VATICAN CITY — “It’s SNOWING,” the 7:51 a.m. text message from CNS reporter Cindy Wooden proclaimed. I rolled out of bed and headed with excitement to St. Peter’s Square, a mere seven-minute walk from my apartment near the Vatican. But the snow wasn’t sticking yet, and turned into rain just as I arrived in the square.
Snow hadn’t stuck to the ground in Rome since 1986, so the chance to get snow pictures is not an everyday event.
After getting very wet, I stopped for coffee and breakfast treats at a nearby bar with friends. Just as I finished a caffè macchiato and a cornetto, it began to snow again. I headed back to the square, but it was just a slushy mess when I arrived.
At about 10 a.m. I decided to head home, dry up and hope that it would start snowing for real. It continued to alternate between rain and snow, but just wouldn’t stick. I came up with a backup plan to drag out a 500mm lens and bring a tripod back out to the square to make a close up photo of snow falling around the statue of Jesus on the façade of the basilica.
But as I walked up Borgo Pio, I realized the snow was starting to stick! When I arrived in the square at 10:45 a.m., it was falling heavily and sticking. Tourists with their umbrellas took delight as they snapped photos. Several large tour groups got an unexpected treat as they trekked with umbrellas through the wet snow.
The snow fell with gusto for a time, even obscuring the dome of the basilica and the statue of St. Peter himself. As the snow slacked off around 11:20, seminarians from the North American College collected slush from the cobblestones and pegged each other. Other young people also did their best to throw icees at each other.
Although I didn’t get hit by a slush ball, my jeans were sopping wet. My cameras were in even worse shape. The viewfinders were completely wet and had fogged over and I could barely photograph. My wife came out to rescue me and my excessive load of gear.
As quickly as the snow had come, it was over. This was Rome’s biggest snow in 24 years, and it lasted just about 45 minutes.
As I headed for yet another treat at the bar, I remembered National Geographic photographer James Stanfield talking about photographing snow in St. Peter’s for his book “Inside the Vatican” while dragging around his 600mm lens after photographing a Mass in the basilica.
I realized that history had repeated itself and I even had the big glass on me as Jim did in the 1980s. I had always admired Jim’s shot of the snowfall in St. Peter’s Square, and felt privileged to have the opportunity to replicate it in 2010.