Vandalism risks turning St. Peter’s Basilica into a museum

Two acts of vandalism inside St. Peter’s Basilica last week have prompted questions about increasing protection and security.

Guides who regularly take pilgrims and tourists to pray and to see the Basilica’s priceless art and artifacts are resisting tightening security, saying suggestions of glass barriers risk compromising the sacred nature of the space.

It is a church, they point out.

In one recent incident a man described as “unstable” was reportedly arrested by Vatican police after tossing a candelabra off the main altar in St Peter’s.

Two days later, a similar event took place.

British tour guide Agnes Crawford said she was standing near the entrance of the basilica when she heard banging from the main altar.

“This guy climbed onto the altar and started smashing the crucifix and the candle sticks,” she said.

While many people immediately began running toward the scene, she advised her group to stay back until the situation was resolved.

“What struck me as quite bizarre was that quite a lot of people, before realizing what was happening, were rushing to take photographs.

“If I see a guy who’s clearly losing his mind, the last thing I want to do is get closer,” she said.

Crawford said he was shouting something “incomprehensible,” but was otherwise calm and did not resist when security officials came to take him away.

“It’s surprising that things like this don’t happen more often, because there’s something about big churches which does attract quite strange people.”

Nonetheless, Crawford is not in favour of tougher restrictions.

“If you think in the grand scheme of things, these sorts of things happen very, very rarely,” she said.

“I think that places being accessible is very good.”

“If every time somebody tries to do something, you put up fences and walls and glass barriers, then everything becomes hermetically sealed, when the vast majority of people are perfectly reasonable,” she said.

St. Peter’s, which welcomes millions of visitors a year, “is primarily a church, it’s not primarily a museum, and it would be rather sad if everything becomes sanitized,”.

More vigilance is needed, not blockades or restrictions, she said.

Other regular Vatican guides are similarly concerned that sacred artifacts would be seen only behind a wall of glass.

This is the case with the Pieta, which has been glass-encased since an incident in 1972 when a deranged man attacked the sculpture with a hammer.


Image: Crux Now


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