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With philanthropist and homeless advocate Pope Francis in charge, things are really changing inside the walls of the venerable institution, and the Vatican will never be the same again.
Over the last year the Vatican has been involved with countless fund-raising opportunities that have brought in private corporate dollars as well as income from high-profile celebrities and billionaires.
Last year Pope Francis for the very first time allowed the Sistine Chapel to be rented out for a private corporate event, with the proceeds going to his homeless charities. The Vatican would not reveal how much it was paid for the event, but the ultimate visit arranged by Porsche cost over $10,000 per person. The 40 wealthy guests enjoyed a spectacular dinner and concert in the Sistine Chapel, beneath its famed Michelangelo ceiling. The concert was performed by a choir from the historic Accademia di Santa Cecilia in Rome.
It is believed this is the first time that the chapel, which was built by Pope Sixtus IV starting in 1473, has been leased out to a company for a private event. The Pope now wants to use the Vatican’s treasures to good use for the benefit of the poor. Porsche was required to make a sizeable donation for the use of the Sistine Chapel, with the money then passed onto charity.
But as the fundraising event was revealed, the Vatican announced it would limit the number of visitors allowed inside the chapel to just six million per year, fearing that the frescoes were being damaged by the huge swarms of tourists.
While Pope Francis urges the world to care for the poor, he presides over the world’s most valuable collection of treasures. According to Catholic Church historian Michael Walsh, “If sold, the money could lift millions out of destitution. Pope Paul VI, whom Francis has just beatified, was so conscious of this paradox that he sold the papal tiara – the triple-tiered crown used in his coronation – to raise alms for the poor. It was bought by an American cardinal, and there has never been a papal ‘coronation’ since. But not everything is saleable. Certainly not the Sistine Chapel. The next best thing is to allow its use as a money-making enterprise with the profits going to the poor.”
Celebrities and billionaires have always had the opportunity to score private visits to the Vatican museums. Justin Bieber was reported to have offered over $50,000 on an exclusive private tour. Angelina Jolie met Pope Francis during a private audience at the Vatican this year as the Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
Recently Pope Francis startled the old guard by closing portions of the Vatican and welcoming a group of 150 homeless for a VIP private tour including the Pope’s residence in the St. Martha guesthouse. After visiting the Carriage Pavilion, the large group ventured into the Upper Galleries with the Gallery of the Candelabra and the Gallery of Maps – before making a unique visit to the apartment of Pius V and finally the Sistine Chapel itself. They were then treated to a private sit down dinner.
The brainchild of Archbishop Konrad Krajewski, the visit was designed to show the city’s homeless population not just the beauty from outside St. Peter’s Basilica, but also the beauty within, which belongs to everyone, including those who have met misfortune and are living in poverty.
Now word has come that even the most revered Vatican Secret Archives are for sale to very wealthy buyers. Billionaires now have the opportunity to not only visit the Archives but also purchase a one-of-a-kind high quality copy of a transcript on parchment with a very high price tag (over $100,000 per page). But only an elite group of investors know how to get involved in this opportunity.
As an attempt to showcase the Archives, the Vatican invited a journalist for the very first time to visit the inner sanctum. Belgian publisher Paul Van den Heuvel was handpicked to create a $5,000 photo coffee table book on the Secret Archives, which has now become a catalog of sorts for buyers worldwide. The one caveat is that no documents after 1939 were available to view, which for obvious reasons includes the most scandalous periods of time for the Vatican.
Scholars have been allowed in the archive since 2003, as long as they knew exactly which documents they will research. But now, elite visitors may have the opportunity to have the ultimate in bragging rights. They will be able to walk through an enormous pair of brass doors, through multiple security checkpoints, up a narrow winding staircase to the 73m Tower of the Winds, which was built by Ottavinao Mascherino in 1578. This is a sacred place where the public is never admitted.
Beyond the Tower of Winds are rooms lined with 50 miles (roughly the length of the Panama Canal), filled with dark wooden shelves. Inside are hundreds of thousands of volumes (some almost two feet thick) filled with antiquated parchment. This is the Vatican secret archive, the most mysterious collection of documents in the world.
Among the historic documents are: Handwritten records of Galileo’s trial before the Inquisition; the 1530 petition from England’s House of Lords asking the Pope to annul Henry VIII’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon; letters from Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis during the U.S. Civil War; the papal bull excommunicating Martin Luther, and letters from Michelangelo including one where he complained about not receiving payment for his work on the Sistine Chapel.
Some of the more controversial, and much argued theories about hidden documents include; documentation of the Jesus bloodline; secular historical proof of Jesus’s existence, with correspondence between Saint Paul and Emperor Nero; secular historical proof via the same correspondence that Jesus did not exist; and contemporary depictions of Jesus (formal portraits of Jesus made by people who actually saw and depicted him in real life).
Many historians and scholars have also hinted the Church has hidden the existence of various Biblical relics, either the relics themselves, or reliable documentation as to their whereabouts, including the Ark of the Covenant, the Holy Grail, the True Cross, the truth about the Shroud of Turin, and many others.
Once, Napoleon had the whole of the secret archive transported to Paris. In 1817 it was eventually returned with countless documents missing. Private investors have speculated about what truly is available in the public sector, hidden for decades.
For now, the future of the Vatican is certainly changing forever. Many more opportunities will be unveiled in the coming year with fund raising efforts giving help to a lot of people less fortunate…. thanks to Pope Francis.