Taking you on the inside.
by Paul L. Gleiser
(ROME) One of the things we are able to accomplish by covering a story like the election of a new pope is to take you places that would be hard, or even impossible to get to, without the kind of credentials that members of the media often have the privilege to obtain.
That’s precisely what we did Saturday afternoon in Rome in advance of the conclave to elect a new pope set to begin on Tuesday.
Special feature: Take an interactive 360° Virtual Tour of the Sistine Chapel.
The Sistine Chapel
If you are ever a tourist in Rome, the Sistine Chapel is a must-see. The chapel gets its name by virtue of having been commissioned by Pope Sixtus IV. The first mass was celebrated in the chapel on August 9, 1473.
The Sistine Chapel is famous for two things: its frescoed ceiling and altar wall, both by Michelangelo, and as the room in which popes are selected.
The Sistine Chapel has been closed to the public for over a week as workers prepare for the conclave that begins Tuesday, March 12. But selected members of the media were given access to the interior of the Sistine Chapel even as preparations were underway.
So here is a little tour of the most famous chapel in the world as it prepares to again take part in the selection of a new pope.
Michelangelo’s Famous Ceiling
The Sistine Chapel is rather plain on the outside. It is inside that it stands apart from all other places of worship. That fact is largely attributable to Michelangelo.
Michelangelo was a sculptor. So he said as loudly and as vehemently as he could. Pope Julius II, though having commissioned Michelangelo to sculpt his funeral monument, was having none of it. In 1508, the pope insisted that Michelangelo sign a contract to begin work on the fresco that would replace the depictions of constellations that had adorned the chapel since its completion 27 years earlier.
It was backbreaking work for Michelangelo. Fresco is not painting. Paint is the application of pigment to a surface. Fresco is coloring the very material that forms the surface.
In order to execute the ceiling fresco, Michelangelo constructed a scaffold and worked on his back day-in and day-out for the four year s it took to complete the work.
The image shown here is one of the most famous scenes from the Sistine ceiling. Called The Creation of Adam, it is one of nine scenes from the Old Testament that form the heart of the Sistine Chapel ceiling.
The Last Judgment
Some 20 years after completing the ceiling, Michelangelo was again conscripted, this time by Pope Clement VII, to execute a fresco in the Sistine Chapel. This time, the art was to adorn the wall behind the altar.
The Last Judgment was begun in 1536 and finished in 1541.
In this scene, we see a beardless, muscular Christ having come again to fulfill the promise and rendering God’s final judgment of humanity. To his right go those who have earned salvation. To his left are those condemned to eternal damnation.
It is with the figure of Christ in God’s final judgment staring down upon them that the 115 Cardinal Electors will choose a new pope. After having processed up the stairway shown above into the Sistine Chapel, and having processed up this ramp past the transenna or screen (there to separate pilgrims and worshippers from the pope and other members of the clergy) to sit in four rows, two on either side of the chapel.
Once inside, the Latin words extra omnes are pronounced, meaning, “everybody out.”
The conclave then begins. (Conclave is the Anglicized word for the Italian, con chiave, meaning with key. It means the cardinal electors are locked in.)
The White Smoke and the Black Smoke
Most know that when a ballot of the cardinals is taken, those standing on St. Peter’s Square or watching on TV around the world will see either black smoke or white smoke emerge from the chimney that is put in place atop the Sistine Chapel especially for papal conclaves.
Know one is to ever know how any particular cardinal voted. Once ballots are counted, they are threaded onto a string and the string of ballots is thrown into this furnace, also put in place especially for conclaves.
Then, substances are added to affect the color of the resulting smoke up the chimney. Black smoke for no pope, white smoke for Habemus Papam, “We have a pope.”