Today our New Testament class went to St. Mary Major Basilica (Santa Maria Maggiore) for class. It started with a lecture outside (an interesting one, to say the least) about Mary’s role in the church and how Pope Francis visited this church to place flowers at the altar first thing after becoming elected, and came to a close with a classmate asking “can we go on the balcony upstairs?” To my surprise, my teacher, Dr. Hagstrom, said that it actually is usually closed, but they usually don’t have a problem bringing groups up there, and that she would ask. So we walked in, she asked, and apparently a few euro later, we were on our way up the stairs (which are actually property of Vatican City- the country) to the balcony with our tour guide, Antonio. From there we had a great view of the Obelisk, as well as the 12th Century Mosaic that adorned the outside wall of the church. But then we continued on. We were lead to a room with a few pictures of popes and a few armoire looking chests. It was a pretty empty room besides that. He turned on the lights and told us a few things… but then he opened the armoire. Inside were things from the Vatican museum and archives. And I mean like, Pope’s special robes, original scores for gregorian chants, and a letter from Peter to the Corinthians… whether that is an early transcript or an original, we’re not sure. Anyhow, it was awesome and so unexpected. From that room, we could enter a marble spiral staircase that was built by Bernini at age 15.
We then continued outside. From there, we could see the bell tower, which is the highest point in Rome. The windows on the Basilica were open- so we stuck our cameras in, and realized that we were very close to the ceiling inside. Not many people can say they’ve had this view.
Next, we had to leave our backpacks on this roof like thing that we were already on. We went up a narrow spiral staircase, up to an even higher point, walked across a catwalk over the basilica, and onto another roof thing. We were higher than the Coliseum, which we could see in the distance. It was amazing.
After class, we received an email from our teacher, which made our trip even more special:
Dear Basilica roof climbers,
After our class, I went back to the museum ticket desk to thank our guide, Antonio. I learned that for 5 euros a person, you can indeed get a tour of the Loggia, the papal room, and a peek at the staircase of Bernini. But, what is NOT INCLUDED is the roof top walk, peeking in the windows down into the basilica, climbing the dome, walking on the cat walk across the roof, etc., etc., etc.
So, not only did we get a discount on the price, we got an incredible tour where tourists are usually not allowed.
Hope Antonio’s boss doesn’t read our BLOG and see our photos out on the rooftop of Mary Major. He’d probably get fired!!
So, had our classmate never asked the question about the balcony, none of that would have been possible. The entire trip was impromptu, and it was and will be one of our best site visits with class.