We stood in front of the altar and noticed the mosaic floor. "When was the mosaic put in?" we asked. The priest responded nonchalantly, "Oh, in the 500's." And we were just walking all over it so unceremoniously! Mind blowing. In the "upper" church, the original Byzantine-era mosaic apse is still visible (although the 24 elders from the Book of Revelation who once graced the triumphal arch were cut out by the poorly-thought-out Baroque addition of side altars which left visible only two outstretched pairs of arms, casting their golden crowns before the Lamb.
We also passed by St Peter's but it was a Wednesday (public audience with the Pope day) so there were tens of thousands of people in the square, and maybe 3000 in the security line to go through the Holy Doors. We didn't even try go in; just did some pictures. (The best time to go to St Peter's is first thing in the morning but I was too tired for that today. We're aiming for the 7:00 Mass (and the Holy Door) there once our meetings here are over.) (Our seminar includes passing through the Holy Door at the Basilica of St Paul: send me your intentions to pray for at both of these amazing spots.)
The day before we had a guided tour under one of the churches where there was a Roman-era street
I have had two meetings already--for a commission I am on that is completely distinct from the work I came here to do. My "real" work begins tomorrow when the seminar on "apostolic mysticism" starts. I will be doing simultaneous translations for the English speakers (from India, Philippines, US, Malaysia, Singapore and for our Vietnamese-American sister who is stationed in Taiwan and who is also attending the seminar). It is a big group (around 50 participants) from every part of the world. We have sisters here from UK, France, Germany, Madagascar, Mozambique, Congo, Kenya, Japan, Korea, Brazil, Venezuela, Bolivia, Argentina and probably other places I have forgotten already. Oh, yes, Colombia--the sister from Colombia was in the spirituality course with me in 1998, and one of the Italians worked with me in the Vatican Internet Office during the Jubilee 2000. The seminar will keep us busy until May 8, and then Sr Paul and I have two completely free days. Our own Sr Margaret works in the Vatican and will get us into some not-open-to-the-public spots. God willing there will be one more day after that to wander among the art, history and holiness of the Eternal City. I hope to have more amazing pictures for you then!