Showing posts with label Pope Pius XII. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Pope Pius XII. Show all posts

7 May 2018

Domenico Bartolucci – composer

Talented musician served under six popes

Cardinal Domenico Bartolucci
Cardinal Domenico Bartolucci
Cardinal Domenico Bartolucci, director of the Sistine Chapel Choir for 40 years and a talented and prolific composer, was born on this day in 1917 in Borgo San Lorenzo in Tuscany.

Bartolucci was considered one of the most authoritative interpreters of the works of composer Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina and he led the Sistine Chapel Choir in performances all over the world.

His own compositions are said to fill more than 40 volumes and include masses, hymns, madrigals, orchestral music and an opera.

Bartolucci was born in Borgo San Lorenzo near Florence, the son of a brick factory worker who loved the music of Verdi and Donizetti. Bartolucci was recruited as a singer at the seminary in Florence at a young age. After the death of his music master, Bartolucci succeeded him as director of music for the Chapel of the Duomo of Florence and began to compose masses, motets and organ music.

Bartolucci went to Rome to deepen his knowledge of sacred music and served as deputy master of the choir at the Church of St John Lateran. In 1947 he was appointed Master of the Choir of St Mary Major, and in 1952 was appointed deputy master of the Sistine Chapel Choir.

Bartolucci was director of the Sistine Chapel Choir from  1956 until his retirement in 1996
Bartolucci was director of the Sistine Chapel Choir from
1956 until his retirement in 1996
Pope Pius XII gave him the position of permanent director of the Pontifical Sistine Chapel Choir in 1956. During his 40 years of leadership he strengthened the choir and took it to perform in countries all over the world.

Bartolucci had been a child prodigy and composed his first mass at the age of 12. His best known mass is the Misa Jubilei, written in the Holy Year of 1950. His biggest musical influences were Palestrina and the opera composer, Giuseppe Verdi. Bartolucci’s own three-act opera, Brunelleschi, dedicated to the history and construction of Filippo Brunelleschi’s colossal dome atop Florence’s cathedral, is yet to be performed.

Pope Benedict XVI created Bartolucci a cardinal in 2010 in recognition of his contribution to the church in the area of sacred ecclesiastical music. He became the fourth oldest member of the College of Cardinals and because he was over 80 was not eligible to vote in a papal conclave.

Bartolucci died in 2013 at the age of 96. After his funeral mass at St Peter’s Basilica, Pope Francis described him as ‘an ‘illustrious composer and musician, who exercised his long ministry particularly through sacred music, which is born of faith and expresses faith.’

The unusual campanile at the church of  Pieve di San Lorenzo
The unusual campanile at the church of
Pieve di San Lorenzo
Travel tip:

Borgo San Lorenzo, the birthplace of Bartolucci, is the largest of the towns and villages of the Mugello, the green, hilly area to the north and west of Florence. The Romanesque church of Pieve di San Lorenzo has a campanile that is circular in its lower stages and hexagonal above. Nearby are the Medici properties of Castello del Trebbio and the Villa di Cafaggiolo, both built for Cosimo il Vecchio in the 15th century.

Travel tip:

The Sistine Chapel, whose choir Bartolucci led for 40 years, is in the Apostolic Palace, where the Pope lives, in Vatican City. The chapel takes its name from Pope Sixtus IV, the uncle of Pope Julius II, who had it restored during his papacy. Between 1508 and 1512, Michelangelo painted the ceiling at the request of Pope Julius II.  His amazing masterpiece is in bright colours, easily visible from the floor, and covers more than 400 square metres.


6 October 2017

Maria Bertilla Boscardin – wartime nurse

Brave nun was prepared to die caring for others

A depiction of Maria Bertilla Boscardin from Catholic Church literature
A depiction of Maria Bertilla Boscardin
from Catholic Church literature
Maria Bertilla Boscardin, a nun who was canonised for her devoted nursing of sick children and air raid victims in the First World War, was born on this day in 1888 in Brendola, a small town in the Veneto.

She was beatified by Pope Pius XII in 1952, just 30 years after she died, and made a saint by Pope John XXIII nine years later.

It was one of the quicker canonisations of modern history. Sometimes many decades or even hundreds of years pass before a person’s life is recognised with sainthood. 

Boscardin’s came so swiftly that relatives and some of the patients she cared for were present at her canonisation ceremony. Indeed, her father, Angelo, was asked to provide testimony during the beatification process.

Born into a peasant family, who knew her as Annette, her life in Brendola, which is about 15km (9 miles) southwest of Vicenza, was tough.  She was seen as rather a slow-witted child, mocked by her peers and unkindly nicknamed ‘the goose’ even by the local priest. Her father, a drunkard, was often abusive and violent.

She wanted to become educated but her attendance at school was at times only sporadic because her family required her to work.

Her ambition to become a nun was in part to escape from this unhappy childhood.  She was turned down by the first order to which she applied but the Sisters of St Dorothy in Vicenza admitted her to their convent, assigning her the religious name Maria Bertilla.

After a tough upbringing, Maria found her calling as a carer for sick children
After a tough upbringing, Maria found her
calling as a carer for sick children
Her first job was at the order’s large charity hospital in Treviso, where she worked in the kitchen, peeling potatoes.  What she is said to have told the novice-mistress of the convent indicated that she had very low self-esteem but she asked for their help to become a better person.

She found her calling after being assigned to work with the children being treated at the hospital, many of whom were suffering from diptheria, and needed constant attention.

One of the doctors at Treviso later testified that many of the children, separated from their families for the first time, arrived at the hospital so agitated that they would cry constantly for several days.

But Sister Bertilla, he recalled, “succeeded in rapidly becoming a mother to them all. After two or three hours the child, who was desperate, clung to her, calmly, as to his mother and followed her wherever she went.”

When the First World War spread to Italy in 1915, Bertilla vowed she would make the ultimate sacrifice, if necessary, to care for the wounded.  An entry in her diary read: ‘Here I am, Lord, to do according to your will, under whatever aspect it presents itself, let it be life, death or terror.'

As Treviso came under attack following the defeat of the Italian army at the Battle of Caporetto, she is said to have stayed with patients who could not be moved, praying and providing marsala wine for those who needed it.

After the war, she was sent to a sanatorium to care for soldiers with tuberculosis. Next she was sent to a seminary to care for survivors of an epidemic.

The statue of Maria Bertilla Boscardin at the
church of Saints Peter and Paul in Cagnano
She was unlucky with her own health, however.  Discovered to have a tumour in her early 20s, after which she underwent surgery, she fell ill again in her early 30s.

The cancer had recurred. The only hope of a cure was to have another operation. But she was much weaker this time and died in October, 1922, two weeks after her 34th birthday.

Having suffered so much cruelty as a young girl and left home with little sense of self-worth, Maria Bertilla ultimately left a deep impression on those who knew her.

She was initially buried in Treviso but after crowds regularly gathered at her grave, it was decided to erect a tomb for her in Vicenza. A memorial plaque placed on her tomb described her as "a chosen soul of heroic goodness ... an angelic alleviator of human suffering in this place."

The tomb became a pilgrimage site where several miracles of healing were said to have taken place.

A number of churches in the area around Vicenza have been dedicated to Saint Maria Bertilla Boscardin, including one at Via Antonio Federico Ozanam in the west of the city and another in the village of Cagnano, about 40km (25 miles) south of Vicenza, which has a statute of her.

Travel tip:

The house of the Sister Teachers of Santa Dorothea, where Maria Bertilla Boscardin took vows, is located in Contrà San Domenico in Vicenza. It contains a chapel dedicated to her which was built in 1952, in view of her beatification. In the same year the urn containing the remains of the saint, originally buried in Treviso, were placed under the altar table.  In 2002 thanks to architect Paolo Portoghesi the altar - previously in burnished copper - was replaced with one in white marble and the urn containing the remains of the saint was placed in front of it.

Waterways lined with weeping willows are a common sight in Treviso
Waterways lined with weeping willows are a
common sight in Treviso
Travel tip:

For many visitors to Italy, Treviso is no more than the name of the airport at which they might land en route to Venice, yet it is an attractive city worth visiting in its own right, rebuilt and faithfully restored after the damage suffered in two world wars. Canals are a feature of the urban landscape – not on the scale of Venice but significant nonetheless – and the Sile river blesses the city with another stretch of attractive waterway, lined with weeping willows. The arcaded streets have an air of refinement and prosperity and there are plenty of restaurants, as well as bars serving prosecco from a number of vineyards. The prime growing area for prosecco grapes in Valdobbiadene is only 40km (25 miles) away to the northeast.

15 September 2017

The first free public school in Europe

Frascati sees groundbreaking development in education

José de Calasanz arrived in Rome from his native Aragon in 1592
José de Calasanz arrived in Rome from
his native Aragon in 1592
The first free public school in Europe opened its doors to children on this day in 1616 in Frascati, a town in Lazio just a few kilometres from Rome.

The school was founded by a Spanish Catholic priest, José de Calasanz, who was originally from Aragon but who moved to Rome in 1592 at the age of 35.

Calasanz had a passion for education and in particular made it his life’s work to set up schools for children who did not have the benefit of coming from wealthy families.

Previously, schools existed only for the children of noble families or for those studying for the priesthood. Calasanz established Pious Schools and a religious order responsible for running them, who became known as the Piarists.

Calasanz had been a priest for 10 years when he decided to go to Rome in the hope of furthering his ecclesiastical career.  He soon became involved with helping neglected and homeless children via the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine.

He would gather up poor children on the streets and take them to schools, only to find that the teachers, who were not well paid, would not accept them unless Calasanz provided them with extra money.

Calasanz, who was a well-educated man, responded by setting up the first Pious School in the centre of Rome in 1600, so that homeless, orphaned and neglected children had somewhere to go and could be provided with a basic education.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart owed his early education to a Pious School
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart owed his early
education to a Pious School
An annual contribution from Pope Clement VIII helped fund the project, which grew so quickly that it was not long before Calasanz was helping around 1,000 of Rome’s most deprived children.

He rented a house nears the church of Sant'Andrea della Valle in central Rome, where he founded the Order of the Pious Schools or Piarists. He wrote a document setting out the principles of his educational philosophy, with regulations for teachers and for students.

The Frascati school differed from others he had set up in that it was open to all children, not only those he rescued from poverty on the streets.  It was also open to children who were not orphaned or neglected, but who came from poor families and would not otherwise have had the chance to receive a formal education.

It is therefore recognised as the first free public primary school in Europe.

The Piarists spread the concept of free primary education and as well as setting up many more schools across Europe encouraged many states to follow their lead.

Francisco Goya, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Franz Schubert, Gregor Mendel and Victor Hugo all owed their early education to Piarist Schools.

The church of San Giuseppe Calasanzio in Milan
The church of San Giuseppe Calasanzio in Milan
Calasanz died in 1648 at the age of 90, his legacy tarnished, unfortunately, by clashes with powerful senior figures in the Catholic Church over his support for the heliocentric theories that landed Galileo Galilei in trouble, and also over the behaviour of some clerics involved in the Piarist Schools.  As a result, Calasanz was removed as senior general of the Order.

However, eight years after his death, Pope Alexander VII cleared his name and that of the Pious Schools.  In 1748 he was beatified by Pope Benedict XIV and canonised by Pope Clement XIII in 1767.

In 1948, Pope Pius XII declared Saint Joseph of Calasanz the patron of Christian popular schools.

A number of churches have been dedicated to Saint Joseph, including the modern Chiesa di San Giuseppe Calasanzio in via Don Carlo Gnocchi, in the San Siro district of Milan, which was designed by the architect Carlo Bevilacqua and completed in 1965.

The Villa Aldobrandi in Frascati
The Villa Aldobrandi in Frascati
Travel tip:

Situated just 21km (13 miles) from the centre of Rome, Frascati offers visitors to the region an alternative to staying in the capital that is more peaceful and relaxed.  One of the towns that make up the Castelli Romani, it is perched on a hill to the southeast of Rome, offering fine views across the city as well as cleaner air. It was popular with the wealthy from Roman times to the Renaissance, and remains a draw for Romans today, although thankfully with bars and restaurants to suit all pockets.  In its heyday there were many grand villas and it was unfortunate that the town’s strategic position made it a target for bombing during the Second World War, with many buildings destroyed. The Villa Aldobrandi, which overlooks one of the main piazzas, is one that remains, with extensive gardens open to the public.

The Basilica of Sant'Andrea della Valle
The Basilica of Sant'Andrea della Valle
Travel tip:

The Basilica of Sant’Andrea della Valle, situated in the heart of historic Rome where Corso del Rinascimento meets Corso Vittorio Emanuele II, is as famous for having been an important setting in the Puccini opera Tosca as it is for its baroque art and architecture. The first act is set inside the 17th-century baroque church, whose dome is the third largest in the city after the Pantheon and St. Peter's. Like the façade, the dome was designed by Carlo Maderno.  The humanist popes from Siena, Pius II and Pius III, are both buried inside.

18 July 2017

Gino Bartali - cycling star and secret war hero

Tour de France champion was clandestine courier

Gino Bartali on his way to victory in the 1938 Tour de France
Gino Bartali on his way to victory in the
1938 Tour de France
Gino Bartali, one of three Italian cyclists to have won the Tour de France twice and a three-times winner of the Giro d’Italia, was born on this day in 1914 in the town of Ponte a Ema, just outside Florence.

Bartali’s career straddled the Second World War, his two Tour successes coming in 1938 and 1948, but it is as much for what he did during the years of conflict that he is remembered today.

With the knowledge of only a few people, Bartali repeatedly risked his life smuggling false documents around Italy to help Italian Jews escape being deported to Nazi concentration camps.

He hid the rolled up documents inside the hollow handlebars and frame of his bicycle and explained his frequent long-distance excursions as part of the training schedule he needed to maintain in order to keep himself in peak physical fitness.

In fact, he was carrying documents from secret printing presses to people who needed them in cities as far apart as Florence, Lucca, Genoa, Assisi, and the Vatican in Rome.

Sometimes he would pull a cart that contained a secret compartment in order to smuggle Jewish refugees in person into Switzerland, explaining that hauling a heavy cart was also essential to his training routine.

Bartali resumed his career after the War, winning a second Tour
Bartali resumed his career after
the War, winning a second Tour
He even hid a Jewish family in the cellar of his house in Florence, in the full knowledge that were they to be discovered he would have almost certainly been arrested and sentenced to death.

Bartali, who died in 2000 at the age of 85, never spoke publicly about his secret role and revealed details only gradually to his family in later years. 

They concluded that the motivation for his actions lay in his devout Catholicism and his opposition to the policies being pursued by Benito Mussolini.

In a speech in September 1938, Pope Pius XI had proclaimed that anti-semitism was incompatible with Christianity, yet earlier in the year Mussolini had published his Manifesto on Race, which would lead to Italian Jews been stripped of citizenship, barred from public office and from working in any recognised profession.

When Bartali won the 1938 Tour de France, Mussolini hailed him as a national hero for having provided evidence through his sporting success that Italians too belonged in the ‘master race’ that Mussolini’s murderous ally Adolf Hitler aimed to create.

Bartali was horrified. Determined to distance himself from Mussolini, he refused the invitation to dedicate his triumph to Il Duce.

Mussolini was less than pleased but Bartali’s popularity with the Italian public, who had cheered him to victory in the Giro in 1936 and 1937, dissuaded him from any punitive action.  Bartali’s standing was also helpful on the occasions he was stopped and questioned about his long-distance ‘training’ exercises.

Bartali is said to have been born in rooms above a bar in Ponte a Emo
Bartali is said to have been born in rooms
above a bar in Ponte a Ema
He would allow himself to be interrogated but asked Fascist officials not to dismantle his bike because it was precisely calibrated for optimum performance and to disturb it would jeopardise his future success.

For the early part of the War, the Catholic Church’s position on anti-semitism meant that Italy remained a country in which Jews could take refuge, despite Mussolini’s malign intentions. 

It all changed, however, when Italy surrendered to the Allies in 1943. The German army occupied northern and central parts of the country, setting up a puppet republic with Mussolini in charge, and immediately started rounding up Italian Jews and sending them to concentration camps.

It was at this point that Bartali was asked by the Cardinal of Florence, Archbishop Elia Dalla Costa, to join a secret network offering protection and safe passage to Jews and other endangered people.  His talents were almost tailor-made for him to become a courier.

The work of this network and other organisations and individuals sympathetic to the plight of minorities meant that around 80 per cent Italian-born and refugee Jews living in Italy before World War Two survived.

After the War, Bartali resumed his cycling career and, remarkably, won his second Tour de France in 1948, matching the achievement of Ottavio Bottecchia, who won twice in the 1920s, and setting a standard that Bartali’s rival, Fausto Coppi, would attain when he won in 1949 and 1952.

Bartali's 1948 Tour de France bike on display in the  museum at the church of Madonna del Ghisallo
Bartali's 1948 Tour de France bike on display in the
museum at the church of Madonna del Ghisallo
Again, it was a victory with political significance.  Coinciding with the unrest in Italy in the summer of 1948, when a power struggle was under way between the United States-backed centre-right Christian Democrats and the Italian Communists, Bartali’s victory came at a critical moment for the country, when the attempted assassination of the Communist leader Palmiro Togliatti threatened to push Italy into civil war.

It meant that newspaper headlines were suddenly dominated by the fairytale story of Bartali, who had won the Tour at the age of 24 in 1938 and was winning again at the age of 34.  Commentators believe the distraction changed the mood of the country just enough for tensions to dissipate.

Bartali, who quit racing at the age of 40 after suffering injuries in an accident, had been born into a strictly religious family in Tuscany and his nickname on the circuit was ‘Gino the Pious’.

He was posthumously awarded with the honour Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial and education centre in Jerusalem.

Travel tip:

Bartali’s former home at Via Chiantigiana 177 in Ponte a Ema is now the home of a museum dedicated to his life and success on two wheels.  All Bartali’s medals and trophies are on display in the museum. There is also a room with items relating to many other cyclists and a collection of bicycles from the end of the 19th century to the middle of the 20th century.  The museum is open from Wednesday until Saturday from 9.30am, remaining open until 7pm on Thursday and Friday.

The church of the Madonna del Ghisallo
The church of the Madonna del Ghisallo
Travel tip:

The bike on which Gino Bartali won the 1948 Tour de France can be seen at a fascinating museum within a church on top of a hill overlooking Lake Como in Lombardy. The church of the Madonna del Ghisallo is said to have been commissioned in the 11th century by a local count – Ghisallo – on the spot where he claimed an apparition of the Virgin Mary saved him from an attack by bandits. Soon, the Madonna was adopted as the patroness of local travellers. When, many centuries later, the hill - which offers spectacular views as well as demanding conditions for those on two wheels - became part of the Giro di Lombardia cycle race and, on occasions, the Giro d’Italia, a local priest proposed that the Madonna del Ghisallo be declared the patroness of cyclists and Pope Pius XII duly obliged. This prompted competitive cyclists to donate all manner of memorabilia, including bikes and jerseys, building a collection so large that the church ran out of space to display everything and an overflow building had to be constructed in the grounds. As well as his bike, outside the church there is a bust of Bartali, alongside busts of Fausto Coppi and the five-times Giro d’Italia winner Alfredo Binda.

15 July 2017

Frances Xavier Cabrini – the first American saint

Missionary who was directed to the US by the Pope

Saint Frances was encouraged by the Pope to go to the United States to help Italian immigrants
Saint Frances was encouraged by the Pope to go
to the United States to help Italian immigrants
Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini, who founded a religious institute to provide support for impoverished Italian immigrants in the United States, was born on this day in 1850 in Sant’Angelo Lodigiano, in Lombardy.

Frances did such good in her life that she become the first naturalised citizen of the United States to be canonised in 1946.

She had been born into a family of cherry tree farmers, the youngest of 13 children. She was two months premature and remained in delicate health all her life.

After her parents died she applied for admission to the Daughters of the Sacred Heart but was told she was too frail for the life.

She became the headmistress of an orphanage in Codogno, about 30km (19 miles) from her home town, where she drew in other women to live a religious life with her.

She took religious vows in 1877, adding Xavier to her name to honour Francis Xavier, the patron saint of missionary service.

Along with some of the other women who had taken religious vows, she founded the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

Frances went to seek Pope Leo X’s approval to establish missions in China but he suggested she went to the United States instead, to help the many Italian immigrants who were living in poverty.

The Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus began to organise themselves soon after Frances arrived in New York
The Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus began
to organise themselves soon after Frances arrived in New York
She arrived in New York in 1889 along with six other sisters and despite encountering difficulties she founded an orphanage there, which is now known as Saint Cabrini Home.

She also founded Columbus Hospital and Italian Hospital, which were merged into the Cabrini Medical Center in the 1980s.

In Chicago, she opened Columbus Extension Hospital in the heart of the city’s Italian community. Her name lives on today in Chicago’s Cabrini Street.

In total she founded 67 institutions in the United States, South America and Europe and became a naturalised US citizen in 1909.

Frances died at the age of 67 at Columbus Hospital in Chicago in 1917 and was interred at Saint Cabrini Home in New York.

But her body was exhumed in 1931 as part of the canonisation process. Her head is now preserved in the chapel of the congregation’s international motherhouse in Rome.

An arm is at a shrine in Chicago and most of her body is at a shrine in New York.

Frances was beatified in 1938 by Pope Pius XI and canonised in 1946 by Pope Pius XII.

Her beatification miracle involved restoring the sight and healing the disfigurements of a one-day-old baby. The same baby attended her canonisation ceremony years later and went on to become a priest.

Her canonisation miracle involved the healing of a terminally ill member of her congregation.

Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini is now the patron saint of immigrants and there are shrines, churches and educational establishments dedicated to Saint Frances all over the United States.

The Piazza della Vittoria in Lodi
The Piazza della Vittoria in Lodi
Travel tip:

Sant’Angelo Lodigiano, where Saint Frances was born, is a town in Lombardy in the province of Lodi. It is about 30 kilometres south east of Milan and about 12 kilometres south west of Lodi. Piazza della Vittoria, the main square in Lodi, features porticoes on all four sides and has been listed by the Italian Touring Club among the most beautiful squares in Italy.

Milan's Stazione Centrale was given the name Stazione Francesca Cabrini in 2010
Milan's Stazione Centrale was given the name Stazione
Francesca Cabrini in 2010
Travel tip:

Milan’s Central Station was renamed Stazione Francesca Cabrini in 2010 in memory of the patron saint of immigrants. The Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, explained at the time that ‘stations where people pass through who are far from home, often alone and therefore extremely fragile and exposed to dangers, are difficult places, and above all, are points of arrival and departure for migratory groups.’ Milano Centrale is one of the main railway stations in Europe. Its cornerstone was laid by King Victor Emmanuel III in Piazza Duca d’Aosta in 1906. The architect, Ulisse Stacchini, won the contest to design the station in 1912.

18 November 2015

St Peter’s Basilica Rome

Artists helped design magnificent church

The stunning Renaissance Basilica of St Peter in Rome was completed and consecrated on this day in 1626.

The Basilica of St Peter was consecrated on 18 November 1626
The Basilica of St Peter in Rome
Photo by Jean-Paul Grandmont/CC-BY SA
Believed to be the largest church in the world, Basilica Papale di San Pietro in Vaticano was built to replace the original fourth century Basilica that had been constructed on what was believed to be the burial site of St Peter.

Bramante, Michelangelo and Bernini were among the many artistic geniuses who contributed to the design of the church, which is considered to be a masterpiece of Renaissance architecture.

Located within Vatican City, the Basilica is approached along Via della Conciliazione and through the vast space of St Peter’s Square.

The magnificent central dome of the Basilica dominates the skyline of Rome and the balcony above the entrance, where the Pope makes appearances, is instantly recognisable because of the many times it has been shown on television.

It is believed that St Peter, one of the disciples of Jesus, was executed in Rome on 13 October, 64 AD during the reign of the Emperor Nero. He was buried close to the place of his martyrdom.

The old St Peter’s Basilica was constructed over the burial site 300 years later.
Archaeological research under the present day Basilica was carried out during the last century and Pope Pius XII announced the discovery of St Peter’s tomb in 1950.

Travel tip:

St Peter’s Square, Piazza San Pietro, was designed by Bernini to provide a large space where the faithful, from all over the world, could gather together. It is filled to capacity by pilgrims and visitors on Easter Sunday, Christmas Day and other important religious occasions when the Pope appears to address the crowd. These events are televised and watched by viewers all over the world.
La Pietà is a highlight of any visit to St Peter's Basilica in Rome
Michelangelo's sculpture La Pietà
Photo by Stanislav Traykov/CC BY 2.5

Travel tip:

Inside the Basilica, look out for Michelangelo’s beautiful Pietà, a marble sculpture of the Virgin Mary with the dead body of Jesus lying across her knees.  It is now kept behind bulletproof glass following its restoration after an attack badly damaged it. Michelangelo carved this sculpture from a single piece of Carrara marble in 1499 when he was only 24 and it is the only work he ever signed.