(Vatican Radio) Pope Benedict XVI celebrated Vespers on Wednesday in the Sistine Chapel, 500 years after his predecessor Pope Julius II did the same thing to mark the completion of Michelangelo’s ceiling masterpiece. Charles Collins reports:
Calling the Sistine Chapel a “liturgical classroom”, Pope Benedict said he was marking the anniversary of this “historical and artistic event” with a liturgical celebration because “the works of art which decorate it, especially the frescos, find in the liturgy…their living environment. It is the context in which is expressed their beauty, their richness, and the significance of their meaning.”
“It is as if during the liturgical action, the entire symphony of figures comes alive, certainly in the spiritual sense, but also…in the aesthetic sense,” the Holy Father continued. “The Sistine Chapel, encompassed in prayer, is even more beautiful, more authentic; it reveals all of its treasures.”
The Pope spoke of what the reaction must have been like for those who saw the ceiling for the first time, after Michelangelo worked on painting the more than 1000 square meters for four years, from 1508 to 1512.
Quoting Giorgio Vasari, he said “This work has been, and truly is, the lamp of our art, which has given so much good and light to the art of painting; which was enough to illuminate the world.”
“But it is not only the light that comes from the clever use of rich color contrasts, or the movement that animates the masterpiece by Michelangelo,” the Pope continued.
“[It is] the idea that permeates the great work: it is the light of God that illuminates these frescoes and the entire Papal Chapel. That light, with its power, conquers the chaos and darkness to give life; in creation and in redemption. The Sistine Chapel tells the story of light, liberation, salvation; it speaks of God's relationship with humanity,” said the Pope.