its larger-than-life statues of Christ’s apostles (including my favorite, depicting St. Matthew):
  • The Pope’s chair (which unfortunately was the 666th picture in my camera…):
  • We lucked out as our trip to Rome occurred within a month of the Scala Santa opening following years of renovations. The marble of the stairs had been encased in wood since the 1700s! Charles Dickens didn’t even get to see the original marble when he scoffed at pilgrims 150 or so years ago, but we did.
  • Correction: the original Lateran palace that surrounded the Scala Santa was torn down by Pope Sixtus V, not Julius II. Sixtus V only reigned for 5 years, but he transformed and modernized the city of Rome in that short amount of time.

Mary Major

  • Legend holds that the ceiling of Mary Major was gilded with the first gold brought over to Europe from the New World.
  • Highlights at Mary Major included a statue of Pius IX, the Salus Populi Romani icon, and Bernini’s grave.  

Castel Sant’Angelo

  • The 1527 Sack of Rome occurred on May 6. Long story short, Pope Clement VII allied with the wrong monarch at the wrong time, and the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V sent German and Spanish troops to occupy the city, who then mutinied. Clement escaped to Castel Sant’Angelo along the “secret” Passetto di Borgo as 189 Swiss guards made their last stand against the pillaging invaders. Only 42 survived.  

Ancient Rome: Palatine Hill/Roman Forum/Colosseum

  • The Flavian Amphitheater, better known as the Colosseum (the holes covering the pillars show where the outer marble had been stripped over the centuries for other purposes)
  • We both felt a little like Alan from The Hangover while on Palatine Hill. (Except we were correct–Caesar did live there.)
  • The Temple of Castor and Pollox in the Forum
  • The Arch of Titus, featuring the menorah stolen from the Temple in Jerusalem after its destruction in 70 AD
  • We saw where Julius Caesar’s broken, betrayed body had supposedly been laid out by Marc Antony in 44 BC. We each left a tribute to the fallen ruler (mine’s the large gold Euro just to the left of the big leaf in the center of the image).   
  • When discussing “Veni, vidi, vici” (purportedly pronounced “weni, widi, wiki” in Classical Latin), I mentioned meeting Barry Strauss, author of Ten Caesars: Roman Emperors from Augustus to Constantine (2019), which I highly recommend for anyone interested in Ancient Rome and the Roman emperors. Strauss pronounced it the Classical way.

The Statues

  • What is the actual age of the Capitoline she-wolf statue? We referenced it being 2,500 years old as had been the traditionally held belief, but apparently, unbeknownst to the two of us, scientists in 2008 carbon-dated it to the 13th century. Ugh. Still, it was so, so cool seeing it in person.
  • The famous statue of Augustus was found in Prima Porta, a suburb of Rome, in 1863. Some historians believe that it had once been painted. Here is the original, and Chris’s version before its disastrous journey from Las Vegas
  • We briefly mentioned seeing Constantine‘s big face and that we’d return to the topic but then never did… See it we did, and big it was.


  • The Pantheon of Hadrian is one of the true marvels of the ancient world. A view of the 27-foot oculus from our trip:
  • Chris mentioned how rose petals are dropped from the oculus on Pentecost. Here is an article on (and a video of) the breathtaking moment from recent years.

Ice Club Roma

  • Via TripAdvisor, this is Ice Club Roma where Chris froze his very not-Floridian butt off.

Image credits:
All images taken by the cohosts of Ruminations

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