Any famous site can be rented for a price, even the Vatican. Pope Francis continues to shakes things up in Rome. But, his latest is a first. The Pope has rented out the Sistine Chapel for a corporate event this weekend.
Museums and historical sites from the Musée du Louvre to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to the Acropolis are rented for events. Versailles was rented for Kanye and Kim’s pre-wedding festivities. But, the Vatican and the Sistine Chapel have been off-limits to commercialization – until now.
The Vatican rented out the Sistine Chapel, under the splendor of Michelangelo’s masterpiece frescoes The Creation of Adam and his Last Judgment, for a private charity concert on Oct. 18, to be hosted by luxury automaker Porsche. The choral performance will have an exclusive audience of 40, who reportedly paid €5,000 (approximately $6,400) for a five-day VIP visit that includes the concert and other sightseeing in Rome.
The timing is curious. The Sistine Chapel has typically drawn 6 million visitors each year, with up to 2,000 inside at a time, but the Vatican is now limiting tourists to protect the Michelangelo frescoes on the walls and ceiling. The chapel has started undergoing refurbishment to improve the climate control, ventilation and lighting, thereby reducing damage from heat, humidity and crowds bringing in dust.
Pope Sixtus IV had the existing chapel restored between 1473 and 1484, and it was subsequently named for him. Michelangelo painted the ceiling between 1508 and 1512, and returned to do the walls between 1535 and 1541 including the Last Judgment. Besides being a top tourist site, the chapel is used for conclaves and the gathering of cardinals when it is time to elect a new pope.
Film shoots have received permission at times for shooting famous locations. Marie Antoinette was filmed partly at Versailles. But approvals often depend on the whim of the government in power then. For example, the Acropolis has been off-limits to many film crews, but Francis Ford Coppola and Nia Vardalos got the Greeks to say yes before they became cash-strapped (odds are that a yes today is much easier to get; they need the money). But, the Vatican has declined filming requests. Angels and Demons digitally recreated pasts of the Vatican. They allowed National Geographic Television to do a show on the Vatican, but then the film crews have said they had to fight for permission to shoot any features in the basilica or other areas each day.
Spokesmen for the Vatican insist that the Sistine Chapel is not available for rent. The reason given by Paolo Nicolini is “because it is not a commercial place.” However, the Pope clearly had a different opinion when he rented out the Sistine Chapel for the Porsche crowd on Saturday. Nicolini maintains that the event was planned to finance some of Pope Francis’ charity projects, but reportedly acknowledged that the Vatican Museums directed their fundraising efforts at big companies. Either way, Porsche raced in to claim it first.
By Dyanne Weiss