Rome sweet Home- What is the best time to visit St Peter’s Basilica?

Visiting St Peter’s Basilica can often end up being a nightmare, far from the romanticized photographs and images that are shown; that is if you visit it during the peak season or at the wrong time in the day. My first visit to St. Peter’s was at the end of October; the hordes of tourists had left as the summer break was over. It was easier to get in and move around.

St Peter’s Basilica takes your breath away one way or the other. Built atop a 4th-century church, it was consecrated in 1626 and took 120 years to complete. However what most certainly dampens one’s enthusiasm, is the long serpentine queues to get in, and these can suck the life out of you, if you happen to visit Rome during summer. I guess it was my desire to pray that helped me discover how to beat those awful lines. I just landed up at opening time.

While the door of St Peter’s opens at seven a.m., the Eucharist is celebrated at seven fifteen and eight a.m. all through the Basilica. If you arrive at six thirty a.m. you will still have to contend with a queue at security albeit a smaller one. When visiting St Peter’s you must keep in mind that a strict dress code for men and women is in place (no shorts, miniskirts or bare shoulders) and security requirements are similar to those at any airport.

St Peter’s is a parish church with Mass celebrated daily. Morning masses (watch out for the Wednesday and Sunday schedules) are mostly celebrated by priests accompanying pilgrim groups and one is instantly mesmerized listening to the number of languages emanating from several altars of St Peter’s at which the Eucharist is celebrated .

If you don’t have a priest with you on your pilgrimage and are traveling as a small group, simply join the Eucharist at any one of the altars. You would need to indicate to the usher that you wish to attend mass, or you might be mistaken for an early morning tourist and turned away.

If your group wishes to celebrate the Eucharist with your touring priest or with a priest you happen to know from your country, now studying or ministering in Rome, you will need to write in and book; but do this well in advance. While larger groups are permitted to celebrate mass on the main level of St Peter’s, smaller groups are permitted the use of the altars in the crypt (Grottoes) where the Popes are buried, like the Clementine Chapel which holds approximately ten people.

This chapel has a door to the left which takes one down to the Scavi where the bones of St Peter were found or the  chapel of the “Madonna della Bocciata”. In this chapel is a fresco by the 14th century Roman painter Pietro Cavallini. It is called the “Madonna della Bocciata”, because of Mary’s swollen face. According to an old legend, her face bled because a drunken soldier had thrown a bowl into the holy image after he lost a game of bowls.

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