As you can imagine, I have seen many impressive churches in Europe over the years. Many are unbelievably beautiful. In some ways, it's hard to imagine that so many spectacular buildings have survived the ravages of the ages, especially in a time when we're seeing ISIS blow up historic sites in Syria and Iraq.
In some ways, St. Peter's reminds me of the Palace of Versailles in Paris. Both are famous "must see" attractions. Both are decorated with scores of priceless artifacts. Both represent human institutions that have shaped world history. But for me, it's the scope and scale of St. Peter's and Versailles that make them so unbelievable.
For those who have visited large cathedrals, St. Peter's feels familiar. The floorpan is shaped like a cross. It has a dome rising above the sanctuary. It has a row of doors across the front. There's lots of "bling" inside and out. When you're up close, it doesn't seem that different, even though it's impossible not to appreciate how beautiful it is.
But take a close look at the photo above. (Ignore the fact that we're wearing shorts. This photo was taken a few days ago.) In many ways, this could be a photo of hundreds of Catholic churches around the world. Now, look carefully at the people about to enter the church. Focus on their size, then look up again at the front of the church. How tall do you think those doors are?
I remember years ago when British Leyland made a magazine ad for the Austin Mini that showed the car backing out of a hanger for jumbo jets. It made the car look like a dinky toy. To me, that's what people look like standing in front of this church. It's only the perfect proportions that fool the eye into thinking nothing is out of the ordinary.
All of this is not to overlook the religious importance of the Catholic Church, the Pope, and the worldwide organization centred in the Vatican City. But that's a story for another day - probably told by someone who knows a lot more than me.
While standing there today, I couldn't help trying to imagine what some Italian peasant 500 years ago would have thought if he'd made a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Rome. I think it would have blown his mind. And I guess, that was really the point of it all.