Our day, yesterday, was very “Roman.” We spent it with our new guide, Marina, who our good buddy Bernardo had arranged at the last minute, and she couldn’t have been nicer. Roman, herself, she was a fount of knowledge about the sites of her hometown.

We met her across the street from Musei del Vaticano, or the Vatican Museums. Her bright red hair made it easy to follow her through the throngs of humanity surrounding the place.

(There are a lot of people in Rome. A LOT.)

She deftly guided us around the line and right into the museums, launching into an explanation of the many marble statues and busts, and the building itself. We viewed enormous tapestries that dated back to the first century A.D. There was one spectacular hall filled with maps of the different regions of Italy painted directly on the wall, to scale, that were actually used by those in office. This was LONG before it was unified as one country.

We moved down some stairs to one of Michelangelo’s best known masterpieces, the Sistine Chapel, and sat, gazing up, in wonder that one man could create such a work. It took him a combined 11 years (four for the ceiling and 7 for the altar wall, when he was much older), and he was spent at the end. No wonder.

Then we entered Basilica di San Pietro in Vaticano (St. Peter’s Basilica). This building was not the original that was built over the tomb of Peter, but was the second, commissioned by Pope Julius II to replace the first which was in a serious state of disrepair. We walked through, listening to Marina, with our mouths agape at the splendor. We’ve seen some incredible cathedrals and basilicas while we’ve been here, but the sheer massiveness of this structure (452 ft high, twice as long as the National Cathedral in Washington, 120 years to complete) sent this one over the top. Made entirely of stone and marble, and all of the artwork done in mosaic tile that will last, the basilica has stood the test of time for almost 400 years.

It’s not unusual for St. Peter’s Square to fill with 70,000 people each week when the Pope makes his weekly address. Millions of people make an annual pilgrimage there, a spiritual journey taken to places of significance in their faith. Marina addressed all the people who come as pilgrims, and that word worked its way into my mind as I took it all in.

Then, in stark contrast, she took us to the Colosseum, site of the gladiators, slaves and criminals trained to fight to the death to win their freedom. Fifty thousand blood thirsty Romans could fill the walls for a day of “games,” shouting for blood and cheering when men and animals were ripped apart. It had originally been covered in marble, which I did not know, and much of it was taken from the Colosseum in its decline (after the games ceased) for the rebuilding of the Basilica.

After Marina walked us through the remains of the Roman Forum and then left us on our own, we stayed on the grounds, exploring the gardens and taking in the unbelievable views of Caesar, himself, standing where his palace had once been. Interestingly, there are many once-pagan buildings which were converted to Christian churches, strong Roman columned temples, topped with a cross.

I kept considering the pilgrims, and thinking about the differences between the two places we’d visited. It’s a picture of life, I think. From the darkest places of our hearts – our basest sin and debauchery – we look for something better. Something filled with life, not death, that will save us from ourselves and replace the bad with the good. We set off on a pilgrimage for more, and if we find Christ, we find what we’re looking for. But sometimes, even as believers, we still get off course. A lot of times, actually. We find ourselves back at the Colosseum when we are really trying to get to the Basilica. This life is always a pilgrimage, and Christ?

Well, He’s always the path back.


“Your own ears will hear him.
Right behind you a voice will say,
‘This is the way you should go,’
whether to the right or to the left.” Isaiah 30:21 NLT

“In the path of righteousness is life, and in its pathway there is no death.” Proverbs 12:28 ESV

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6 NIV