Vatican Museums Open New Door, Itself a Work of Art

VATICAN CITY—After opening the Holy Doors of Rome's four major basilicas, Pope John Paul II opened his fifth door of the Great Jubilee: the new entrance to the Vatican Museums.

At a Feb. 7 ceremony, the Pope pushed open the museums' new bronze door to inaugurate the revamped space.

Praising the museums' role as a “temple of art and culture” for all people, the Holy Father said “the museums are, on a cultural level, one of the most significant doors of the Holy See opened to the world.”

The new entrance is not only functional, “but symbolic of a more `capacious' entrance, that is, more welcoming, to express the renewed will of the Church to dialogue with humanity in the sign of art and culture, making its entire patrimony available to all.”

The completion of the project, he said, is a proof of the Church's will for a dialogue between faith and art.

“This is the most ambitious of the architectural projects undertaken by the Holy See for the Jubilee year,” reported ZENIT, the Rome-based news service.

During the 1500s, when Pope Julius II began the Vatican's collection, only papal guests were allowed to view the artwork of the Holy See. At the time of the museums' modern inception in the late 18th century, visitors were restricted to an elite group of nobles and intellectuals.

Today, 3 million people from all walks of life visit the museum each year — more than double the number of just two decades ago.

Over the years, the steep increase in visitors led to daily havoc at the one door used as both entrance and exit. Infamous lines that often wound their way around the block caused many tourists to rise at dawn in hopes of getting into the Sistine Chapel before crowds impeded views of Michel-angelo's masterpieces.

U.S. Cardinal Edmund Szoka, president of the Pontifical Commission for Vatican City State, which financed the $24 million, three-year project, said the new entrance would eliminate lines and speed up the ticket-buying process.

The new bronze door, situated to the left of the old entrance, which will now be used solely as an exit, leads visitors into an ultramodern space capable of handling 2,000 people at a time.

“The new glass and cement structure is reminiscent of a similar addition to the Louvre in Paris,” said ZENIT.

Once visitors have paid the $9 entrance fee at newly computerized ticket booths, a spiral ramp takes them up to a glass-roofed room with a closeup view of St. Peter's dome.

From there, tourists can enter the museum itself, or take advantage of the renovated food court, complete with a pizzeria, and such amenities as bookstores, a ticket office, and a play area for children

Directly inside the new entrance, a statue by Italian sculptor Giuliano Vangi titled Crossing the Threshold depicts John Paul guiding a man into the third millennium.

One of the objectives of his pontificate, the Holy Father said, has been “to help mankind cross the door, in order to leave behind the constrictions of materialism and pass into the freedom of faith.”

The new entrance was expected to be opened to the public a few days after the Feb. 7 inauguration, following last-minute checks of the new security and computer systems.

(From combined wire services)