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Scaffolding is erected around the baldachin over the main altar in St Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican, February 21 (CNS/Robert Duncan)

Scaffolding is going up around the 30-metre-tall baldachin over the main altar in St Peter’s Basilica to allow restorers to start cleaning, repairing and revitalising this masterpiece ahead of the Church’s Jubilee Year in 2025. Source: CNS.

The baldachin is due to be completely covered by metal scaffolding before Easter to allow a team of 10 to 12 restorers to start work on the masterpiece designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini in 1624 and completed around 1633.

The biggest problem facing the restorers “is getting there, that is, to be close enough” to the bronze and wood structures and many decorative details that need to be restored, Alberto Capitanucci said.

Mr Capitanucci, the head engineer of the Fabbrica di San Pietro – the office responsible for upkeep of the basilica – said the baldachin is a monumental architectural structure that is as high as a 10-story building.

But it is mostly empty space with its four fluted spiral bronze columns, each set upon a massive marble pedestal alongside the marble steps leading to the main altar over the tomb of St Peter. The most delicate part of the structure is the canopy above, he said, which is made entirely of wood.

The term “baldachin” or “baudekin” comes from a special brocade fabric made in Baghdad and traditionally used for processional canopies. 

Mr Capitanucci said they used drones to take over 6000 photographs of the hard-to-reach canopy and its inner ceiling featuring the dove of the Holy Spirit surrounded by golden fire. The up-close images will help them plan how to proceed with the restoration, he said.

Once the scaffolding is completely up, the wooden box now protecting the main altar will be removed so the altar can still be used for papal ceremonies for the rest of the year. The entire restoration should be completed by the end of December for the start of the Holy Year. 


Bernini’s baldachin masterpiece disappears from public view until Holy Year (By Carol Glatz, CNS via USCCB)