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VATICAN TRUMPETS RESTORATION OF UNDERGROUND ROMAN NECROPOLIS

By Culturekiosque Staff

VATICAN CITY, 1 JUNE 2008 — During a press conference held earlier this week, Cardinal Angelo Comastri, archpriest of the papal basilica of St. Peter's in the Vatican, presented the results of the recently-completed restoration of the Valerii Mausoleum, one of the 22 family tombs of the Roman necropolis located underneath the central nave of the Vatican Basilica.

Built by a Roman slave who bought his freedom and later acquired considerable wealth, the mausoleum, which dates to the 2nd century AD during the reign of Emperor Marcus Aurielius, is famous for its stucco decorations that document the history of the Caius Valerius Herma family, notably that of the children and their early deaths. The mausoleum is located in the middle of the route through the old necropolis that leads to the tomb of St. Peter, the first Pope. The stucco work was in need of restoration because it had been damaged both by the instability of the microclimate in the necropolis and by earlier restoration using inappropriate materials.

The ten-month operation was undertaken by a team of experts specializing in underground restorations, and was carried out using scalpels, mini drills and, for the most delicate areas, laser equipment. Furthermore, by studying stucco fragments conserved in the storerooms of the Fabric of St. Peter's, it was also possible to reconstitute three hermae.

Finally, the monument was enclosed behind glass, so it may be viewed without affecting the delicate balance of the internal microclimate, which is constantly monitored by a high-precision computerized system. New illumination, using fibre optic cables, makes it possible to admire the colored surfaces, frescoed to imitate polychrome marble, and the white stucco decorations, modelled to replicate marble statues of the Roman gods of the Valerii family.

According to the Catholic News Service, the $300,000 restoration was paid for by the Fondazione pro Musica e Arte Sacra (Foundation for Music and Sacred Art), Mercedes-Benz Italy and other sponsors.

Present at the press conference alongside Cardinal Comastri were Bishop Vittorio Lanzani, delegate of the Fabbrica di San Pietro (which maintains the papal basilica of St. Peter's); Maria Cristina Carlo Stella, bureau chief of the Fabbrica; Pietro Zander, head of conservation for the Vatican Necropolis; Adele Cecchini, restorer; and Hans-Albert Courtial, president of the Fondazione pro Musica e Arte Sacra. The Fabbrica Committee's restoration of the underground Vatican cemetery includes the mausoleums of the Valerii, Matucci and Egizi families.

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