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Chapel of the Patron Saints of Europe

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View of the Chapel of the Patron Saints of Europe in the Vatican Grottoes

Behind an iron gate, is the chapel of the Patron saints of Europe, or Benedict, the father of western monasticism (5th-6th century), and the brothers SS. Cyril and Methodius, the evangelizers of the Slavonic peoples in the 9th century.

John Paul II blessing the Chapel of the Patron Saints of Europe
John Paul II blessing
From:
Knights of Columbus


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


The room is on a lower level in respect to the peribolos and became a chapel only recently. Its construction, however, goes back to the time of Paul V, who in 1607 had it excavated as the second Polyandrium to deposit the remains from the tombs in the old basilica that was being demolished. The room remained unchanged until the pontificate of Pius XII when the remains were removed and in 1950 the area was readapted to keep the marble fragments of the dismembered tomb monument of Paul II Barbo.

The present-day layout, which preserved the original architectural structure, followed the Apostolic Letter "Egregiae virtutis" of December 31, 1980 in which John Paul II proclaimed St Benedict, SS. Cyril and Methodius as the Patron Saints of Europe.

The entrance to this chapel is wide enough for the visitors passing along the peribolos to appreciate the interior of the chapel from the outside.

Before morning Mass in the Chapel  of the Patron Saints of Europe
Before Mass in the
Chapel of the Patron Saints of Europe
Altarpiece in the Chapel of the Patron Saints of Europe by Tommaso Gismondi with SS. Benedict, Cyril and Methodius
Altarpiece by Tommaso Gismondi with
SS. Benedict, Cyril and Methodius

The liturgical furnishing of the chapel consists, first of all, of a small altar made from ancient fragments with a 13th century Cosmatesque panel with a Greek cross inscribed in a polychrome circle. Nearby is the lectern on a spiral Cosmatesque column, originally from the tabernacle of the Holy Veil.

Behind the altar is a bronze gilded crucifix by the sculptor Tommaso Gismondi. The design is inspired by the Carolingian crucifix from the 9th century that until 1550 was located in capite columnarum, i.e., on the first column of the Constantinian basilica. The living Christ is represented with a halo rather than with the crown of thorns. He is surrounded by four figures in bas-relief: to the left is the Virgin; to the right St John the Evangelist; below the support are SS Peter and Paul; above is Christ the King holding the scepter in His right hand and the globe in the left hand.

The grand bronze altarpiece is by the same artist. It is located under the arch of the front wall and it represents the three Patron Saints of Europe: Benedict, with the book of the Regula; Cyril dressed in monastic robes holding a document written in Cyrillic characters; and Methodius in episcopal vestments, holding the Gospel. The bas-reliefs on the sides represent the four Evangelists with their traditional symbols. Each one holds a scroll with the initial words of their Gospels in Latin. The inscription below commemorates the dedication of the chapel to the Patron Saints of Europe. The bronze works are embellished by gilding, silver plating, patina and semi-precious stones.

Our Lady enthroned with Child and Angels in the Chapel of the Patron Saints of Europe
Our Lady enthroned with
Child and Angels
Inscription at the entrance to the Chapel of the Patron Saints of Europe
Inscription Commemorating the Blessing
of John Paul II and the
Contribution of the Knights of Columbus

To the right from the altarpiece is a medieval fresco representing the Madonna with Child and Angels. The fresco comes from the old basilica where it was located in the vicinity of the Door of Death. Later it was taken to the chapel of the Madonna of Partorienti where it remained for over 3 centuries. For some time it was believed to be by the Senese school. It was restored in 1980 and is now attributed to the 13th century school of Jacopo Torriti.

To the right from the entrance are the surviving fragments of the fresco on the vault of the original access corridor built by Paul V in 1617. Immured on the wall, is the elegant tombstone of Agnesina Colonna, the wife of Onorato Caetani, the general of the papal infantry in the battle of Lepanto (1571). She was buried in the basilica in 1578 and later transferred to the grottoes.

The inscription in the left corner of the entrance commemorates the blessing Pope John Paul II imparted to the chapel that was realized with the support of the Order of the Knights of Columbus. Another small inscription in English commemorates the contribution of the Order.

Wall Tomb of Agnesina Colonna Caetani in the Vatican Grottoes
Tomb of Agnesina Colonna Caetani

Lower detail on the Tomb of Agnesina Colonna Caetani in the Patron Saints of Europe Chapel
Lower Detail on the
Tomb of Agnesina Colonna Caetani

 

 

 

HONORI SS. CYRILLI ET
METHODII QUOS S. BENEDICTO /
ADIUNCTOS IOANNES PAULUS II
PONT MAX. DIE XXXI /
DEC A. MDCCCCLXXX COMPATRONOS
EUROPAE DECLARAVIT /
RITE DICATUM

Dedicated to SS Cyril and Methodius,
who together with St Benedict on
December, 31, 1980, were declared by
Pope John Paul II,
the Patron Saints of Europe

AEDICVLAM HANC
QVAM IOANNES PAVLVS II PONT MAX
IN HONOREM
S. BENEDICTI ITEMQUE SS. CYRILLI ET METHODII
PATRONORVM EVROPAE
STRVI IVSSIT
EQVITIBVS A COLVMBO SVMPTVM SVPPEDITANTIBVS
IDEM POSTRIDIE KALENDAS NOVEMBRES
ANNO MCMLXXXI
RITE LVSTRAVIT

On November 2, 1981, Pope John Paul II blessed
this chapel that he built in honor of
St Benedict and SS Cyril and Methodius,
the Patron Saints of Europe,
with the support of the
Order of the Knights of Columbus

Source: Roma Sacra The Vatican Grottoes, Fabbrica of St. Peter's, June 2003

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