While the history of the relic that I call the Holy Diamond begins in Jerusalem, the novel The Holy Diamond begins in the Vatican Museums – an enormously rich collection of paintings, sculptures, furnishings, monastic books, and liturgical items spanning the entire history of the Catholic Church. It is here where we meet two of the main characters, German history student Franz Huber and Italian tenor student Enrico Vespacio, where they first visit the Sistine Chapel and then have their first encounter with the Teutonic Knights of the Aryan Order.
Saint Peter’s Square, seen from the Saint Peter’s Basilica Dome. (Photo, LH Dooley)
The Vatican City State is the smallest country in the world in terms of both size and population. Its elliptical, quad-colonnaded Saint Peter’s Square is world famous for its architectural beauty, anchored by Saint Peter’s Basilica, as the primary site of the Pope’s outdoor masses and other public appearances. The Basilica contains relics of the saint for whom it is named after, and is one of the largest churches in the world. The Vatican Museums have entry lines into the complex reaching for hundreds of meters, if not over a kilometer, on a typical day.
Gallery and Corridor in the Vatican Museums. It is in a corridor similar to this that the first attack of the Teutonic Knights of the Aryan Order occurs in The Holy Diamond (Photo: LH Dooley)
The maze of museums can wear out the feet, intellect, and soul alike as one walks through the galleries, sometimes at just a few steps a minute when crowds or lines act as a resistance to forward movement. Each room, chamber, hallway, nook and cranny is a work of art or a historic treasure – or both at once. Any one of the dozens of spaces that a tourist walks through would be a masterpiece in any city or country; and any one of the Vatican museum’s ecclesiastical or secular objects would be another museum’s prize item.
And then there is the Sistine Chapel. I had few expectations when I visited the chapel for my first (and to date, only) time. I had not read Angels and Demons; and knew nothing about the College of Cardinals or the Papal Conclave. My only familiarity with the chapel had been its name and the iconic image of God and Adam nearly touching fingers. When, after a long wait and slow-moving line, I entered the Chapel I was overwhelmed by a host of sensations, stimuli, and emotions; none of which I had anticipated.
First, the room itself was far grander in size and dimensions than I had anticipated. Photographs of the ceiling tend to be of one small area – again, usually the image of God and Adam. These photographic zooms always gave me impression that this was the only painting on the ceiling, and that the ceiling itself was not very large. Calling the hall a chapel, too, left me thinking of something less than enormous. Chapels fill side apses and corners in Europe’s great cathedrals. But calling the Sistine Chapel a chapel is like calling Notre Dame of Paris a village church. The Sistine Chapel seemed larger than most New England churches that I had ever been to.
Puffy pants and puffy shirted Swiss Guards of the Vatican. (Photo: LH Dooley)
I was not only awed by the size of the Chapel, but also its height. Rather than walking into and around the Chapel, one might be better served being rolled in on a stretcher. The gorgeously painted Baroque ceiling rose so high above me that, as was likely the impression, I felt as if I was looking up to the heavens. And as much as I was awed by the artwork, my contorted neck was not especially pleased.
As large as the Chapel is, every square inch or centimeter is taken up by tourists. Tourists bumping into each other, tourists speaking together loudly, and tourists rubbing their necks. Every half minute, as in the novel, a security guard yelled – louder than any of the tourists whom they were berating – for everyone to be quiet. In the other half minute the guards would loudly order visitors that photography was not permitted. This is why there are no photos by the author of the Sistine Chapel.
Despite overbearing guards, tired feet, and a crooked neck the Sistine Chapel remains in my mind a world wonder. The Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel are worthy beginnings – or ends – of any novel.
Vatican Museums Official website