Who defaced a masterpiece?
And why did they do it?
In recent years, in apartments that were once home to the Pope, restorers cleaned and repaired several masterpieces by Raphael. While restoring one fresco, they discovered something disturbing: old repairs that concealed damage to the faces of several Popes, and the name of the leader of the Protestant Reformation: Martin Luther.
What is Luther's name doing on a work of Catholic religious art?
The secrets are revealed in the premiere broadcast of Museum Secrets: Inside the Vatican Museums.
Blood Spilled and Art Defaced
On May 6, 1527 a Protestant army entered Rome. Their general's aim was a show of force that would shame the Papacy. But his troops had bloodier ideas. Fired up with anti-Catholic rage, soldiers entered the Vatican, where they were met by the Pope's private army: the Swiss Guard.
Then, as now, the Swiss Guard are sworn to protect the Pope, no matter what the cost. And on that day they paid dearly. Beset by much larger forces, three quarters of the Swiss Guard lost their lives. Witnesses tell of Protestant soldiers kicking their decapitated heads through the streets.
To learn more about the Pope's private army, we invite you to watch our Web Exclusive Video: The Swiss Guard.
After destroying all opposition, victorious Protestant soldiers gained entry to the Papal apartments, bent on murdering the Pontiff. The Pope escaped on foot through a fortified passageway that led to the safety of the Castel Sant'Angelo. Protestant archers tried to hit him as he passed by the passageway's narrow windows. Witnesses tell of hearing the Pope "jingle." Evidently he had filled his pockets with precious jewels before making a run for it.
The Pope reached safety and locked the doors of the castle behind him, leaving those outside its walls to suffer torture, rape, and murder at the hands of the Protestants.
For the soldiers who entered the Papal apartments, the luxurious accommodations, and the elaborate frescos were an affront to their Protestant sensibilities. Such extravagances were exactly what they and their spiritual leader Martin Luther detested about the Catholic Church. Protestant troops defaced Raphael's fresco with pro-Protestant slogans.
But exactly which Protestant brigade was responsible? Their forces were made up of brigades from several European countries. Which brigade did the deed? We won't reveal that detail here. To find out, we invite you to watch the full broadcast episode of Museum Secrets: Inside the Vatican.
Current State of the Frescos
In case you're worried about the current state of Raphael's masterpiece... never fear. The frescos survived. Today, Vatican restorers work to remove the dust and grime of the centuries. We invite you to see them at work in our Web Exclusive Video: Raphael Restoration.
And if you'd like to try your hand at fresco restoration, we invite you to try our Interactive Feature: Restoring Life to a Fresco.
Believe It Or Not
History demonstrates that faith-based vandalism born of religious intolerance is all too common. But perhaps one of the strangest incidents is the one described in a recent article in an Indian newspaper: Orissa police arrest two for throwing beef at Laxmi idol.
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