Sistine Chapel. Church in Vatican City, Europe

Sistine Chapel

Church in Vatican City, Europe

Sistine Chapel Photo © Colin Tsoi

Sistine Chapel

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	Sistine Chapel - Det sixtinske kapell - Sistine Chapel
Sistine Chapel - Det sixtinske kapell - Sistine Chapel. Photo by Lasse Christensen
The Sistine Chapel (Capella Sistina), named after Pope Sixtus IV (Wikipedia Article), is one of the most famous edifices in the Vatican, wherein are several renowned buildings. A part of the Apostolic Palace, the chapel has gained fame because of the Chapel Ceiling and The Last Judgment, both of whom are the handiwork of Michelangelo, and are counted among his masterpieces. The chapel also serves as the venue for the Papal Conclave, drawing the attention of the world during the process of the election of the new Pope. It also serves as the Papal Chapel.

History and Architecture

The Sistine Chapel is built on the site where the Capella Maggiorie (Greater Chapel) once stood. The name distinguishing it from the smaller chapel, both of whom served as Papal Chapels. When Pope Sixtus IV saw the ruinous state that the Capella Maggiorie was in, he decided to rebuild it. He put together a team of the best architects, artists, and sculptors at that time for the task.

The chapel, when viewed from outside, is a non-descript, three-storied building compared to the other edifices within the Papal Palatial compound. The main access to the chapel has always been from within to the Papal residential rooms. It was designed by Baccio Pontelli and the construction of the chapel was supervised by Giovannino de Dolci. Upon entering the building, the magnificence on the interior of the chapel is extraordinarily stunning. Built between 1473 and 1481, famed artists and sculptors of the Renaissance era like Sandro Boticelli, Pietro Perugino, Domenico Ghirlandaio, Cosimo Rosella, and Michelangelo Buonarroti, decorated the chapel during and after its construction. Many other artists who worked as assistants to the masters contributed creditably to the adornment of the chapel. The Sistine Chapel was consecrated on the 15th of August 1483, when the first mass was celebrated on the Feast of the Assumption, and was dedicated to the Virgin Mary. Over the centuries, the chapel saw various artists and sculptors adding to its grandeur.

In 1508, Pope Julius II della Rovere, a nephew of Sixtus IV, commissioned Michelangelo to repair and paint the cracked ceiling and the upper reaches of the chapel walls. Over the next four years, the genius that he is, Michelangelo obliged by creating another masterpiece. With the nine central panels illustrating the most important episodes of Genesis (Wikipedia Article), on the 1st of November 1512, the Feast of All Saints, Julius II celebrated mass to inaugurate a renovated Sistine Chapel.

In late 1533, Pope Clement VII once again invited Michelangelo to redecorate the altar. The great artist responded by painting the Last Judgment (Wikipedia Article), depicting the triumphant return of Christ on Judgment Day, albeit at the cost of earlier frescoes, the Assumption of the Virgin, and episodes of Moses and Jesus, painted by Pietro Perugino. Starting in 1536, Michelangelo spent almost five years on the project and finished his work in 1541.

In his homily on the 8th of April, 1994, Pope John Paul II remarked that Michelangelo had been guided by the words of Genesis and transformed the Sistine Chapel into “the shrine of the theology of the human body”. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe observed this and stated, "Without having seen the Sistine Chapel one can form no appreciable idea of what one man is capable of achieving”. There were some critics, however, who thought that nudism in the masterpiece had no place in the precincts of the Papal Palace. As a result, many of the figures in the painting were covered with braghe (pants) by different artists over the centuries.

Papal Conclaves

It is the Papal Conclaves that has drawn the attention of those who have not been fortunate enough to visit the chapel. In 1274, Pope Gregory X decreed that the College of Cardinals, who elects the new Pope, be locked in seclusion until such a time that a new Pope was elected, to avoid outside interference rampant at the time. The Cardinals can hear mass, eat, sleep, and are looked after by screened and designated attendants within the building. The Sistine Chapel has hosted many conclaves since 1492.

During the conclave, watching the chimney above the chapel is the only way that the outside can determine if a new Pope has been elected. If none of the candidates get a vote of 66% or more, black smoke emanates from the chimney. When white smoke emerges from the chimney, Christendom knows it has a new Pope, who addresses the gathered faithful immediately afterwards. Because of the shorter duration of the election , it is probably watched by more people per day than is the election of the American President.

Many other frescoes illustrating the stories of Jesus and Moses and tapestries depicting the lives of St. Peter and St. Paul on the walls will take the visitor's breath away. The Sistine Chapel was lately renovated over a period of almost ten years, starting from 1984. The paintings and the frescoes look brighter than they appeared before, but there has been some controversy on the methods used for restoring some of the masterpieces.

Visiting the Sistine Chapel

The Sistine Chapel along with St. Peter’s Basilica (Wikipedia Article) is among the most visited buildings. So, although the Vatican has a registered population of 1,000 worshipers, thousands of pilgrims and tourists flock to the city every day. Holidays can be particularly crowded.

Rome is connected by air to most of the important cities in the world. Those travelling from other parts of Europe can also travel by train. Many visitors looking for short trips to the city opt for package tours that come cheaper but are usually hectic. Making travelling and accommodation arrangements well in advance is the sensible thing to do to avoid inconveniences. Try to avoid public holidays and Christian festival days.

There are many hotels close to the Vatican. Most of them are high-end hotels with the 1-star hotel, Les Chambres D’or, and the 2-Star, Hotel Silla, among the cheaper ones. Visitors looking for budget accommodation will do well to scour the hotels in Rome. The Italian cuisine has always been rated among the best in the world. Whether you are a gourmet or a gourmand, it is difficult to be disappointed when you are in Italy, as there are plenty of restaurants to suit any budget.

Other Places of Interest

The Vatican is a mother lode for connoisseurs of art, historians, and theologians alike. There is also a variety of sights for visitors to see and imbibe. St. Peter’s Basilica, St. Peter’s Square; Vatican Museums, Vatican Necropolis; Apostolic Palace, Vatican library; Vatican Gardens, Raphael Rooms; Palace of Justice, and the Sacred Grotto are among the places most visited by tourists.

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Author: jackmartis. Last updated: Oct 30, 2014

Pictures of Sistine Chapel

Sistine Chapel in the Vatican City - Sistine Chapel
Sistine Chapel in the Vatican City - Photo by Andreas Åkre Solberg

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