the Holy Year of 1950, Pope Pius XII gave his assent to the request
presented by the Knights of Columbus, to commemorate in the vicinity
of Peter's tomb, the evangelizing work carried out in Europe by
the Irish monks starting from the 6th century.
of the new chapel started on February 9, 1951. It was necessary
to open the floor of the basilica in the first span of the transept
of SS Processus and Martinian to create the needed space. At the
same time, a mosaic representing the sainted Irish monk was made
at an altar that already existed in the grottoes. The excavations,
in the course of which 800 cubic meters of earth were extracted,
brought to light a big section of the northern transept of the Constantinian
basilica, 6 big columns and several marble sarcophagi. The area
was consolidated to guarantee the stability of the floor and, finally,
the construction of the chapel started.
director of the Fabbrica di San Pietro, Engineer Francesco Vacchini
projected and supervised the work. The chapel was inaugurated on
September 12, 1954 with Mass celebrated by the Archbishop of Dublin
Giovanni C. McQuaid.
Detail of St Columbanus mosaic
Irish Chapel in the Vatican Grottoes
1999, part of the chapel was restored and the presbytery and furnishing
were modified according to the new liturgical norms of Vatican Council
II. On June 22, the new altar was consecrated by the Archbishop
of Armagh and the Primate of the Catholic Church of Ireland, His
Eminence Sean Brady, in the presence of the Irish Bishops and the
and austere chapel harmonizes with the style of the grottoes. On
the back wall, in the apse under an arch, is the mosaic in a sea-green
tonality, made by the Studio of the Fabbrica di San Pietro. It represents
St Columbanus with a pastoral staff and the book of the Regula,
between four monks, in their symbolic walk from Ireland to Italy.
They are preceded by the symbolic sun, indicating the destination
of their journey; following the group is a dove.
The first inscription:
PEREGRINANTES PRO CHRISTO (Pilgrims for Christ) illustrates the
apostolic goal of the peregrination of the monks. The second inscription,
a quotation from a letter of St Columbanus: SI TOLLIS LIBERTATEM
TOLLIS DIGNITATEM (If you take away liberty, you take away dignity)
indicates the humanitarian and spiritual aspect of their mission.
On the low
part of the mosaic are the points of departure and arrival of the
long peregrination (pilgrimage) of Columbanus: BANGOR with the tower
and the Celtic cross and BOBBIO with the ancient bridge and the
abbey where Columbanus ended his days.
To the sides
from the mosaic there are two Latin inscriptions. The one to the
right commemorates the founding of the chapel, while the one to
the left its modification.
S. COLVMBANO DICATVM
PIO XII PONT. MAX. PROBANTE
CONDITVM EST / IMPENSA
SACRORVM HIBERNIAE ANTISTITVM OPE
JOSEPHI PATRICII WALSHE
EIVSDEM NATIONIS APVD SEDEM APOST.
ORATORIS / CONSILIO ET CVRA
ORATE PRO ANIMA IOSEPHI
oratory dedicated to St Columbanus
with the approval of Pope Pius XII, was
sponsored by the Bishops from Ireland
and realized under the supervision of
Joseph Patrick Walshe, the Ambassador of
Ireland to the Holy See, in 1954.
Pray for the soul of Joseph Patrick Walshe.
ADVENIENTE MAGNI JVBILAEI MM
IOANNE PAVLO II PONT. MAX.
EQVITES HIBERNICI S. COLVMBANI
CONSILIVM JVBILAEI HIBERNICVM ROMAE
HOC SACELLVM S. COLVMBANO DEDICATVM
DIE XXII IVNII MCMXCIX
the great Jubilee of 2000,
in the pontificate of John Paul II,
the bishops of the Ireland,
the Irish Knights of Saint Columbanus
and the Irish Council of Rome for the Jubilee,
red-adapt this oratory dedicated to
Saint Columbanus, 22 June 1999
On the furnishing
by Giuseppe Lombardi (1958) are the decorative patterns characteristic
of the Irish art of 6th and 7th centuries. The small altar has a
square table with an inscription on the edge: DEDICATVM D. XXII
IVNII A. MCMXCIX (Dedicated on June 22, 1999). It sits on a cross-shaped
pillar from the original altar, with a typical Irish cross with
a golden rim. A similar pillar holds the pulpit. The bronze chair
bears the crest of John Paul II and the figures of SS Peter and
Paul in relief. It is the work of the sculptor Tommaso Gismondi
and was part of the furnishing of the central altar in the grottoes.
On the decorative frieze is the dedicatory inscription: S(AN)CTO.
COLVMBANO ABB(ATI) / HIBERNORVM NATIO MCMLIV (To St Columbanus the
Abbot / The Irish Nation)
thing in the chapel - on the left wall one can see the archeological
remains of the inner wall of the northern transept of the old basilica.
Above is a travertine fragment with the sculptures representing
the symbols of the four Evangelists that was part of the old altar.