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Receipt for key reveals Michelangelo lived in basilica

Published February 18, 2007


VATICAN CITY - A 450-year-old receipt has provided proof that Michelangelo kept a private room in St. Peter's Basilica while working as the pope's chief architect, Vatican experts said.

While going through the basilica archives for an exhibit on the 500th anniversary of the church last year, researchers came across an entry for a key to a chest "in the room in St. Peter's where Master Michelangelo retires."

The Renaissance painter and sculptor whose frescoes adorn the ceiling of the Sistine chapel in the Vatican was put in charge of the restoration of St. Peter's basilica by Pope Paul III at age 71 in 1546, a job he held until his death in 1564.

Michelangelo's greatest contribution to the basilica was his design for the central dome or cupola, a universally acknowledged architectural triumph.

"We now know that Michelangelo definitely had a private space in the basilica," said Maria Cristina Carlo-Stella, who runs the Fabbrica di San Pietro, the office where the basilica's archives are kept. "The next step is to identify it."

The ink-scripted entry for the key was contained in a parchment-covered volume listing the expenditures of the Fabbrica for the years 1556-1558. It refers to the payment of 10 scudos to the blacksmith who forged the key, but offers no details about the chest or the location of the room.

The basilica - 610 feet long and 449 feet at its widest - took 120 years to build over a previous Roman basilica, constructed by the emperor Constantine. The first stone was placed by Pope Julius II in 1506 and Pope Urban VIII consecrated it in 1626.

At least 10 architects succeeded each other as directors of the construction, among them Donato Bramante, who drew up the initial project, and Michelangelo.

Michelangelo had requested a very expensive key. According to archivist Simona Turriziani, 10 scudos in the 1550s was more than the monthly salary of many of the artisans working on the basilica.

[Last modified February 18, 2007, 00:59:24]

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