The St Peter's experience
As you know, I am in Rome searching out images of Roman emperors -- and the more unlikely places the better (thank you to those who have sent some great suggestions). One of my key targets are the fifteenth-century doors of St Peter's by Filarete, transferred to the new cathedral when Old St Peter's was demolished. Not only are there two scenes featuring Nero (the martyrdoms pf Peter and Paul at the lowest level), and a whole gallery of Roman imperial heads nestling in the floral borde (you can just see one if you click on the image just below).
So after a visit to the Capitoline Museum on Sunday morning (as the husband was here, I allowed myself a trip out of the library), we made our way over to the Vatican.
It must have been a couple of years since I was at St Peter's. And I hadnt caught up with the fact that security screening had been installed. Getting into the cathedral was like getting into an airport, and about as slow. Only two scanners were working and the queue looked about 90 minutes or more long.
Other people were prepared to suffer for their religion, but not us. So we went off and had lunch.
The young men policing the entrance had recommended coming early morning on a weekday. And indeed, on Tuesday at 8.45 am, we walked straight in and the husband, who is a far better photographer than I am, took me loads of pictures. Mission accomplished.
Yet I have to say that the St Peter's experience is not as great as it was. For a start there are barriers inside so you cant walk up to the baldachino. And the piazza itself is full of barriers and plastic chairs (many of them, though you dont see it in my picture, fallen over) and tv screens. This is one of the world's greatest pieces of urban planning for heaven's sake -- doesn't the Vatican think it should keep it looking nice?
But there was a high spot.
Inside the cathedral, some Vatican workmen were assembling what was obviously going to be a large nativity scene. They were, in my terms, getting out the Christmas decorations. There was a rather fancy wooden angel (possibly nineteenth century) and a load of animals in an indeterminate material (I thought plastic, but I now suspect these were wooden too).
The workman had a nice touch of showmanship. As they carried in the animals one by one, that gave an accompaniment of the appropriate noise...baa baaa for the sheep, mooo for the big cow.
And of course they attracted a little crowd (us included) who enjoyed the pantomime. Speaking as a religious historian, there was a message here...these figures were about to become part of a focus of piety, maybe even by the very lads who were doing the baaa-ing and the moo-ing, but they could also be treated in a down to earth and funny way.
Meanwhile, back to the programme. Thanks so much for all your comments. There were, if you searched around the web, some of exactly the kind of remarks that I was slightly dreading. 'Why did the BBC put Mary Beard on, she has a lousy voice and looks awful, surely there are some sexy clear voiced professors they could use" went one. But that kind of thing was hugely drowned out by the nice things (or by the critiques nicely put, which is just as good). So I've been pleased.
And loads of people watched too.