Skip to comments.Vatican unveils restored papal chapel featuring Michelangelo murals
Posted on 06/30/2009 4:10:00 PM PDT by NYer
VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Work on the Pauline Chapel in the Apostolic Palace was not so much a restoration as a restitution of the pope's prayer space, said the director of the Vatican Museums.
Containing the last two murals Michelangelo ever painted, the private papal chapel had been under scaffolding for more than five years; it was presented to reporters June 30.
Pope Benedict XVI was scheduled to inaugurate the chapel July 4 with an evening prayer service in the presence of four dozen members of the Patrons of the Arts in the Vatican Museums. The patrons -- laypeople from the United States, England and Ireland -- fully covered the almost $4.6 million it took to clean and restore the chapel's artwork, refurnish it and install a sophisticated new LED lighting system.
The chapel -- named after Pope Paul III, who commissioned its construction in 1537 -- has side walls that feature Michelangelo's paintings of the crucifixion of St. Peter and the conversion of St. Paul.
Access to the chapel is from the "Sala Regia," the "royal room" where popes once met visiting Catholic kings and queens.
While the room's murals focus on the church's influence and power in the temporal world, "as soon as you cross the threshold (into the Pauline Chapel), you pass into the church that lives in the dimension of eternity," said Antonio Paolucci, director of the Vatican Museums.
Traditionally the private chapel has been reserved for the pope's celebration of early morning Mass with special guests and for the adoration of the Eucharist during the day by people who work in the Apostolic Palace.
"The body of Christ is at the center, and it is surrounded by the story of the princes of the Apostles": St. Peter, to whom the popes trace their spiritual responsibility for the church, and St. Paul, from whom they inherit the mission of preaching the Gospel to all peoples and preserving the unity of Christ's disciples, Paolucci said.
Michelangelo began work on the two murals in 1542 after he had finished "The Last Judgment" in the Sistine Chapel. He completed his contribution to the Pauline Chapel in 1550 at the age of 75.
"It is a kind of spiritual testament marked by a vast sadness and deep pessimism," Paolucci said. "One has the impression that the mystery of grace offered to an unworthy humanity causes anguish for the soul of the artist, a Christian, who lived through and witnessed the religious crisis of his era, which was divided and lacerated by the Reformation."
The chapel walls feature other episodes from the lives of the two apostles by Lorenzo Sabbatini and Federico Zuccari, Italians who began their work on the chapel about 25 years after Michelangelo finished his.
Restoration of the art was not the only concern of those who worked on the chapel over the past five years, said Arnold Nesselrath, the Vatican Museums official who oversaw the effort.
"The Pauline Chapel is still one of the three papal chapels in the Apostolic Palace and has a traditional liturgical function, so we had to return the space intact" without making modifications for purely educational or documentary purpose, he said.
Paolucci told reporters that almost every pope who has served the church in the last four centuries made some kind of modification to the Pauline Chapel.
The modifications, he said, show just how personally connected each pope felt to the chapel, but they complicated the restoration work.
An international commission composed of 13 experts on Michelangelo or on the theory and practice of restoration was formed to advise the Vatican on how far to go not only in cleaning the works, but also in deciding which of the later additions to remove or keep.
In addition, U.S. Archbishop James Harvey, prefect of the papal household, and Msgr. Guido Marini, master of papal liturgical ceremonies, were involved in deciding what furnishings to use and where to place them.
Bishop Paolo De Nicolo, regent of the papal household, said that in the end, it was Pope Benedict who decided to remove the altar placed in the chapel by Pope Paul VI after the Second Vatican Council.
Pope Benedict chose to restore the original marble altar, but not to place it completely against the wall where it stood for 400 years.
"The chapel is meant for eucharistic adoration, and if the altar were against the wall it would have been very difficult to reach the tabernacle," which is flush against the wall, Bishop De Nicolo said.
He said the pope also wanted to be able to cense the entire altar -- front and back -- during liturgies, and he wanted the option of celebrating Mass facing the people or facing the cross with them.
In this photo made available by the Vatican newspaper L' Osservatore Romano Tuesday, June 30, 2009, a view of the ceiling of the Cappella Paolina is seen after restoration works. The Vatican says the restoration of a chapel that includes two Michelangelo frescoes has been completed. The Cappella Paolina, or the Pauline Chapel, in the Apostolic Palace is used by the pope and is not open to the general public. It contains Michelangelo frescoes depicting the Conversion of St. Paul and the Crucifixion of St. Peter. Officials said Tuesday that the five-year euro3.2 million (US$4.5 million) restoration was privately funded. Pope Benedict XVI will inaugurate the restored chapel with a prayer service Saturday.
(A historical photo of Cappella)
Thank you for the ping.
I hope that all this beautiful artwork is guarded well against the ROP and modern liberalism. I remember the destruction of the Pieta.
Pope Benedict XVI will inaugurate the restored chapel with a prayer service Saturday.
Do journalists who cover the pope and the Vatican have any specific knowledge or understanding of their beat? Will the pope serve coffee and donuts in the chapel basement afterwards?
Inconceivable! A miracle of beauty. We are so blessed that God gave us Michelangelo, and the popes who had the sense to use him for the glory of God.
Scary as it may seem, Cindy Wooden in the “senior” Vatican correspondant for the Catholic News Service.
MSGR. GAENSWEIN: Holiness, may I present the senior Vatican correspondent for the Catholic News Service, Cindy Wooden.
Beautiful images. Thank you for the post.
Thanks for that beautiful picture. I’m going to print it.
Thanks, NYer for the fascinating story and the gorgeous photos.
Another excuse to go to Rome soon.