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IDEAS / travel

Saint Peter's Basilica. Scale, Power, Wealth

5 September 2014

words:  Natalie Donat-Cattin

photos:  Jian Yong Khoo

Progressing through the maze of columns, towards the centre of Bernini’s eclipse, we find ourselves in front of an imposing white wall, the Dover’s cliff of Rome: Saint Peter’s Basilica. Decorated to the last detail, it can only be compared to the English steep rock face for its whiteness and grandeur. In all other aspects, we can say that the craft of man equalled if not surpassed the force of nature.

Behind this marble screen lies a rainbow of colours: all we need is to traverse across the square, the narthex and the bronze entrance doors to finally appreciate it. The tonal contrast between the façade and the inside is solved using a style where everything is allowed: the Baroque. The result is an unexpected harmony and a general revelation.

Inside, lit only by dim lights, hides the true richness of the church. Paintings, sculptures, ornaments. At first sight, we are left wondering why so much ostentation exists in a place where other ideologies are professed, but then we inevitably forget our concerns, too astonished to put one thought after the other.

Dwarfed by the many pillars, the smallness of humankind falls upon us. We are merely ants in the middle of secular trees: lost and amazed. With no power but ourselves, smiths of these great heights. In the naves of the basilica, we feel at the mercy of the space, crushed by the eternal fear and search for the infinite.

Perplexed between the precious stones, the marbles and the gold, we do not know where to focus our eyes. A surreal light descends from the dome flooding the nave, a white light that renders the colours more vivid. Dazzling, it leaves us even more lost, even more surprised and speechless.

We always end up looking at the ceiling and the dome: so distant and unreachable like all the things we crave.

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