Pope Francis has allowed the Sistine Chapel to be rented out for Porsche to entertain 40 high-paying tourists.
At the same time the Vatican announced that it would limit the number of visitors allowed inside the chapel to the current total of six million, amid fears that Michelangelo’s frescoes are being damaged by the breath and sweat of so many tourists.
Saturday a concert to be performed amid the chapel’s splendour will be attended by a select group on an exclusive tour of Italy organized by Porsche.
It is the first time the Sistine Chapel has been rented out for a corporate function. The proceeds will to go to charities working with the poor and homeless. The Vatican would not divulge how much it will earn from the event, but the five-day tour of Rome arranged by the Porsche Travel Club costs up to 5,000 euros per head (about $7,200), meaning an overall price of about $290,000.
Participants are promised “a magnificent concert in the Sistine Chapel, with its ceiling frescoes painted by Michelangelo.” The concert will be performed by a choir from the Accademia di Santa Cecilia in Rome, which traces its origins back to the 16th century.
They will then sit down to a “gala dinner” in the midst of the Vatican Museums, “surrounded by masterpieces by world-famous artists such as Michelangelo and Raphael”. A spokesman for the Porsche Travel Club said: “It’s a one-off event and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
The Pope is keen to put the Vatican’s treasures to good use for the benefit of the needy.
Shortly after he was elected in March last year he called for a “poor Church for the poor.”
Monsignor Paolo Nicolini, the administrative director of the Vatican Museums, said firms such as Porsche would be asked to make a donation for the use of the Sistine Chapel, with the money passed on to Roman Catholic charities of the Pope’s choice.
It is believed this is the first time that the chapel, which was built for Pope Sixtus IV between 1473 and 1484, has been leased out to a company for a commercial event.
The Vatican would not say whether it was planning to strike similar deals with other companies.
The restriction on normal visits to six million a year could mean the introduction of a reservations-only booking system, rather than the current free-for-all in which tourists can book visits online, through travel agencies or queue outside the gates of the tiny city state.
“I am convinced that the Vatican Museums, in particular the Sistine Chapel, have reached the maximum number of visitors possible,” said Antonio Paolucci, the director of the Vatican Museums.
The chapel has been fitted with new lighting and climate control systems which are designed to reduce the damage to the delicate frescoes.