ROME – On Wednesday, the bishop of the northern Italian city of Padua upheld a centuries-old tradition of celebrating Mass in an ancient chapel despite tight restrictions due to the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak, opting to livestream a closed-door liturgy rather than break a nearly 700-year practice.

Each year since the early 1300s, on the Feast of the Annunciation the bishop of Padua, currently Bishop Claudio Cipolla, celebrates Mass in the city’s famed Scrovegni chapel, named after the man who commissioned the building of the chapel and the painting of the celebrated frescoes that adorn the chapel’s ceiling and walls.

This year, Cipolla decided he would not let Italy’s coronavirus outbreak stop the tradition, and the Mass was livestreamed on the Diocese of Padua’s Youtube channel at 11a.m. local time.

Also known as the Arena Chapel, since it was built on a plot of land where a Roman arena once stood, the Scrovegni chapel is a small church which sits directly adjacent to an Augustinian monastery in Padua, and is part of the Civic Museum of Padua.

Enrico Scrovegni, a Paduan banker, purchased the plot of land in the 1300s and commissioned renowned painter and architect Giotto di Bondone to do a fresco cycle, most of which focuses on the Virgin Mary and her role in salvation. The frescoes are considered to be a masterpiece of historical importance to Western art.

Prior to his commission with Scrovegni, Giotto had worked for the Franciscan friars in Assisi and Rimini and had been in Padua for several years working at the Basilica of Saint Anthony, both in the Sala del Capitolo and in the Blessings Chapel.

Before the Scrovegni Chapel was built, the plot was used for an open-air procession space and was where a live representation of the Annunciation to the Virgin Mary had been enacted for almost a generation.

The church itself was finished and dedicated to Santa Maria della Carita in 1303, and it was formerly consecrated in 1305.

In addition to the Mass, the University of Padua on Wednesday published on its own Youtube channel a film promoted by the interdisciplinary scientific commission for the conservation and management of the Scrovegni chapel, which was instituted by the city of Padua.

Titled, “The Scrovegni Chapel of Padua: History, restoration and conservation,” the film was created and produced by the university’s office for digital learning and multimedia and contains two years’ worth of footage, including images of historical documents.

Based on research conducted in several libraries and archives, the film explores the different stages of the chapel’s history and various restorations, from the 19th century to the present day. It also includes vintage clips from the archive of the Luce Institute.

Among other things, the film illustrates how, in process of protecting the chapel, the various emergency restorations done along the way have developed from the concept of planned and preventative protection, to one of preserving and transmitting to the future, aided by scientific research and new technology.

The Italian version of the film was presented at Padua’s Civic Museum in September 2019. Both the Italian and English language are available on the University of Padua’s Youtube channel.

Follow Elise Ann Allen on Twitter: @eliseannallen

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