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Vatican Museums, archive, library prepare to reopen

The Vatican Museums, Vatican Apostolic Archives and Vatican Library will reopen tomorrow (1st June), almost three months after being closed as part of the lockdown to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

The closure of the museums dealt a major financial blow to the Vatican; more than six million people visit the museums each year, generating an income of more than 90 million euros.

The closure of the archives interrupted scholars’ long-anticipated access to the archives of Pope Pius XII. Material related to the pope and his actions during World War II became available to scholars on 2nd March, but that access ended a week later with the lockdown.

To reopen the facilities, the Vatican has instituted a series of precautionary measures in line with health and safety guidelines. Access to the museums, archives and library will be by reservation only, face masks are required, and social distancing must be maintained.

A notice on the archives’ website informed scholars that while it would reopen tomorrow, it will close again on 26th June for its usual summer break. Only 15 scholars a day will be admitted in June and only in the morning.

The archives will open again on 31st August. Access still will be only by reservation, but the number of scholars allowed in will increase to 25 each day.

Barbara Jatta, director of the Vatican Museums, joined small groups of journalists for tours of the museums earlier this week in anticipation of the reopening.

Reservations will be required there as well, she said, but there was no sign that the number of visitors would be so large that the museums would have to impose a daily limit. Until 3rd June, travel between Italian regions and from European countries is still banned.

Masks will be required of all visitors and the facility now has a temperature scanner installed at the entrance. The opening hours have been extended to 10am-8pm Monday-Thursday and 10am-10pm Friday and Saturday. The maximum size of a group tour will be 10 people, “which will mean a much more pleasant experience,” Jatta said. “Let’s look at the positive side.”

While the museums were closed to the public, employees were hard at work on projects they normally have time to take care of only on Sundays when the museums are closed, Jatta said.

With the reopening, she said, the public will get its first look at the restored Hall of Constantine, the fourth and largest of the museums’ Raphael Rooms. The restoration yielded a surprise: evidence that the allegorical figures of Justice (in Latin, Iustitia) and Friendship (Comitas) were painted in oil alongside the frescoes and likely represent the last work of Raphael before his death in 1520.

As part of the celebrations marking the 500th anniversary of Raphael’s death, the room dedicated to him in the museums’ Pinacoteca (picture gallery) have been redesigned with new lighting installed, also Raphael’s painting of the Transfiguration has been restored.

Photo: An empty square is seen in front of the Vatican Museums on 26th May. The Museums will reopen on 1st June, almost three months after being closed as part of a lockdown to prevent spread of the coronavirus. (CNS photo/Cindy Wooden)

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OTHER NEWS

Medieval pope’s seal discovered in Shropshire

A pope's seal dating back 700 years has been discovered in Shropshire. The medieval find represents the 1.5 millionth archaeological object to have been officially unearthed by the public in Britain. Pope Innocent IV, whose papacy began in 1243, used the lead...

Caritas worker warns of disaster in Burkina Faso

A Catholic aid worker has warned of a humanitarian catastrophe in Burkina Faso, with over 2 million facing starvation in the face of Islamist attacks and poor harvests. "People have been unable to cultivate their lands, so there've been no harvests, and this has all...