VATICAN CITY—The exterior lighting of St. Peter's Basilica will be totally revamped for the Jubilee Year using the latest technologies, said Vatican officials and lighting engineers.

The Vatican entrusted the $1.1 million project to an Italian utilities company, known by its Italian acronym ACEA, which has fitted most of Rome's archeological areas and monuments with sophisticated artistic lighting.

During a Vatican press conference Nov. 23, Fulvio Vento, ACEA chairman, said St. Peter's new lighting would be inaugurated during a ceremony Dec. 17.

If Pope John Paul II's schedule permits him to attend, he will be asked to throw the switch to activate the illumination, Vento said.

The basilica's facade, atrium and dome will be lit by 450 separate light fixtures with a combined output of nearly 50,000 watts.

Aldo de Luca, ACEA project manager, said the dome's revised lighting, compared to a system installed 10 years ago, reduces power consumption by 40% and light pollution by 60%.

The project presented ACEA engineers with a “severe technical challenge,” Vento said. Choices regarding the placement of individual fixtures, and the quantity and color temperature of the light they produced had to take into account the building's “incommensurable artistic and historical value,” he said.

Sandro Benedetti, technical manager of the Vatican office in charge of the basilica, said throughout the centuries special lighting systems had been devised for St. Peter's.

An 18th-century Vatican painting depicts illumination of the dome, facade and atrium, perhaps for jubilee celebrations in 1750, he said.

ZENIT, the Rome-based news agency, reported that, in earlier times, up to 25 acrobats where hired to slide down the façade, which is the size of a soccer field, to place some 3,000 torches into their holders.

“Its illumination entailed a considerable effort,” said Benedetti, who said that the goal was to light “almost simultaneously” all of the torches so that the public cold get a view of the entire faÇade. (From combined wire services)