Thursday, February 15, 2018

Good News for the Rebuilding of the Basilica in Norcia

Several Italian newspapers and agencies reported yesterday that, after many months of debate and discussion, the Italian government has signed off on some of the official arrangements necessary to rebuild the Basilica of St Benedict in Norcia, which was severely damaged by earthquakes in August and October of 2016, and January of 2017. (See e.g. this article in La Stampa.) The Ministry for Cultural Properties (Ministero per i Beni Culturali, or MiBACT) will still have to issue any number of decrees and documents relative to the project, so there will still be a long while to wait; an international competetion will then be held for the design.

Particularly encouraging is the fact that Dr. Antonio Paolucci will be at the head of the commission that will judge the design proposals. Dr Paolucci has previously served in the Italian government as Minister of Culture; he has also been the director of the entity that runs the public museums of Florence (the Uffizi, Palazzo Pitti etc.), and more recently of the Vatican Museums, a position from which he retired at the end of 2016. After the Basilica of St Francis of Assisi was damaged by an earthquake in 1997, (much less severely than that of St Benedict), he was an Extraordinary Commissioner for the lengthy and complicated restoration project, which had to gather up and put back in their places literally thousands of fragments of fresco that had fallen off the church’s ceiling.

As we noted in an article in June of 2013, Dr Paolucci has been an outspoken critic of the fashionable trends in modern church building, “clever” designs of the kind that win awards, but have nothing to do with any idea of a sacred space. (This trend is painfully evident in the newer suburbs of the major Italian cities.) In an interview with the newspaper La Repubblica, he spoke of them as buildings that “look like warehouses. ... (s)paces that do not invite (us) to meditation, devoid of the sense of the sacred, without a breath of mystery or religion.” It was precisely such a modern, design-award winning airplane hangar that the bishop of Norcia and Spoleto apparently wished to build in place of the collapsed medieval basilica, to the extreme consternation of the locals. Given his past statements, we may reasonably hope that Prof. Paolucci will be able to head off any further proposals in that direction.

The exterior of the Basilica of St Benedict before the earthquakes, from this article by Peter Kwasniewski, “In Memoriam: The Basilica of Norcia.”

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