The Apostolic Palace, Place of the Sistene Chapel

The Apostolic Palace of the Vatican, the Papal Residence, is a world within the world of the Vatican. Located adjacent to St. Peter’s Square, the Palace in name may be immediately recognizable as the building from which the Pope greets pilgrims and delivers the “Angelus” prayer, but it is in fact an immense network of chapels, administrative offices, public halls and private residences, and more.

Built between the 15th and 17th centuries, the Apostolic Palace is actually a network of buildings built around the Courtyard of Sixtus V designed to function as the Papal court, in an area when Popes rarely, if ever, left Italy, and suitable infrastructure was needed to manage the affairs of the Pope. While the Pope may live in the residential quarters and a measure of security and seclusion is necessary – made possible in part by the ever-present and magnificently dressed Swiss Guard, the personal security detail of the Pope – much of the Palace is open for pilgrims as part of their Vatican journey.

Indeed, there is no shortage of sights to take in at the Apostolic Palace. 

The Vatican's Rich Art and History

The Vatican Museums are a network of galleries that are located within or are somehow connected to the Apostolic Palace. Gathered from the collections of Popes and benefactors of the Church, a veritable army of curators, art historians, preservationists and administrative staff manage a collection of 70,000 pieces of art that span the ages from pre-Christian Rome to the present. At any given time, approximately a quarter of the collection is on display across the different museums; the principal of which is the Pinacoteca Vaticana. Another four museums are entirely dedicated to sculpture, still another to modern religious art, and various galleries, such as the famed Map Room, all make for one of the world’s greatest art collections.

The Library and Archives

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The Vatican Library includes more than a million books and historic pamphlets; among which include some of the most rare and priceless publications in the world. The Secret Vatican Archives (the term “private” offers a more accurate translation) includes over 150,000 documents, and functions as the archives for the Catholic Church as a whole, and is under the direct control of the Pope.

Frescos and the Sistine Chapel

Other well-known components of the Palace complex include the Borgia Apartments and the Clementine Hall and include innumerable Renaissance frescos completed by masters. Yet last but not least, the Sistine Chapel, begun by Michelangelo between 1508 and 1512 under the patronage of Pope Julius II, and then completed, again by Michelangelo in 1534 and 1541, is one of the most prolific chapels in the world. The famed ceiling, depicting approximately three hundred religious scenes in an area encompassing 5,000 square meters of space, is noted for its exquisite intricate design, while other noted works include his paintings of The Last Judgment and The Creation of Adam.

The words of the philosopher-statesmen, Johan Wolfgang Goethe, best summarize what it is like to gaze upon the Sistine Chapel: “Without having seen the Sistine Chapel one can form no appreciable idea of what one man is capable of achieving.”

While you may one day be fortunate enough to stand amongst the crowds of the faithful for the election of a new Pope, a visit to the Vatican and the Apostolic Palace any time of the year is a monumental experience for any Catholic pilgrim.


To visit the Vatican during your Good Shepherd Pilgrimage to Rome and Italy, contact Tony at Tony@goodshepherdtravel.com.