There are a few rules about visiting the Vatican you need to know. First, women must cover their knees. This means long dresses are preferred. Second, women must cover their shoulders. This means you’ll likely need a scarf or shawl to pull over your sleeveless maxi dress. Third, men must also have their knees covered. This means every American man who has ever visited the Vatican in the summer has spent hours measuring the length of their cargo shorts, sitting and standing, moaning about the audacity of God to ask they cover their hairy legs (Adam didn’t have to!), and eventually succumbing to the fact he’ll die in full-length pants in 90+ degree heat.
The baby on this trip was not Skinny Jeans.
Inside the City Walls
Our tour guide, Katia (same as from the Colosseum) met us early at the Vatican doors. We skipped a few lines and were led towards a long hallway adorned with statues where she explained a some things to us before heading inside and making our way to the Sistine Chapel.
As we sat on a marble ledge, Katia took out a long, laminated picture and handed it to the kids.
“Who is this?” she asked, pointing to a man sitting at the center of a table.
“Have you heard of the Last Supper?” she asked.
I pretended I was letting the children have a chance to answer.
“Jesus?” Katia asked, eyes widening.
She continued to explain the frescos in the picture, as simply as she could. Stories of Moses. Stories of Jesus. Every once in awhile, Katia asked “Do you know…?” and “Haven’t you heard…?” and I wished I paid more attention all those years I went to mass. Skinny Jeans blurted some random references to Little Mermaid and, perhaps, Captain Underpants just to prove she’s a heathen and the rest of us were grateful she broke the silence so we could get on to the good stuff.
Katia led us through incredibly intricate museums of sculptures, tapestries, and maps. We passed through as a mob of hundreds, looking every which way to take it all in. Now knowing her audience, Katia skipped the scriptures and pointed out the tapestries that had eyes that appeared to follow us and answered questions about where all the penises have gone on the sculptures.
Inside the Sistine Chapel, guards regularly shouted, “SILENCIO!” and no photography was allowed. It was smaller than I expected, but still breathtaking. Katia had explained several key pieces of the ceiling (e.g, a super-buff Jesus, a serpent wrapped around the naked body of a man who’d protested Michelangelo, someone holding the skin of another) that made Skinny Jeans excitedly point in recognition.
St. Peter's Cathedral
From the Chapel, we were on to St. Peter’s Cathedral. Katia had a story for practically every nook of the enormous church, and we spent hours spying for animal carvings in the ceiling, rubbing the feet of St. Peter for good luck, and looking at embalmed popes.
While our visit to the Vatican wasn’t the most sacred, it was certainly the most memorable and we were all glad we did it. The city holds secrets and stories that are fascinating to all--even those who think Christmas is about Santa.
But, if the Vatican just isn't your thing, be sure to check out our other adventures in Rome.
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