Inside scoop on Vatican’s groundbreaking virtual tour

VATICAN CITY — As a participant in Villanova University’s Vatican internship program, I had the opportunity to be a part of a groundbreaking project.

This Monday, in celebration of the feast of the dedication of the Basilica of St. John Lateran, the Vatican website launched a state-of-the-art virtual tour of the basilica.

Paul Wilson in the apse of St. John Lateran

Paul Wilson working on the virtual tour of the Basilica of St. John Lateran in October. (Photo by Villanova intern, Heather West)

The tour of St. John Lateran is only a small part of a monumental project in which a team of Villanova University professors and students photographed the Sistine Chapel, the newly resorted Pauline Chapel, the Basilica of St. Mary Major and the Necropolis of St. Rosa.

Having labored long and hard on the virtual reality tour, the launch is a sort of personal triumph for me.

To allow the Villanova team to photograph everything in peace, officials kept the public out of the buildings, except at St. John Lateran. The Villanova interns and I worked as the photographer’s personal police squad. We made sure no curious tourists or aspiring models got in the way of the cameras. This was particularly difficult because people in St. John Lateran had no qualms about walking right up to the lens and inspecting the state-of-the-art equipment.

I was assigned to help Villanova Digital Media Coordinator Chad Fahs photograph the front entrance of the basilica. Shooting the outside of the basilica had a different set of challenges; the open space and large crowds make crowd control more difficult. It seemed as though every time Chad was about to begin the shooting process a large herd of tourists was walking right in front of the camera on their way into the basilica.

The highlight of the photo shoot was Paul Wilson’s face after he finished the apse. Paul is the director of the Villanova University’s Vatican project. He is a seasoned veteran who has more than 40 years of experience in photography. After the shoot, he was physically unable to suppress the huge smile on his face. The only words he could let out were, “We got it.”

“It’s monumental. Michelangelo and other artists created these masterpieces and we are showing them to the world.” Paul’s words capture the work he and the team of Villanova students and professors are doing to create virtual tours of important sites throughout the Vatican.

Wilson was, right we got it. The Villanova team captured what it is like to be inside the basilica. Save the motion-sensitive controls that could cause some headaches and nausea before you get accustomed to them, the virtual tour is quite impressive. The photographs are crystal clear and the people actually add perspective to the basilica’s size.

The launch of the tour of St. John Lateran is not the end of the story. One can’t help but think how impressive the virtual tours of the Sistine Chapel, the Pauline Chapel, St. Mary Major and the Necropolis of St. Rosa will turn out.

(Gustavo Solis currently works as an intern in the CNS Rome bureau.)

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6 Responses to Inside scoop on Vatican’s groundbreaking virtual tour

  1. Jeff Roehl says:

    Does anybody know when the other projects will be finished?

    I cant wait to see the other buildings.

    This is the most awesome thing I have ever seen.

  2. Milton Hallberg says:

    What a great service you and your team has provided!

    Is it your intention to do the same thing with the Sistine Chapel — i.e., provide us with a virtual tour of the Chapel? If so, when can that project be expected on the web?

  3. Gustavo Solis says:

    The other projects are almost complete. Most of the photographs have been taking and the team is working on the finishing touches.

    I am not sure if I can say which locations will come out next but I can tell you they are coming soon.

  4. Rolf Peterson says:

    Our chorus is visiting Rome in May. Can you identify the beautiful organ and choral music that accompanies the virtual tour of St. John Lateran? I would love to find a recording of it.

  5. barbara hylinski says:

    i viewed the st john lantern,video, which was excellent, how do i log on to the other finished shows(st paul’s) etc

  6. MollyM says:

    An incredible labour and worth every moment of it!

    But WHAT ABOUT THE MUSIC? The selections are perfect, the choirs magnificent — and there are no credits whatever that I can find.

    Surely the technicians who put the music together deserve some recognition?

    And surely those of us struck with wonder by the music ought to be able to know who performed it (and if it’s available on CD)?


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