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VATICAN LETTER Jul-31-2009 (890 words) With photos. xxxi
From rugs to riches: Vatican storage, repair department has it all
By Carol Glatz
Catholic News Service
VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- When 30,000 chairs have to be set up in St. Peter's Square for an outdoor Mass, when a new bishop comes to town and needs to furnish an empty Vatican apartment, when a chair needs reupholstering, new drapes must be sewn or a bare office wall could use a piece of artwork ... who're you going to call? The "Floreria."
The Vatican's Floreria is part storeroom, part moving company, part repair shop and part busy beehive where skilled workers diligently maintain and handle all the furnishings and many other objects belonging to Vatican City State.
Its workers are in charge of preparing for every papal audience and ceremony throughout the year. That can mean setting up thousands of chairs as well as providing whatever infrastructure, furnishings or decorative objects are necessary for the dignified and smooth running of the event.
The Floreria is in charge of furnishing Vatican offices and apartments starting with the pope's lodgings. It is also responsible for the conservation and restoration of the objects in its possession and maintaining a complete inventory of those items.
Furnishing apartments, only eight per year on average, seems easy compared to the Floreria's primary responsibility: accommodating more than 2 million pilgrims a year at dozens of liturgical ceremonies and more than 100 other events in St. Peter's Basilica, St. Peter's Square and the Paul VI audience hall and at the papal summer residence in Castel Gandolfo, outside Rome.
Storage rooms crammed with chairs and furnishings are dotted throughout the Vatican.
Just like any family's overstuffed attic, basement or garage, "we have many things that need organizing," said the head of the Floreria, Paolo Sagretti.
But "we are few and, therefore, have little time available to organize the storage rooms which deserve upkeep of their own," the engineer told the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano July 23.
The Floreria runs three different artisan workshops.
The carpentry workshop has six woodworkers who fix and restore furniture, he said.
Another workshop does upholstery and stitching. The three-person team of seamstresses, two of whom are women religious, work on and repair the upholstery for straight-back chairs, armchairs and couches, as well as the cloth banners, hangings and tapestries for liturgical ceremonies.
They also stitch the clothing for the life-size wooden figures in the Vatican's Nativity scene in St. Peter's Square.
Lastly, there is a workshop with three gilders who tend to the Vatican's large number of gold-painted picture frames, chairs, thrones and other objects.
The bulk of the Floreria's workforce, however, is made up of the 20 moving men who are assigned the task of hauling the various, sometimes very heavy, furnishings or items needed for ceremonies, said Sagretti.
They also are the ones carting requested items in or out of Vatican offices and living quarters.
When a monsignor, bishop or cardinal comes to the Vatican to serve the Holy See, he can choose whether he will bring or buy his own furniture or call upon the Floreria to help furnish his Vatican abode.
The storage areas are full of everything needed for an apartment, from furniture, rugs and drapes to lamps and paintings. While the Vatican lends the items free of charge, payment is expected for special requests to reupholster or refinish woodwork, he said.
Having digital photographs of every item in the storage facilities has made it easier to let prelates know what items are available, he said.
Anyone who is a fan of postmodern design will probably not find anything to his liking in the storerooms. Sagretti said almost all the furnishings available for loan are from the 20th century and made before 1950.
But there are also period pieces, antiques and other objects of value, he added.
Other things of particular value in the Floreria's collection are some grand "sedia gestatoria," or portable papal thrones.
It also has the large thrones or chairs Pope Benedict XVI uses during liturgical celebrations and special audiences; these include thrones previously used by Popes Pius IX and Leo XIII in the 19th century.
Most of the objects that are very valuable but no longer in use -- such as papal carriages -- are handed over to other departments, particularly the Vatican Museums.
But Pope Paul VI looked outside the Vatican when seeking a home for a unique antique that had been sitting neglected for more than 170 years in one of the Floreria's storerooms.
It was an aerostat -- a large balloon filled with a gas lighter than air -- that Napoleon I had launched from Paris Dec. 16, 1804, to celebrate his coronation as emperor of France.
Southeasterly winds that night propelled the aerostat to Rome where it lost its decorative eagle and crown after it scraped across Nero's towering tomb. The balloon eventually went down on Lake Bracciano, north of Rome.
Two neighboring Italian royal families fought over whose property the balloon had landed on in an effort to claim it. Pope Pius VII resolved the dispute by confiscating the aerostat and giving it to the Floreria.
In 1977, Pope Paul gave the flying vessel to a museum of military aeronautical history that opened that year near Lake Bracciano; in a dedicatory letter, the pope praised humanity's efforts to "communicate more swiftly with other human beings by opening up new roads in the sky."
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