The Pope’s private chapel in the Vatican palace, which includes Michelangelo’s Conversion of Saint Paul and Crucifixion of Saint Peter, has been been re-opened after a seven year restoration.

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Chief Art Historian for the Vatican Museums, Arnold Nesselrath, who was responsible for the Chapels restoration, explains that the Pauline Chapel is linked to the Sistine Chapel.

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Solemn vespers to mark re-opening of Pauline Chapel

Benedict XVI is describing his private chapel as a place where one can learn from Sts. Peter and Paul about the faith, and meditate silently on the Eucharist.

The Pope stated this Saturday during solemn vespers, which he celebrated as part of the re-opening ceremony of the newly restored Pauline Chapel.

This private chapel for the Pontiffs and the papal household is located within the Apostolic Palace, close to the Sistine Chapel.

It features Michelangelo’s depictions of the conversion of St. Paul and the crucifixion of St. Peter, painted between 1542 and 1550.

In the homily, the Holy Father focused on the faces of the Apostles in the paintings, the two final works of Michelangelo.

He noted that the artist depicted St. Paul as an old man, even though he was around 30 at the moment of his conversion.

Benedict XVI explained, “The artist’s decision takes us outside pure realism, it takes us beyond the mere narration of events and introduces us to a deeper level.”

Thus, he added, St. Paul’s face “reveals the maturity of a man illuminated from within by Christ the Lord.”

“The grace and peace of God enveloped Saul, conquering him and transforming him from within,” he affirmed.

Fraternal support

Focusing on the painting of St. Peter, whose head is turned to face his viewers, the Pope observed the saint’s expression, which seems to depict “the state of mind of a man facing death and evil.”

“He looks lost,” the Pontiff noted, “as if he were searching for something or someone in this, his last hour.”

He stated that the two Apostles face each other, “as if Peter, at the moment of supreme trial, sought that light which gave the true faith to Paul.”

The Holy Father continued, “In this context the two images become two acts of the same drama, the drama of the Paschal mystery: cross and resurrection, death and life, sin and grace.”

“For those who come to pray in this chapel, and above all for the Pope, Peter and Paul become masters of the faith,” he said.

In their witness, he added, they invite us to “meditate in silence upon the mystery of the cross which accompanies the Church until the end of time, and to welcome the light of the faith thanks to which the apostolic community can extend the missionary and evangelizing activity entrusted to her by the Risen Christ to the confines of the earth.”

Benedict XVI affirmed that this chapel is not used for solemn celebrations with the people, but rather, “Peter’s Successor and his collaborators meditate in silence and adore the living Chri st, who is especially present in the Blessed Sacrament of the Eucharist.”

He continued: “The Eucharist is the sacrament in which all the work of redemption is concentrated. In the Eucharistic Jesus we contemplate the transformation of death into life, of violence into love.

“Hidden under the veils of bread and wine, we recognize with the eyes of faith the same glory that was manifested to the apostles after the Resurrection.”

The Pauline Chapel restoration project began in 2004, at the request of Pope John Paul II.

Besides Michelangelo’s works, there are various artistic treasures depicting scenes from the Acts of the Apostles. Among these are the works of Federico Zuccari and Lorenzo Sabbatini.