Light at the Top of the Stairs: One of the Most Famous Places of Worship in the World is Restored!

On Thursday, June 11, 2015 a group of restorers, patrons, and many other interested art and history lovers came together to celebrate the inauguration of the recently restored Chapel of St. Lorenzo, newly conserved thanks to support from the UK Patrons of the Vatican Museums. This is the second phase for the complete restoration of the Holy Stairs (1588-90) which began with the Getty Foundation in 2001. The Getty funded the preliminary study for the Sanctuary which was then followed by the first phase of restoration at the Chapel of St. Silvestro.  The project now continues thanks to funding from our UK Patrons of the Art. The glorious results of current restorations in the St. Lorenzo Chapel have redefined the spiritual experience of visiting this holy site.

It took 9 restorers 19 months of meticulous work to bring about the transformation in the St. Lorenzo Chapel and in the process they discovered details and images that had been obscured for hundreds of years. Cleaning unearthed important physical aspects like the Paul Bril landscapes and the splendid original decorations for St. Lorenzo’s large portrait while reviving the splendid colors originally from the time of Sixtus V, who commissioned the Sanctuary.

andscape fresco by the Flemish artist Paul Bril, whose possible self-portrait is portrayed in the lunette above the entrance to the Sancta Sanctorum at the Holy Stairs.

Landscape fresco by the Flemish artist, Paul Bril, whose possible self-portrait is portrayed in the lunette above the entrance to the Sancta Sanctorum at the Holy Stairs.

The Holy Stairs, brought to Rome from Jerusalem in 326 A.D. by Constantine’s mother, St. Helen, are said to be the same stairs upon which Jesus stood to be sentenced by Pontius Pilate. Pilgrims to this sacred spot traditionally mount the stairs (which are protected by wooden boards) on their knees in a physical act of penitence. At the culmination of this intense spiritual experience is the Sancta Sanctorum (Holiest of Holies). This was the first private chapel of the Popes (1277), itself a manifestation of faith and history for the Church.

On Thursday, Vatican Museums Deputy Director Arnold Nesselrath, Fathers Ottaviano D’Egidio and Francesco Guerra of the Passionists Congregation (who are responsible for the site) and our director Fr. Mark led a presentation to discuss the importance of this project and thank those who were instrumental in its completion. Details of the frescos, which were executed by some 30 painters headed by Cesare Nebbia and Giovanni Guerra, were revealed and the methods of restoration outlined by master Vatican restorer Paolo Violini in a dynamic powerpoint presentation.

Chiara Munzi uses special Japanese paper as she restores a fresco by Flemish master Paul Bril in the San Lorenzo Chapel adjacent to the Holy Stairs on Feb. 28 in Rome. (CNS/Paul Haring)

Chiara Munzi uses special Japanese paper as she restores a fresco by Flemish master Paul Bril in the San Lorenzo Chapel adjacent to the Holy Stairs on Feb. 28 in Rome. (CNS/Paul Haring)

Restoration often includes revelatory moments that strengthen the bond between faith and art – the physical and the spiritual. In an article for the National Catholic Reporter in 2013, Fr. Mark remarked on the importance of conserving the Holy Stairs, “not just for its material beauty, but also for its power to help transform people’s lives. If it can bring solace to someone who’s suffering, if it can convince someone mired in a challenge, a difficulty, a weakness, that they can’t find the moral courage to overcome, and have a spiritual experience before the passion of Christ, for example,…well, there’s infinite value there.”

“The financial investment,” Fr. Mark went on to say, “the returns go beyond anything anyone could ever imagine and that’s what’s powerful, that’s what’s beautiful and that’s why the church cares about its art.”


Check out our Instagram “vaticanpatrons” for more behind-the-scenes Patrons Office Photos!

The Chapel of San Lorenzo is a place that clearly speaks to this idea. A sacred destination that has the power to affect faith and reinforce a commitment in Christ and in life’s beauty. This kind of work is what makes the patrons so crucial and gives concrete meaning to our larger mission.

Again, we want to thank the patrons that made this possible as well as all our patrons who work toward the restorations of sacred art in the Vatican.

Chapel of St. Lorenzo after restoration.

Chapel of St. Lorenzo after restoration.

Other articles on this event:

Arte Magazine:

The National Catholic Reporter:

The Patrons Office Welcomes Our Two Summer Interns

With the Summer Equinox fast approaching (Summer sure feels like it has been here already!) and our visits on the rise, we feel so lucky to welcome some helpful hands and minds: our two summer interns! Each summer, through a highly selective process, students invested in the arts are chosen who then have the chance to volunteer at our office for 3 months.

It’s a wonderful opportunity for students to engage in the exploration of art and history as well as enrich their lives spiritually. Two new summer interns have only just arrived and are settling into their first weeks here in the PAVM office!

Catherine Shaw hails from Los Angeles, California but goes to school in New Haven, CT. This fall, she will be entering her senior year at Yale University where she studies History of Art. Last summer, Catherine worked as a museum assistant at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts of San Fernando in Madrid, Spain and is very excited to put that experience to work in our Patrons Office. During her three-month stay in Rome, Catherine is eager to explore the city and, hopefully, learn some Italian.

Parker Williams, a Nashville, Tennessee native will be starting her last semester at The University of Alabama in late August. There, she is working on her degree in Human Environmental Science with a concentration in Apparel and Textile Design. At our offices, she will help us to further develop our PAVM Facebook page, Twitter, and Instagram, along with other social media outlets. In her spare time, Parker writes two food and fashion blogs. In addition to learning to speak Italian, she will surely be inspired to expand her blogs after engaging in Roman culture.

We are so excited to have Catherine and Parker for the summer!

If Rome is one of your travel destinations this summer, make sure to stop in to say hi, and introduce yourself so we can get to know you too!

Welcome Catherine Shaw of Los Angeles and Parker Williams of Nashville.

Welcome Catherine Shaw of Los Angeles and Parker Williams of Nashville.

Chapel of San Lorenzo in the Holy Stairs Opens with Special Presentation on June 11, 2015

As our Patrons know, the restoration of the Sanctuary of the Holy Stairs is one of our major projects. After a major preliminary study and completion of the first phase (The Chapel of San Silvestro) supported by the Getty Foundation 2000-2006, work has continued thanks to the Patrons of the Arts Office and the Vatican Museums Department of Paintings Conservation. Maestro Paolo Violini is supervising 9 young restorers who have completed the second phase of the project: The Chapel of San Lorenzo, the area of the Sanctuary in which Holy Mass is celebrated. The results are extraordinary and we will be celebrating all this in a special inaugural presentation on June 11, 2015. Prof. Arnold Nesselrath will outline the year’s work in an illustrated power point presentation not to be missed. Our own Father Mark will also be speaking about the contribution of the various Patrons involved. Additional remarks will be from Father Ottaviano D’Egidio and Father Francesco Guerra of the Passionist Congregation at the Holy Stairs, who are responsible for this important Pontifical Sanctuary.

For those who won’t be able to come to Rome for the opening, here is a link to a short film by Catholic News Service produced for Easter 2015, which gives a good sense of what is being undertaken.

Mary Angela Schroth

Paul Brill, Paesaggio con artisti (part.),Roma. Scala Santa, cappella di San Lorenzo, 1588-1590.jpg

The photo here is part of a fresco by the Flemish landscape artist Paul Bril, whose possible self-portrait is portrayed in the lunette above the entrance to the Sancta Sanctorum (Holiest of Holies) at the Holy Stairs.

A Glimpse into the Museums’ Past Made Beautiful Once More

The generosity of the International Chapter has made possible the restoration of four magnificent plaster casts by the multitalented artist Pietro Melandri. Most famous for his work with ceramics, Melandri was tapped by Pope Pius XI in the early 1930s to aid architects Giuseppe Momo and Gio Ponti in the design of a new entrance to the Vatican Museums. The creation of the independent Vatican State on the 11th of February, 1929 necessitated a new entrance to the museum that would provide access to the space, while separating it physically from Italian territory. Essential to the planning stages of this grand entrance, these four plaster casts document the progression in architectural style from a simple, rusticated portal to a grander and more elaborate architectural statement.

The restoration of these historically significant plaster models carried out by Restorer Marta Giommi was quite complex. Due to poor storage conditions, the casts showed significant structural and cosmetic damage. They had sustained deep scratches and their surfaces were stained by rust, water, and dirt. Plaster is an incredibly porous material that readily absorbs dust and dirt particles. After a careful cleaning with a microfiber brush, the surfaces of the casts remained greyish. In order to preserve the water-soluble material from which the cast is constructed, the restoration team applied warm agar in order to carefully extract particles trapped within the pores of the material. This carefully constructed material removed the dirt from the pieces just as a facemask removes dirt from a human face, leaving these plaster designs white once more. After significant structural reparations, these magnificent glimpses into the design of an important feature of the Vatican Museums are once more ready for view. We are grateful to the International Patrons for their generous contribution that made this restoration possible! We look forward to seeing all of you at the International Patrons event on July 13.



Work Study Placement


As the Patrons of the Arts continues to grow and expand, the number of projects, events, and visits from our beloved Patrons does too. In order to keep up with this increased activity, our Vatican office has created a new position- an education and work internship. The longevity and commitment of this position, as opposed to the short, sporadic terms of our volunteer intern program, affords the office an essential level of continuity and the long term intern, him/herself, a more comprehensive work experience, which will involve helping the members of staff with day to day activities.