After recreating the photos in Paris there was just one more on my list, that I felt I had to do. This photo was maybe the most important to me because it actually had my grandpa in it. He is standing in his Air Force uniform and a trench coat, with a beautiful domed building in the distance. For a while I assumed this one was also taken in Paris, until I noticed a sign in the background that said “USCITA”, Italian for exit. I realized then that the dome in the background was actually St. Peter’s Basilica right here in Rome!
Once I realized it should be fairly easy to recreate the photo I began trying to figure out exactly where it was. It was then that I realized it actually wouldn’t be easy at all. Each time I visited the Vatican I tried to find where it could be, without any luck. I also noticed that the massive obelisk that stands in St. Peter’s Square isn’t visible in the photo, so I thought maybe the photo was taken before that was placed there in 1586. Complete confusion. Since the obelisk was clearly in place during WWII, I assumed that the absence of it must mean that the photo was taken from the back side of St. Peter’s.
This past Friday I went on the Scavi Tour at the Vatican. Before we went in to begin our tour I decided to ask Deacon James, one of the seminarians who works a lot with our program, if he knew what was on the other side of St. Peter’s Basilica. He said that it was a private area, primarily gardens, and essentially you have to know the right people if you want to get back there. So at that moment I kind of gave up hope on recreating this photograph.
The next day my friend Leo and I decided to go for a walk over to Castel Sant’Angelo. I hadn’t been there yet and it’s a pretty famous site in Rome, so I was excited. The entire day it had been raining on and off, but by the time we walked over it had let up. As the sun was beginning to get lower in the sky, it was changing the sky and clouds to incredible colors and I knew if we could make it to the top of the Castel in time it would make for an awesome sunset view.
Climbing the stairs and ramps to the top I kept getting distracted by the view as it got cooler and cooler. Thank goodness Leo was there telling me to keep going because I easily could have stopped on one of the lower levels because it was so hard to walk away from the great views. When we got to the top I was speechless. Not only was the sunset absolutely breathtaking, but as I exited the stairs and looked to the right I realized in an instant that this was exactly where my grandpa’s photo was taken. I saw the view of St. Peter’s and the “USCITA” sign, and started bouncing off the walls with excitement. I couldn’t really even form an explanation for why I was so excited, I just kept saying, “This is incredible! I found it!” It was a moment before I could pull it together and explain to Leo the epic moment that had just occurred. I spent a minute taking it all in, then had him take my photo, standing in the exact spot where my grandpa stood so many years before, looking at the same amazing view. Awesome moment in my life.
Side note: The obelisk was not missing from my grandpa’s photo it turns out. From the point where the photograph was taken, it perfectly aligns and blends in with one of the columns on the Basilica. Mind tricks.