There Are No Toilets in St. Peter's

Feb 25 09:20 2008 Joseph P. Ritz Print This Article

An embarrassing incident in Rome.

There Are no Toilets in St. Peter’s


Joseph P. Ritz

Some 20 million tourists are expected to descend on Rome next year.  I’d like to inform them there are no toilets in St. Peter’s. 

I learned that to my distress on my only visit to the Eternal City. The discovery began routinely enough when I began to feel one of nature’s most insistent and familiar urges as I was reverently admiring the awesome interior of the great cathedral.   St. Peter’s is a vast church of overwhelming grandeur and artistic and religious importance.  It contains a wealth of chapels,Guest Posting 44 altars, 229 marble columns, but it has, I found to my growing discomfort,  no bathrooms. 

After a frantic search of the interior I asked one of the guards, “Dov’e la toeletta?”

Responding to my Italian,  he replied in English that the toilets  were outside in the plaza.

I told my wife, Ann, I would return to the basilica  in a few minutes and meet her inside the church near the exit door.

I walked out into St. Peter’s Square.  The sun had just set and the light was fading, but there were still a few hundred men and women milling about in the square.  I searched for a toilet, but found none.  

I inquired at the Vatican information office.  A young man  dressed in a severe black suit, gleaming white shirt and gray tie tight against his Adam’s apple  told me authoritatively that there was one a few hundred meters further on, but since it was nearly closing time it might be locked.  I dashed toward it. It was locked.

   I began sucking in my gut and walking carefully in 0measured steps. 

There are 285 massive marble columns ringing Piazza San Pietro.  I surveyed each one  longingly as I passed.  But there were too  many Swiss Guards. Ringing the square was a busy street filled with speeding cars and noisy motor scooters. On the other side of the street I saw a sign marked “W/C.”   I don’t know what the “W” or the “C” stands for,  but the sign in Rome means a toilet is nearby. An arrow pointed vaguely to the right.

My bladder was stretched like a balloon about to burst.  I dashed in front of cars.  Drivers honked and squealed their brakes, missing me by inches. Being hit by a car might be a relief.  Surely no passerby would be offended if an injured pedestrian emptied his bladder while lying bleeding on the street.

I made it to the other side of the street unharmed and followed the direction in which the arrow pointed.  It led to a gatehouse.

“Where is the toilet,” I asked desperately.  

“On the other side of the square,” a guard said, pointing in the direction from which I had just come.  

The other side of  St. Peter’s Square was, I estimated, a distance roughly equal to the length of the Washington Mall.   It would be impossible to resist nature’s most insistent urge for that time. 

 I followed the street which I had just crossed hoping to find a place that had a public rest room. I found a small Catholic church, which I entered. I looked for a john.  I found none in the church.  A door on the side led to the sacristy, which I entered.  There was a valuable gold chalice lying on a table, but no toilet. It was now nearing 6:30 p.m.  Ann, I knew, would have been forced to leave St. Peter’s, which closed at 6.  

   I saw some large potted plants in a hallway which led to the sacristy.  I just began to water the vegetation when a tall, grey haired priest came out of the sacristy. 

He looked at me with expressions of horror, distaste and anger alternating on his face in that order, like a traffic light going from green to yellow to red. I stood in the hallway, water running down my leg and onto the floor. The priest started to shout something in Italian.  I dashed past him, explaining as I passed, “I was looking for a toilet.”

I found Ann desperately searching St. Peter’s Square for me.

“I wet my pants in a church back there.”

“I wouldn’t tell anybody,” she said.

But now, you see, I have.


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Joseph  P. Ritz
Joseph P. Ritz

Joseph P. Ritz is an author, playwright and a prize-winning journalist.  Read more of his articles at

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