The Redemptoris Mater Chapel found in the Apostolic Palace in Vatican City was formerly named the Matilde Chapel. Pope John Paul II upon the conclusion of the Marian Year in 1987-1988 changed its name to Redemptoris Mater in honor of the Blessed Mother to whom he had profound devotion. Indeed, for many years this was the chapel where Pope John Paul II celebrated the Eucharist with various groups of faithful until infirmity impeded him.
In 1996 on the occasion of Pope John Paul II's 50th priestly ordination anniversary, the Supreme Pontiff decided that the chapel be completely restructured and decorated by means of the gifts he received from the College of Cardinals. He likewise desired that the new chapel include the presence of Oriental tradition, which is of important ecumenical value. Thus it has become a visible sign of communion between the Eastern and Western Churches.
The Supreme Pontiff entrusted the work of the chapel's renovation to the “Atelier d'Arte Spirituale” of the “Centro Aletti” under the direction of Jesuit priest Fr. Marko Ivan Rupnik. The latter invited Russian Alexander Kornooukhov to carry out the work of the Main Wall (or the Wall of the Heavenly Jerusalem) and Czech artist, O. Oliva, to design and build the chapel's cathedra, ambo and altar. Fr. Rupnik and the artists of the “Centro Aletti,” worked on the vault and the remaining adjacent walls (the Wall of the Incarnation, the Wall of the Ascension and Pentecost, and the Wall of the Parousia). After three years of work Pope John Paul II solemnly presided at the rite of dedication of the chapel and thus reopened it to the public on November 14, 1999.
With their array of diverse colors, the mosaics enliven the Redemptoris Mater Chapel's varied personages and symbols, celebrating the history of salvation centered on the mystery of the Holy Trinity. Such mystery is depicted in the chapel first and foremost in Jesus Christ, the Son of God who was made flesh, and the Blessed Virgin, his mother. In the Redemptoris Mater Chapel, salvation history is made visible in time through episodes and figures of the Old Testament, the mysteries of Christ´s life, the Church's saints (including martyrs of the 20th century) and the discreet yet significant witnesses of faith of other Christian churches and communities. All of this reflects the Holy Trinity, which surrounds and orients everything to the hope of the new Heaven and Earth and to the second and definitive coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. The images bear the characteristic imprint of the canons of classical oriental iconography, but with an incisive touch of modernity that confers originality and vigor.
The Redemptoris Mater Chapel is a prime example of a powerful means for a new evangelization, a true “locus theologicus” where the mystery of God, manifested in Christ, is contemplated not only with all-encompassing theological truth but also in aesthetic theology. In this way we experience the category of beauty attributed to God with the goodness and beauty of all his deeds, especially the saving Incarnation of the Son of God, along with the blessed Mother of God who is the icon of the Church and of humanity redeemed.
The faithful who enter the Redemptoris Mater Chapel experience a beautiful representation of Christian iconography and thus come in contact with theological, artistic and liturgical tradition. One who enters into the chapel does not only have an aesthetic experience but also a spiritual encounter celebrating with a community of faith. The believer is in communion with those come before him in faith, the praying church gathered together as an assembly who experience Christ´s infinite mystery at all times.
For the faithful, looking at the icon is an invitation to prayer, particularly to liturgical prayer. It is an invitation for the believer to “stay before the Lord” so that he or she may be renewed and transformed. Icons are an appeal to conversion, an invitation to the transformation of which St. Paul spoke: “All of us, gazing with unveiled face on the glory of God, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, as from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Cor. 3: 18).
Enter Virtual Tour
Special thanks to the Center of Excellence in Enterprise Technology and the Computer Science Department at Villanova University in Villanova, Pennsylvania (USA) for their contributions to the realization of the virtual reality tour of the Redemptoris Mater Chapel. By gracious permission of the Papal Household.