ALL NEWS

AP PHOTOS: Sistine Chapel key-keeper opens up after lockdown

Feb 8, 2021, 6:11 AM
Gianni Crea, the Vatican Museums chief "Clavigero" key-keeper, holds a bunch of keys as he walks do...
Gianni Crea, the Vatican Museums chief "Clavigero" key-keeper, holds a bunch of keys as he walks down the "Maps Aisle" to open the museum's rooms and sections, at the Vatican, Monday, Feb. 1, 2021. Crea is the “clavigero” of the Vatican Museums, the chief key-keeper whose job begins each morning at 5 a.m., opening the doors and turning on the lights through 7 kilometers of one of the world's greatest collections of art and antiquities. The Associated Press followed Crea on his rounds the first day the museum reopened to the public, joining him in the underground “bunker” where the 2,797 keys to the Vatican treasures are kept in wall safes overnight. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)
(AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)

VATICAN CITY (AP) — The Sistine Chapel reopened to public view last week for the first time since its November coronavirus closure, but for Gianni Crea, the doors to Michelangelo’s magnificent frescoes were never really closed.

Crea is the “clavigero” of the Vatican Museums, the chief key-keeper whose job begins each morning at 5 a.m., opening the doors and turning on the lights through 7 kilometers (4 1/2 miles) of one of the world’s greatest collections of art and antiquities.

The Associated Press followed Crea on his rounds the first day the museum reopened to the public, joining him before dawn in the downstairs “bunker” where the 2,797 keys to the Vatican treasures are kept in wall safes overnight. As the keys dangled and jangled from giant keyrings he wears around his wrist, Crea wound his way through the Gallery of Maps, past the famed marble “Laocoön and His Sons” statue and finally to the Sistine Chapel.

There, at a tiny wooden doorway, Crea drew out a white envelope from his suit pocket, ripped it open and pulled out a small silvery-brass key.

Using a small flashlight to guide his way, he slipped the key into the keyhole, turned it gently and creaked open the door to reveal the still-darkened chapel where popes are made during the secret ceremonies that draw their very name — “conclave” — from the crucial role that keys play in them. Cardinals are essentially locked away “with a key” in the Sistine Chapel and the nearby Vatican hotel for the duration of the solemn vote to elect a new pope.

As a result, the Sistine Chapel key is of particular importance and is handled with its own protocol: After the room is shuttered for the day when the last visitor leaves, the key is put back in a new white envelope, sealed, stamped and replaced in the bunker wall safe, with its comings and goings duly noted in a thick registry book.

Crea recalls fondly the day that, three years into his now-23 years of service, he was finally allowed to open the door to the Sistine Chapel alone. The privilege in the two decades since has given him a chance to visit Michelangelo’s “Last Temptation” and scenes of the New Testament and Old all alone, in the empty quiet of dawn.

“All the statues, all the rooms have a unique history, but naturally the Sistine Chapel always gives you a particularly emotion,” Crea said.

Even though the public was shut out of the Vatican Museums for 88 days, Crea and his team of 10 key-keepers kept up their routine of opening and closing doors, since the exhibition rooms had to be cleaned, dusted and maintained by a small army of museum workers. Restorers took the opportunity to do maintenance work that would otherwise be impossible when the nearly 7 million annual visitors pass through the museums during a normal year.

But 2020 was anything but normal. Only around 1.3 million visitors came, arranging visits around Italy’s two COVID-19 lockdowns. Now, to maintain social-distancing protocols, up to 400 people can be admitted every 30 minutes, with timed tickets purchased in advance online.

Crea, who confesses that he sometimes misplaces his own house keys, will make sure the doors are open for them.

“It is a unique emotion, an incredible privilege for me and my colleagues to have the possibility of showing these extraordinary art works, that are part of our history, to visitors from all over the world,” he said.

 

Gianni Crea, the Vatican Museums chief "Clavigero" key-keeper, shows the 19th century key of the Sistine Chapel, on his way to open the museum's rooms and sections, at the Vatican, Monday, Feb. 1, 2021. Crea is the “clavigero” of the Vatican Museums, the chief key-keeper whose job begins each morning at 5 a.m., opening the doors and turning on the lights through 7 kilometers of one of the world's greatest collections of art and antiquities. The Associated Press followed Crea on his rounds the first day the museum reopened to the public, joining him in the underground “bunker” where the 2,797 keys to the Vatican treasures are kept in wall safes overnight. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini) Gianni Crea, the Vatican Museums chief "Clavigero" key-keeper, holds a bunch of keys as he walks to open the museum's rooms and sections, at the Vatican, Monday, Feb. 1, 2021. Crea is the “clavigero” of the Vatican Museums, the chief key-keeper whose job begins each morning at 5 a.m., opening the doors and turning on the lights through 7 kilometers of one of the world's greatest collections of art and antiquities. The Associated Press followed Crea on his rounds the first day the museum reopened to the public, joining him in the underground “bunker” where the 2,797 keys to the Vatican treasures are kept in wall safes overnight. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini) Gianni Crea, the Vatican Museums chief "Clavigero" key-keeper, sorts out keys as he prepares to open the museum, at the Vatican, Monday, Feb. 1, 2021. Crea is the “clavigero” of the Vatican Museums, the chief key-keeper whose job begins each morning at 5 a.m., opening the doors and turning on the lights through 7 kilometers of one of the world's greatest collections of art and antiquities. The Associated Press followed Crea on his rounds the first day the museum reopened to the public, joining him in the underground “bunker” where the 2,797 keys to the Vatican treasures are kept in wall safes overnight. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini) Gianni Crea, the Vatican Museums chief "Clavigero" key-keeper, opens a gate that leads to one of the museum's sections, at the Vatican, Monday, Feb. 1, 2021. Crea is the “clavigero” of the Vatican Museums, the chief key-keeper whose job begins each morning at 5 a.m., opening the doors and turning on the lights through 7 kilometers of one of the world's greatest collections of art and antiquities. The Associated Press followed Crea on his rounds the first day the museum reopened to the public, joining him in the underground “bunker” where the 2,797 keys to the Vatican treasures are kept in wall safes overnight. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini) Gianni Crea, the Vatican Museums chief "Clavigero" key-keeper, holds a torch and a bunch of keys as he walks to open the museum's rooms and sections, at the Vatican, Monday, Feb. 1, 2021. Crea is the “clavigero” of the Vatican Museums, the chief key-keeper whose job begins each morning at 5 a.m., opening the doors and turning on the lights through 7 kilometers of one of the world's greatest collections of art and antiquities. The Associated Press followed Crea on his rounds the first day the museum reopened to the public, joining him in the underground “bunker” where the 2,797 keys to the Vatican treasures are kept in wall safes overnight. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini) Gianni Crea, the Vatican Museums chief "Clavigero" key-keeper, opens the door of the 16th century "Pio Clementino" section, the museum's oldest one, at the Vatican, Monday, Feb. 1, 2021. Crea is the “clavigero” of the Vatican Museums, the chief key-keeper whose job begins each morning at 5 a.m., opening the doors and turning on the lights through 7 kilometers of one of the world's greatest collections of art and antiquities. The Associated Press followed Crea on his rounds the first day the museum reopened to the public, joining him in the underground “bunker” where the 2,797 keys to the Vatican treasures are kept in wall safes overnight. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini) Gianni Crea, the Vatican Museums chief "Clavigero" key- keeper, shows the sealed envelope where the 19th century key of the Sistine Chapel is kept, in the a safe where the museum's keys are kept, as he prepares to open it, at the Vatican, Monday, Feb. 1, 2021. Crea is the “clavigero” of the Vatican Museums, the chief key-keeper whose job begins each morning at 5 a.m., opening the doors and turning on the lights through 7 kilometers of one of the world's greatest collections of art and antiquities. The Associated Press followed Crea on his rounds the first day the museum reopened to the public, joining him in the underground “bunker” where the 2,797 keys to the Vatican treasures are kept in wall safes overnight. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini) Gianni Crea, the Vatican Museums chief "Clavigero" key-keeper, opens the sealed envelope containing the 19th century key of the Sistine Chapel, at the Vatican, Monday, Feb. 1, 2021. Crea is the “clavigero” of the Vatican Museums, the chief key-keeper whose job begins each morning at 5 a.m., opening the doors and turning on the lights through 7 kilometers of one of the world's greatest collections of art and antiquities. The Associated Press followed Crea on his rounds the first day the museum reopened to the public, joining him in the underground “bunker” where the 2,797 keys to the Vatican treasures are kept in wall safes overnight. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini) Gianni Crea, the Vatican Museums chief "Clavigero" key-keeper, uses a torch to illuminate the Sistine Chapel prior to switching on the lights as he opens it, at the Vatican, Monday, Feb. 1, 2021. Crea is the “clavigero” of the Vatican Museums, the chief key-keeper whose job begins each morning at 5 a.m., opening the doors and turning on the lights through 7 kilometers of one of the world's greatest collections of art and antiquities. The Associated Press followed Crea on his rounds the first day the museum reopened to the public, joining him in the underground “bunker” where the 2,797 keys to the Vatican treasures are kept in wall safes overnight. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini) Gianni Crea, the Vatican Museums chief "Clavigero" key-keeper, walks through the Sixtine Chapel as he opens the museum, at the Vatican, Monday, Feb. 1, 2021. Crea is the “clavigero” of the Vatican Museums, the chief key-keeper whose job begins each morning at 5 a.m., opening the doors and turning on the lights through 7 kilometers of one of the world's greatest collections of art and antiquities. The Associated Press followed Crea on his rounds the first day the museum reopened to the public, joining him in the underground “bunker” where the 2,797 keys to the Vatican treasures are kept in wall safes overnight. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini) Gianni Crea, the Vatican Museums chief "Clavigero" key-keeper, holds a bunch of keys as he walks down the "Maps Aisle" to open the museum's rooms and sections, at the Vatican, Monday, Feb. 1, 2021. Crea is the “clavigero” of the Vatican Museums, the chief key-keeper whose job begins each morning at 5 a.m., opening the doors and turning on the lights through 7 kilometers of one of the world's greatest collections of art and antiquities. The Associated Press followed Crea on his rounds the first day the museum reopened to the public, joining him in the underground “bunker” where the 2,797 keys to the Vatican treasures are kept in wall safes overnight. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini) Gianni Crea, the Vatican Museums chief "Clavigero" key-keeper, illuminates the Laocoon statue, a masterpiece of the sculptors of Rhodes dated around 40-30 B.C., on his way to open the museum's rooms and sections, at the Vatican, Monday, Feb. 1, 2021. Crea is the “clavigero” of the Vatican Museums, the chief key-keeper whose job begins each morning at 5 a.m., opening the doors and turning on the lights through 7 kilometers of one of the world's greatest collections of art and antiquities. The Associated Press followed Crea on his rounds the first day the museum reopened to the public, joining him in the underground “bunker” where the 2,797 keys to the Vatican treasures are kept in wall safes overnight. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini) Gianni Crea, the Vatican Museums chief "Clavigero" key-keeper, poses for a photo on the "Nicchione" terrace on his way to open the museum's rooms and sections, the Vatican, Monday, Feb. 1, 2021. Crea is the “clavigero” of the Vatican Museums, the chief key-keeper whose job begins each morning at 5 a.m., opening the doors and turning on the lights through 7 kilometers of one of the world's greatest collections of art and antiquities. The Associated Press followed Crea on his rounds the first day the museum reopened to the public, joining him in the underground “bunker” where the 2,797 keys to the Vatican treasures are kept in wall safes overnight. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini) Gianni Crea, the Vatican Museums chief "Clavigero" key-keeper, walks past the Laocoon statue, a masterpiece of the sculptors of Rhodes dated around 40-30 B.C., on his way to open the museum's rooms and sections, at the Vatican, Monday, Feb. 1, 2021. Crea is the “clavigero” of the Vatican Museums, the chief key-keeper whose job begins each morning at 5 a.m., opening the doors and turning on the lights through 7 kilometers of one of the world's greatest collections of art and antiquities. The Associated Press followed Crea on his rounds the first day the museum reopened to the public, joining him in the underground “bunker” where the 2,797 keys to the Vatican treasures are kept in wall safes overnight. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini) Gianni Crea, the Vatican Museums chief "Clavigero" key-keeper, walks through the octagonal courtyard on his way to open the museum's rooms and sections, the Vatican, Monday, Feb. 1, 2021. Crea is the “clavigero” of the Vatican Museums, the chief key-keeper whose job begins each morning at 5 a.m., opening the doors and turning on the lights through 7 kilometers of one of the world's greatest collections of art and antiquities. The Associated Press followed Crea on his rounds the first day the museum reopened to the public, joining him in the underground “bunker” where the 2,797 keys to the Vatican treasures are kept in wall safes overnight. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini) Gianni Crea, the Vatican Museums chief "Clavigero" key- keeper, walks down an aisle on his way to open the museum's rooms and sections, the Vatican, Monday, Feb. 1, 2021. Crea is the “clavigero” of the Vatican Museums, the chief key-keeper whose job begins each morning at 5 a.m., opening the doors and turning on the lights through 7 kilometers of one of the world's greatest collections of art and antiquities. The Associated Press followed Crea on his rounds the first day the museum reopened to the public, joining him in the underground “bunker” where the 2,797 keys to the Vatican treasures are kept in wall safes overnight. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)

___

Nicole Winfield contributed.

Today’s Top Stories

All News

After six years leading USU, and an overall 32 year career with the school, President Noelle E. Coc...
Simone Seikaly

USU President Noelle E. Cockett will step down

USU President Noelle E. Cockett has been part of the college's community for 32 years.
2 months ago
A national survey finds Utah the third safest state when it comes to drunk driving fatalities....
Simone Seikaly

Utah one of the leading states for low levels of drunk driving

SALT LAKE CITY — Forbes Advisor has ranked American states to determine which have the highest number of drunk drivers involved in fatal crashes. Their results put Utah third in the nation for the lowest rate of drunk driving. The District of Columbia and New Jersey each ranked higher than Utah when considering this data. […]
2 months ago
free transit rides...
Elizabeth Weiler

Free public transit rides come to Heber Valley

HEBER CITY, Utah — In the summer of 2022, Wasatch County Council approved a sales tax which is now providing funding for free public transit rides throughout Heber Valley.  Wasatch County and High Valley Transit entered a three-year, $3 million agreement to offer public bus transit services between Wasatch and Summit Counties, along with micro-transit […]
2 months ago
carbon monoxide poisoning...
Ali Litzinger

Carbon monoxide poisoning on the rise in winter months

SALT LAKE CITY — Winter is approaching and officials want people to know the signs of carbon monoxide poisoning. Last year, nearly 200 Utahns were treated for carbon monoxide poisoning.  The flame in a gas appliance should generally be blue, with some orange. If the flame is mostly yellow, it’s giving off excess carbon monoxide.  […]
2 months ago
nichole olsen was shot and killed outside a nightclub in dowtown salt lake city over the weekend....
Elizabeth Weiler

Man arrested for murder in weekend shooting outside nightclub in Salt Lake

SALT LAKE CITY — A Southern Utah man has been arrested and booked into jail in connection with the shooting death of a Salt Lake City woman over the weekend. Nichole Olsen, 29, was shot and killed outside a nightclub near 300 S. West Temple in Salt Lake City around 2 a.m. Sunday. Police have […]
2 months ago
A “for sale” sign is displayed outside of a house in Layton. 
Photo: Shafkat Anowar, Deseret Ne...
Adam Small

Salt Lake seeing highest drop in home sales, national report finds

Utah's home sales are dropping fast according to a new national report. Prices have dropped by 48% in the last 12 months.
2 months ago

Sponsored Articles

Happy joyful smiling casual satisfied woman learning and communicates in sign language online using...
Sorenson

The best tools for Deaf and hard-of-hearing workplace success

Here are some of the best resources to make your workplace work better for Deaf and hard-of-hearing employees.
Team supporters celebrating at a tailgate party...
Macey's

8 Delicious Tailgate Foods That Require Zero Prep Work

In a hurry? These 8 tailgate foods take zero prep work, so you can fuel up and get back to what matters most: getting hyped for your favorite
christmas decorations candles in glass jars with fir on a old wooden table...
Western Nut Company

12 Mason Jar Gift Ideas for the 12 Days of Christmas [with recipes!]

There are so many clever mason jar gift ideas to give something thoughtful to your neighbors or friends. Read our 12 ideas to make your own!
wide shot of Bear Lake with a person on a stand up paddle board...

Pack your bags! Extended stays at Bear Lake await you

Work from here! Read our tips to prepare for your extended stay, whether at Bear Lake or somewhere else nearby.
young boy with hearing aid...
Sorenson

Accommodations for students who are deaf and hard of hearing

These different types of accommodations for students who are deaf and hard of hearing can help them succeed in school.
Young woman receiving laser treatment...
Form Derm Spa

How facial plastic surgery and skincare are joining forces

Facial plastic surgery is not only about looking good but about feeling good too. The medical team at Form Spa are trained to help you reach your aesthetic outcomes through surgery and through skincare and dermatology, too.
AP PHOTOS: Sistine Chapel key-keeper opens up after lockdown