I know we've been back over 2 weeks already, but there are still things to say, and not much happening in surgery so here goes.
"If it's Sunday it must be Roma." It was, and it was, or at least it was about to be. What it actually was to start with was Civitaveccia. Now any schoolboy will tell you (at least any clasically educated schoolboy, anyhow) the port of Rome is Ostia. Well, not any more it isn't. It's Civitaveccia now. I gather that means "Old Town" which, when you're next door to Rome itself seems quite a bold assertion, but since all we got to see of it as we were whisked away by coach were docks, warehouses and cement mixers it's hard to comment really.
Around an hour later we were in Rome proper. In brief we did the Trevi Fountain (where nowadays you get to chuck coins with much smaller denomination that the old "Five Billion Lire" piece); Trajan's, Augustus' and Juilus' Fora; the Flavian Amphitheatre: then, last but not least St Peter's Basillica. Our guide was a fantastically knowledgeable Italian lady who refused to acknowledge the existence of queues, breezing through them and imparting information all the while, from her radio-mike straight to our earpeices, and, from the look of some of our fellow travellers, straight out the other ear in many cases.
We learnt, among other gems, that the huge "Tea Urn" to the right of the Trevi Fountain as you look at it, was sculpted to block the view of a notoriously nosey Barber who kept annoying the sculptor with a daily critique of his efforts as seen from the barbershop window. Also that gladiators had a cushey life most of the time, (apart from when they were actually killed that is). Further, we learnt that when you see a line of people standing about outside an ancient monument or prominent place of worship you should just get out your stick with a glittery bit of ribbon on it, raise it aloft, shout "follow me" to all and sundry, put your head down and just keep walking. Then a few minutes later, explain to your group that the folks coming in behind you look a bit cross because YOU jumped the queue.
She talked about Roman and Vatican history from 700BC to the present day, occasionally stopping to draw breath, and put much of what we got to see into some sort of context. And what we got to see was two milennia and more of monumental architecture designed to affirm that this place we were standing was the undisputed centre of mankind's universe. Standing in St Peter's, having toured the antiquities, the overall impression was of continuity. The Empire might have fallen centuries ago, but the Holy See had moved in, stuck up a building that proclaimed "Under New Management!" and had carried on regardless. The opulence that fills the basillica would have been entirely recognizable to the Caesars, Flavians, all the old Imperial dynasties. It proclaims as loudly as it can that here is the home of all earthly power.
The supreme irony is the sealed door, bricked up for twenty four in every tweny five years, more or less. Once in every generation it is opened for a year of Jubilee, as a call to forgive old debts and renew the faith. Just once. Unless an encumbant Pope decalres an extraordinary extra year to mark some other significant anniversary in the life of the church. The rest of the time the incalculable wealth of the church lies symbolically shut in, cut off from the christian empire that fills its coffers, as remote as the Caesars from the Picts.