Italy celebrates many public holidays. It often seems as though Italy celebrates a holiday every week, but it doesn’t. Yesterday Italy and other countries around the world celebrated the Feast of St. Peter and St. Paul (La Festa di San Pietro e Paulo). On this holiday archbishops from around the world that have been appointed during the year receive the pallium, the white vestment that is worn around the neck, from the pope in a ceremony at St. Peter’s Basilica. Except in Centro Storico, the old section of Rome, most businesses in Rome were closed, many restaurants were closed, supermarkets could close at noon for the day, and buses ran on a holiday schedule (one of my buses, the 271, always appears to be run only on a holiday schedule—I waited for it for 45 minutes yesterday—but I digress).
This year for the first time in 400 years, an infiorata (flower display) was installed on the piazza across the street from St. Peter’s Square. Constructed from flowers, colored sawdust, and colored salt crystals, the infiorata depicted Pope Francis and a child. We walked over to St. Peter’s yesterday afternoon to see the infiorata, which was pretty but nothing extraordinary (except for the fact that this is the first time it has been installed for such a long time). Most people appeared to miss the message about the resumption of this centuries-old custom, because few stopped to see it.
Because we were there, we went into St. Peter’s, although that was a challenge! Construction is taking place on the north side of square, and it impedes the normal entrance to the basilica so visitors were going through a temporary security station on the south side of the piazza. No signs were posted to tell anyone this, and the line that would usually give the entrance away was quite short that afternoon, so we couldn’t see it. I finally found the new entrance by asking a guard. We wandered around the basilica and saw St. Peter in his red cloak—one of the two days each year that he is so adorned. My family and I saw St. Peter in his red cloak the day before the festa last year, but we didn’t know about the fireworks and missed them, darn!
One of the highlights of this visit to the basilica was the barriers that usually keep sightseers far away from the stunning Tomb of Pope Alexander VII had been removed, and we could get quite close to it for the first time since September 2011. Bernini designed and partially executed this, his last great masterpiece, with the help of his assistants when he was 80! I hope you can see Death, the bronze skeleton holding up the gorgeous Sicilian jasper drapery and an hourglass, but the photos may be too dark. I’m so impressed with how Bernini worked around the problem presented by the door, which you can see beneath the drapery.
The grand finale for the festa was a fireworks display over Castel Sant’Angelo at 9:30. We walked up to the bridge just down the river from Sant’Angelo to watch, as did much of the rest of Rome. I turned away from the fireworks at one point, and this usually busy bridge was chock-a-block with people—cars that happened to be crossing the bridge when the fireworks began couldn’t move! We loved the timing of this fireworks display so close to our U.S. Independence Day on July 4, which is typically celebrated with fireworks. Grazie, Roma!