Vatican Chapels: ten big names for the architecture of the Holy See.

Vatican Chapels, la cappella progettata da Norman Foster


For the first time ever the Holy See, which represents the Catholic Church in all its universality, is taking part in the Venice Architecture Biennale, and it is doing so by arriving on one of the lagoon’s most fascinating islands, namely San Giorgio, and entering this bucolic oasis not by means of graphic representations or models but with a genuine sequence of chapels. In Christian worship these are real places of worship albeit in a minor form when compared to cathedrals, basilicas and churches. They include two fundamental components of the liturgy, the ambo (or pulpit) and the altar, that is, the expressions of the sacred Word proclaimed and of the Eucharistic supper celebrated by the assembled believers.

The number of chapels is also symbolic because it expresses virtually a decalogue of presences embedded within the space: they are similar to voices expressed as architecture that resonate with their spiritual harmony in the context of everyday life. The Holy See has appointed ten major architectural firms coordinated by Francesco Dal Co. Francesco Cellini for Italy, Norman Foster for Great Britain, Terunobu Fujimori for Japan and Javier Corvalan Espinola for Paraguay. A visit to the ten Vatican Chapels is a kind of not just religious but also secular pilgrimage, to be taken by all those who wish to rediscover beauty, silence, the inner and transcendent voice and the human fraternity of being together in the assembly of a group of people but also the solitude of the woods where one can feel the thrill of nature acting as a cosmic temple.

The decision of the Vatican to enter the world of architecture “is the result of a long journey” clarifies Monsignor Gianfranco Ravasi, president of the Pontifical Council for Culture and Commissioner of the Pavilion. “The end of the nineteenth century saw the ratification of the divorce between art and faith that had previously gone hand in hand for centuries.

Even in recent times this fracture has resulted in “modest sacred buildings, devoid of spirituality and beauty”. The aim therefore is to reconnect a thread in order “to encourage a new encounter.”
Art and faith together again, two worlds that in the past centuries were almost overlapping and which had instead become reciprocally estranged. This is clearly an arduous and complex path that still feeds on mutual suspicions and hesitations and even fears of potential degeneration.


Padiglione Asplund- Francesco Magnani e Traudy Pelzel


Andrew D. Berman’s Vatican Chapel


Cellini Chapel Biennale / ph. Alessandra Chemollo