Sunday, May 1, 2011

The Pieta's New Neighbor

According to news reports this morning, the newly beatified Blessed John Paul II will no longer have his tomb in the crypt of the church, where most of the popes buried in St Peter's can be found, but instead will be reinterred in the Chapel of the Pieta (aka the first chapel on the right as you enter the basilica). In being 'promoted' to the upper church, he joins a small number of other popes upstairs -- all Italian, as far as I can tell from the plan in my trusty Blue Guide -- including Blessed John XXIII (beatified by John Paul II in 2000, the pope who called the Second Vatican Council); Leo XI, one of the Medici popes; and flanking the Cathedra Petri at the east end of the church, Paul III Farnese (who called the Council of Trent in the sixteenth century and supervised the completion of Michelangelo's Last Judgment in the Sistine Chapel) and Urban VIII Barberini (who supervised the completion of the basilica and commissioned many works inside the church, including the grand Baldacchino by Gianlorenzo Bernini that covers the high altar).

Selfishly, I hope that the new tomb means the Chapel of the Pieta will become more accessible to visitors. Ever since Michelangelo's glorious statue was attacked and badly damaged by a crazed Hungarian in 1972 -- fortunately and amazingly, it could be repaired -- the Pieta has been kept safe behind thick bulletproof glass. One of the great disappointments of going to the Vatican, however, is realizing you have to see the Pieta not only from behind this glass, but from a fair distance. It is impossible to appreciate Michelangelo's extraordinary talent (all the more extraordinary when you realize he was only 24 at the time!) the way the statue is presently displayed. There must be a way to preserve the statue's safety while still making it accessible to viewers, and I hope the Vatican has found it. Michelangelo, I have to believe, would want it that way.

In case you're wondering, not all of the popes are buried in St Peter's basilica. Two of the most famous are to be found elsewhere in Rome: Julius II (aka Cardinal della Rovere from "The Borgias"--oops! is that a spoiler?!), the warrior pope who tussled with Michelangelo over the Sistine Chapel ceiling, is buried at the church of San Pietro in Vincoli, St Peter in Chains, in a tomb fashioned by Signore Buonarroti himself. And the hated Alexander VI Borgia? He's in the Spanish national church in Rome, as is his pope uncle Calixtus III, the church of Santa Maria di Monserrato on the Via Giulia.

1 comment:

  1. "Selfishly, I hope that the new tomb means the Chapel of the Pieta will become more accessible to visitors."

    One can only hope! The first time I saw the Pieta' (in 1978) I was able to walk all the way around it and I was overwhelmed by the beauty of it.