Papal Mass with baptisms in the Sistine Chapel

Vatican ‘Culture Minister’ suggests limiting “unsustainable” number of Sistine Chapel visitors

The Vatican ‘Culture Minister’ has raised the prospect of limiting the “unsustainable” number of visitors to the Sistine Chapel over concerns about the preservation of the monument.

Driving the news

“20,000 people enter the Sistine Chapel every day, and it would be necessary, in some way, to reduce access”, Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, the President of the Pontifical Council for Culture told Spanish news agency Europa Press.

The cardinal, in Madrid for a conference at the University of Navarre campus in Madrid, said “different proposals” have been put forward to limit access and preserve the space, home to papal conclaves and to Michelangelo’s world-famous frescoes.

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Go deeper

One suggestion, Ravasi said, would be to close the Chapel during worship services and organise other dedicated visiting times.

Another proposal, the cardinal added – albeit one that has been “criticised”, he said – would be to charge visitors an entrance fee and use the money for the maintenance of the Chapel’s artwork.

At any rate, “we have to do something, because if not, [the number of visitors is] unsustainable”, Ravasi acknowledged.

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The cardinal admitted that “people cannot be denied the possibility of enjoying the Church’s masterpieces” ,but insisted that “it’s essential to make at least a minimal effort to remember that all these places have a language of their own”.

Ravasi was pressed for details on how closing the Sistine Chapel during Mass times, allocating special visiting times, charging an entrance fee or even requiring the purchase of tickets online would work.

The cardinal explained that “some other dioceses, including in Spain” have implemented similar policies with success, not to mention other museums such as Louvre in Paris.

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Why it matters

Speaking to Europa Press, Ravasi highlighed what he considered to be the three greatest cultural challenges for the Church today: finding a language to communicate the Church’s message, particularly in the digital world; finding the context to get that message across; and taking better account of new areas of societal concern, such as “youth, ecology, feminism, science or technology”.

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Reflecting on his invitation to the city of Burgos in 2021 for the International Congress of Cathedrals, the cardinal also set out the meaning of these grand Christian monuments in contemporary society.

Ravasi said cathedrals are still like the “heart” of many cities today, and the “spiritual, cultural, institutional and social centre” of metropolitan life.

The cardinal explained that the love citizens still have for their cathedrals was on display after April’s tragic fire in the Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris, for example.

“You could see how not only the Church, but also so many people, citizens, foreigners and visitors were really affected and even cried, because they realised that it’s something special”, Ravasi said.

“It’s like the heart of the city. If any other building had burned, it would have been less moving than the fire in the cathedral. It’s a religious, cultural and social symbol of the city”, the cardinal explained.

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