At Vatican, always room for one more statue

July 9, 2010

Artfully

POPE-AUDIENCEPope Benedict XVI blessed a the Vatican’s newest statue July 7 — a 16-foot-tall St. Annibale Di Francia carved from Carrara  marble. The statue was placed in one of the Basilica of St. Peter’s outside niches, joining the host of statues of other founders of religious orders who have been filling in the gaps since 1999.

According to a Catholic News Service story by  John Thavis, the architect designed these niches not to be filled. Yet, they are. Why, he asks, does the Vatican need more art, when its impressive collection already has an overwhelming number of pieces? He writes:

The Vatican is home to far more stone figures than living residents — many times more, if you count the Vatican Museums’ approximately 20,000 statues.

Why add more? That question was asked in the 1600s, when the remaining 39 empty niches inside St. Peter’s began filling up with founders of religious orders. Already the interior was crowded with more than 300 statues of popes, bishops and saints, not to mention the winged cherubs that appear all over the place.

Yet it is traditional at the Vatican to keep adding works of art and decorative architecture. That’s why visitors to the Vatican Museums can wander into rooms full of contemporary painting and sculpture, part of a vast collection of modern art works assembled under Pope Paul VI.

One fascinating fact stated by Thavis: All statues commissioned for the Vatican have to be carved by Carrara marble, which is known by the northwestern Italian city from where it comes. It’s known for a creamy white color, and it was the favorite of Michelanglo, the subject of yesterday’s blog post. The last time I was in Italy, my train stopped in Carrara, and before I saw the city’s sign, I was captivated by the white crevices of the surrounding mountains. My dad and I were debating whether it was marble or snow, because it was so white, and the Italian man sitting across from us — who had not uttered a thing to us up until this point — understood enough of our conversation to put it to rest. He pointed out the window, looked at us, and said “Pieta.”

Additionally, yesterday the Holy Father urged St. Annibale’s congregation to keep praying for vocations. According to Zenit, the Pope told the Rogationist Fathers:

“Follow his example and joyfully continue his mission, still valid today, even though the social conditions in which we live have changed. In particular, spread ever more the spirit of prayer and of solicitude for all vocations in the Church; be eager laborers for the coming of the Kingdom of God, dedicating yourselves with every energy to evangelization and human development.”

I’m guessing it’s this example of which the saint’s new statue is intended to be a reminder.

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About Maria Wiering

Maria Wiering is editor of The Catholic Spirit.

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