Ahead of the Catholic Jubilee Year, Bernini’s Canopy at St. Peter’s Gets a Brush-Up

| Thu, 01/18/2024 - 10:41
Gian Lorenzo Bernini's Baldacchino (canopy) towers over the tomb of St. Peter

Ahead of the Catholic Church’s Jubilee year in 2025, restoration plans have been unveiled for Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s soaring Baldacchino (Baldachin), the 17th-century canopy that towers over the main altar of St. Peter’s Basilica, ceremoniously covering the tomb of St. Peter beneath it.

The €700,000 (about $762,000) restoration will be funded entirely by the Knights of Columbus — a global Catholic fraternal order founded in 1882 — with work carried out by the Vatican Museums’ expert art restorers. 

At a press conference announcing the restoration plan, Archpriest of the Basilica Cardinal Mauro Gambetti said the work to be done on the 95-foot canopy would be “challenging but necessary.” 

In addition to its size, the Baldacchino’s complexity as a multi-material work — iron, bronze, gold, stone and wood — will present complications. Some of these materials have seen considerable damage due to changes in the microclimate of St. Peter’s brought on by the roughly 50,000 visitors who pass through the basilica on a given day. But the bulk of the work to be done is systematic cleaning, lifting centuries’ worth of dust and grime. (The last major restoration of the Baldachin took place 250 years ago.)

Commissioned by Pope Urban VIII, the dramatic Baldacchino is recognized worldwide for its four twisting columns constructed partly from bronze melted from the basilica’s portico, and for its 2.5-ton gilded statues of two angels perched atop it. As one of Bernini’s most famous works (and his first of several commissions for the basilica), it’s a quintessential example of the Baroque style in Rome.

The restoration is on track to be completed before the start of the Jubilee year 2025, which will begin on December 24, 2024 and end on December 14, 2025. (Jubilee years are a centuries-old liturgical tradition and are designated as special periods of universal pardon.) According to Catholic News Agency, the city of Rome and the Vatican are anticipating some 35 million pilgrims for the event.

Pope Francis is expected to inaugurate the period by opening the Holy Door of St. Peter’s, in what will be the second Jubilee during the 87-year-old’s papal tenure (after the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy that took place during 2015 and 2016).