amous chapel in the Vatican Museums, best known for Michelangelo’s 16th-century painted ceiling.
The Sistine Chapel is a chapel in the Apostolic Palace, the pope’s official residence in Vatican City. Originally known as the Cappella Magna, the chapel takes its name from Pope Sixtus IV, who had it built between 1473 and 1481. Since that time, the chapel has served as a place of both religious and functionary papal activity.
Art is evangelisation
Art, aside from being a credible witness to the beauty of creation, is also a tool of evangelisation. In the Church it exists above all to evangelise: through art – music, architecture, sculpture, painting – the Church explains and interprets the revelation. Let us look at the Sistine Chapel: what did Michelangelo do? He carried out a work of evangelisation. As in medieval cathedrals: the catechism was in the stone sculptures, since the people did not know how to read but instead learned by observing the sculptures. The Church has always used art to demonstrate the wonder of God’s creation and the dignity of man created in His image and semblance, as well as the power of death, and the beauty of Christ’s resurrection that brings rebirth to a world afflicted by sin. Beauty unites us and, as St. John Paul II said, quoting Dostoyevsky, will save us. Following Christ is not only true but also beautiful, able to fill our life with joy, even in everyday difficulties. In this sense beauty represents a way of encountering the Lord.
Museums open to all
If the Pope has museums, it is precisely for this reason! Because art can be an extraordinary vehicle for announcing to men and women all over the world, with simplicity, the good news of God Who made Himself man for us, because He loves us! And this is beautiful!
The Vatican Museums must increasingly be a place of beauty and welcome. They must welcome new forms of art. They must open their doors to people from all over the world, as an instrument of dialogue between cultures and religions, a tool for peace. They must be alive! Not dusty collections from the past solely for the “elite” or the “learned”, but a living reality able to conserve the past in order to transmit it to the people of today, starting with the most humble; so that it can be made available to everyone together, with trust in the present and also in the future. Art has an intrinsic salvific dimension and must be open to everything and everyone, offering consolation and hope to all. For this reason the Church must promote the use of art in its work of evangelisation, looking to the past but also to the many current forms of expression. We must not be afraid of finding and using new symbols, new forms of art and new languages, even those that perhaps do not seem very interesting to evangelisers or curators but which are instead important to the people and are able to speak to them.
For this reason, a number of homeless people from Rome recently visited the Vatican Museums where they were able to admire the Sistine Chapel. The Vatican Museums are a home for all, and their doors are always open to everyone. They are testimony to the artistic and spiritual aspirations of humanity and the search for that supreme beauty that finds fulfilment in God. And the poor are at the centre of the Gospel, which is the greatest thing we have; they are the privileged recipients of divine mercy. If we remove the poor from the Gospel, it no longer makes sense. So, why should they not enter the Sistine Chapel? Perhaps because they do not have the money to pay for their ticket? I am aware I have been criticised for this, as I have also been criticised for calling for showers for the poor to be placed under Bernini’s colonnade.
I repeat: the poor are at the centre of the Gospel, and we must never forget this.
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