After Hours in the Sistine Chapel

Many people see the Sistine Chapel as part of the Vatican Museum tour: after spending a couple of hours browsing some of the world’s finest artistic treasures, you then find yourself in this exceedingly beautiful chapel – along with (seemingly) about 10,000 of your fellow tourists who – crowded in shoulder-to-shoulder – talk, gawk, and take illegal photos, while guards occasionally yell “SILENCE” and “NO PHOTO”. It’s not the experience of the Sistine Chapel that one would like to have.

This evening (well, now it’s yesterday evening) I had a chance to pray Vespers there, along with two friends and a bunch of other folks – we were probably about 100 total. The Papal Master of Ceremonies, Monsignor Guido Marini, was the celebrant and preacher. Several of the Sistine’s famous musicians sang with organ accompaniment.

(I hinted at this event earlier when I posted the Miserere of Allegri. Allegri, a priest, also had a position as a singer in the Sistine Chapel Choir, and he composed the Miserere to be sung there.)

Here follow, then, several photos from the occasion. It was wonderful to pray in this chapel where popes are elected, and also to have the opportunity to snap some photos in relative peace before and afterwards (something that is usually not allowed), there having been only a small fraction of the usual crowds one sees in there.

My ticket to get into the celebration:

With the all-important official seal on it. Seals and stamps, etc. on documents are very important in Italy.

With the all-important official seal on it. Seals and stamps, etc. on documents are very important in Italy.

The worship aid that they had prepared; most of Vespers was in Italian, but the opening verse, the Magnificat, and the Our Father were sung in Latin:

With square notes for the Gregorian chants, my preferred way of reading chant.

With square notes for the Gregorian chants, my preferred way of reading chant.

Everyone is ready for the liturgy to begin:

What? Here? There are no distractions here!

What? Here? There are no distractions here!

The chapel’s beautiful cosmatesque floor. It still floors me (ha!) that they let millions of tourists walk over this each year:

Imagine the patience and attention to detail of the artisans that made these floors.

Imagine the patience and attention to detail of the artisans that made these floors.

Remember always to look up in Italian churches. You may recognize this rather famous image:

Then think about how Michelangelo painted this lying on his back!

Then think about how Michelangelo painted this lying on his back!

Vespers having concluded, I took some additional shots around the chapel. Here is a taller shot, capturing some more of the ceiling:

You could spend days in here taking in all the different scenes.

You could spend days in here taking in all the different scenes.

Here is a view looking towards the chapel entrance, from up around where the Pope is enthroned when he celebrates in here:

On that separating screen there are several candlestick holders along the top. I think they put candles in them for certain events, but I am not sure.

On that separating screen there are several candlestick holders along the top. I think they put candles in them for certain events, but I am not sure.

Turning around from where I was standing for that last shot, I got this closer look at the door that goes into the famous Room of Tears, where the newly-elected Pope goes to bewail his fate and compose himself before he goes out to the loggia of St. Peter’s to greet and bless the crowds:

It also appears to double as a sacristy – but there are probably a few different rooms accessible through that doorway.

It also appears to double as a sacristy – but there are probably a few different rooms accessible through that doorway.

A closer shot of the chapel’s beautiful altar. Recall that Pope Francis celebrated a Mass there earlier this year, as Pope Benedict and previous popes traditionally did as well:

I'm not sure what to think about those cavities underneath; it seems to me like they might have been designed to hold reliquaries. But I'm not sure. In any case, when a Mass is celebrated here, there would be an elaborate altar frontal attached which would cover over those openings.

I’m not sure what to think about those cavities underneath; it seems to me like they might have been designed to hold reliquaries. But I’m not sure. In any case, when a Mass is celebrated here, there would be an elaborate altar frontal attached which would cover over those openings.

A closeup of the mural depicting the Baptism of Christ. I believe these murals, about midway up the walls going around the chapel, were painted by several different artists (i.e. not by Michelangelo):

Wish I could have avoided that light glare above.

Wish I could have avoided that light glare above.

Here we have a mural of the Resurrection, which is in the back of the chapel, to the left above the entrance:

Frescoed in a rather different style from some of the others.

Frescoed in a rather different style from some of the others.

Here is a rather famous scene, the artist Perugino’s “Delivery of the Keys” (painted 1481-1482), showing Christ conferring the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven upon St. Peter:

Again, the glare.

Again, the glare.

Finally, a shot that proves that I was there:

In living color.

In living color.

Some people may be wondering: where is the woodstove? Where is the smokestack? – referring, of course, to the famous place where the ballots for the papal election are burned, producing either black or white smoke. The answer is: it is in storage, and is only brought in and installed when there is a conclave.

I hope you enjoyed this little photo tour and, notwithstanding the less prayerful experience that one has when seeing the chapel in person via the Vatican Museums, I hope that those who have not already been to see it will have the opportunity to do so some day!

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6 Responses to After Hours in the Sistine Chapel

  1. hashtagcatholic says:

    Wow! Thank you so much for sharing this with us.

  2. hashtagcatholic says:

    I very much enjoy pages with the black and red text. It’s very appealing to me.

  3. Johanna Horton says:

    What a rare privilege for us, your loyal followers, to see these glorious pictures and read your on-the-spot descriptions. Thank you!

  4. dougvu says:

    Thanks for sharing!

  5. Maria Sackmann says:

    Beautiful photos, Father and your words.. I ´ve been there years ago, not that crowded, I was told nowadays, every museum or anything of the sort in european countries have huge queues to enter, more than two hours waiting and as you say , elbow to elbow! I would have enjoyed utterly the Mass celebrated by the silent, low profile Guido Marini..thank you dear Father once again!! I will print these photos…the room of tears..so touching.. I have told you that Jorge Bergoglio was my Cardinal here in Buenos Aires” ?? He never thought of not coming back, !! to be retired from then onwards..

  6. Rosemary burke says:

    We love your blog. God blessyou

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