14th of February 2017 – Free

Joined by Sinead Flament

I’ll admit, the Pope gets bigger crowds

Has anyone had the blistering, yet handsome, temerity to review an entire country before? Surely not. Well, Jesus, Mary, and Joseph Deeney – it’s happening today!

It’s strange to think the 0.44 km² of the Vatican is an actual country (founded by Mussolini, no less) and probably the only country in the world whose football team I’m definitely good enough to play for. As a Catholic that lapsed harder than Lucifer, I had mixed emotions. It would take a heart of stone to deny its beauty, but a head of jelly to ignore what it’s done.

So, I’ve split this country-wide review in half (a schism, if you will) to detail the only two things within this weird little exception of a nation. First up…

St. Peter’s Basilica 

For a penniless, itinerant, homeless fella, that Jesus has some sweet digs, man.

The rent must be brutal

Let me start with the obvious point that St. Peter’s Basilica was an assault on the senses, delivering a supernormal stimulus that left your trusted narrator on the brink of Stendhal syndrome. Everywhere was immaculate art by Michelangelo or Bernini or Raphael or other, less famous artists. Curiously, however, the monuments to pontiffs outnumber those of the long haired fella on the sticks ten to one. I find it hard to describe appropriately because I don’t know the Latin word for “bullshit”.

He goes around all Rome doing this. “It’s a right buzz,” said the professional photo-bomber

From beneath the floor came forth a mellifluous choral singing that, when mixed with the incense, cold marble, dazzling aesthetic, and bitter taste in my mouth, provided a sensory overload like no other.

The amount of work by Bernini is incredible. For a bloke who had his lover’s face slashed for cheating on him, he got in nice and cosy with history’s most revered moral arbiters. He made St. Peter’s Baldachin, the Throne of St. Peter, half of the statues – it wouldn’t be disrespectful to call it his gaff. Actually, come to think of it, it definitely would.

There’s something very sweet in St. Peter’s Basilica having its own WiFi. This meant the audio guide was an app that would’ve been a great idea if it wasn’t maybe the shittest audio guide I’d ever heard. It wasn’t even an audio guide, but tawdry sermon. It took me back to being nine years old in a freezing church, bored and bitter with a headful of questions. I understand, the majority of visitors were on pilgrimage, but the audio guide repeatedly calling me “pilgrim” was less soberly honorific and more hilariously John Wayne.

But how do they amplify their sound? All I can see is marble.

Cappella del Santissimo Sacramento was a small chapel in size only and dedicated exclusively to silent prayer. The room may have been audibly silent but was a cocphany of golden, baroque lucre. An asexual, palatial theatre that was both gauche and beautiful, but there isn’t enough gold leaf in all Christendom to paint over the censorship, crusade, inquisition, persecution, abuse of children, and covering up of the abuse of children. God’s love is one thing, but God’s Love Inc. is quite another.

The gift shop felt a wee bit hypocritical. “How dare you turn my father’s house into a marketplace! Unless it’s tastefully done, reasonably priced, and unwaveringly on-topic” John 2:16. I bought my Nanna some rosary beads like a good boy. She’s got nineteen grandchildren, all of whom have been to the Vatican. Lady has a lot of rosary beads.

Appropriate?

In the crypt beneath was a rogue’s gallery of late pontiffs that lacked the gaudy pomp of the area di sopra and smelt like a hospital. I felt bad for breaking the imposed vow of silence with my all too characteristic belly laugh, but my girlfriend had tripped over some guttering so forgive me, father, for I have sinned, but that was fucking funny. The decor of said crypt had a stripped-down, almost (dare I say) Protestant feel. There were pictures of saints that celebrated the popes who ordained them more than the saint’s actual work. It made me want to write down my grievances and nail them to the church doors.

Of course, you’d be right to ask what I expected from the Vatican? The answer is: nothing. Nothing more than what is there. I was not surprised or disappointed. My moral compass always pointed to Athens over Rome and, for all the somersaults my senses were performing, the one thing unmoved was my soul.

You’re meant to do this. Apparently.

This is not the philosophical ganglion of the world’s largest faith, but the headquarters of history’s most successful dynasty. For proof, look no further than the inscription on the front of the building. “Burghesius” (Borghese) reads centre stage. There may be a cross on top of this church, but don’t forget who’s in charge. And if, in a decade, it reads “Putinius”, don’t come crying to me.

Wait wait wait! Is that lady standing on Blighty? On sweet, sweet Albion? This green and pleasant land? It’s no wonder Henry VIII made UKIP do a Brexit.