Monday, April 5, 2010

Easter Monday: Virtual Tour of the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican

In 1973, Easter Sunday fell on April 22. Spring was in full bloom, Easter is an especially beautiful season in Rome. My parents came to visit me when I was studying in Rome. Because of my work with Cardinal Luigi Raimondi, I was very familiar with the Vatican. The following is an excerpt from my memoir "Driving Straight on Crooked Lines" - but it's really just an excuse to celebrate Easter Monday by inviting you to take a virtual tour of the Sistine Chapel. If you know the chapel this tour will bring back fond memories. If you don't, you are in for a treat! The virtual tour may take a minute to load - but it's worth the wait.

“Thank you kindly,” he responded. “Now, come, follow me.”
We headed down the silent corridor behind the old man.
“How long would you like to be in the Chapel?” he asked.
“One hour would be fine.”
“You can have forty-five minutes,” he said. “Let me turn on the lights.” Then he opened a side door and ushered us into the Sistine Chapel. “I’ll lock the door behind you, and come to let you out.”

There is nothing more breathtaking in Rome than the place where the Cardinals elect the Pope. The vaulted ceiling painted by Michelangelo whilst lying on his back, dominates the space. It is the largest surface ever painted by an artist. Pope Sixtus IV commissioned the architect Giovanni Del Dolci to build the chapel between 1475 and 1583. It’s a precious gallery of Italian Renaissance paintings. The premier painters of the fifteenth century, including; Perugino, Botticelli, Ghirlandaio (Michelangelo’s teacher), Signorelli, and Cosimo Rosselli all contributed to the illustrated parallel histories of the Old and New Testaments, depicted on the walls. The Sistine Chapel evokes Solomon's Temple of the Old Testament. A marble screen divides the chapel into two parts - one side used to be for the members of the Papal Chapel, within the sanctuary near the altar, and the other for the pilgrims and townsfolk without.

After we had spent about thirty minutes in the chapel, my father said, “Jack, do you think it is all right for us to be here?”
“Of course, it’s all right.” I replied. “We didn’t sneak in - This is a special favor from the custodian.”
My father worried about security. “This is a priceless treasure,” he said, “I find it hard to believe we’ve been left here on our own.”
“Relax and enjoy it Dad,” I said. “Few people ever get this privilege. If anyone deserves it, you do.”

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