Holy Night

Porsche Party in the Vatican

Porsche and God Blue
Porsche approaches the Divine.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    Since his inauguration in 2013, Pope Francis has openly criticised opaque Vatican finances. While the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican is now taking exclusive event bookings, it remains unclear how this revenue will be used.

  • Facts


    • The Sistine Chapel’s name comes from its commissioning Pope, Sixtus IV (Sisto’ in Italian). He conducted the first Mass in the chapel on August 15, 1483.
    • German car-maker Porsche was the first company to use the Sistine Chapel for an exclusive customer event.
    • This June, the mayor of Florence came under fire for closing the Ponte Vecchio bridge to Saturday foot traffic so Ferrari could hold a corporate event.
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Are you looking for a special location for your company event? Then try your luck at the Vatican. It recently began offering the Sistine Chapel to companies, with the Vatican Museum as the backdrop for gala dinners.

Not to be outdone by Ferrari’s event on Florence’s Ponte Vecchio last year, Porsche have upped the company event stakes by hosting a party in the Catholic Church’s most exclusive location. While Michelangelo’s Heavenly Father brought a recumbent Adam to life with his outstretched index finger on the frescoed ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, 40 guests of the German car company enjoyed a choral rendition of the “Petite Messe Solonnelle” by Gioachino Rossini.

In the Sacred Hall, where the cardinals gather to elect a pope and 15,000 visitors are funneled through daily, a select group of Porsche drivers enjoyed artistic treasures in an intimate atmosphere, outside the official opening times. They then made their way to a gala dinner in the Vatican Museum to graze under the gaze of classical statures.

This is the first time that the Vatican has opened the Sistine Chapel for private events. But it will certainly not be the last. Up to now, their million-euro business has been generated by real estate income, as well as visitors paying entrance fees and buying stamps, books, and authorized souvenirs.

“The cultural event must be appropriate for the chapel too – a classical concert is okay, but “you won't see a fashion show or a striptease here.””

Vatican spokesman

The new policy contrasts sharply with the tenets of the current head of the Catholic Church. Pope Francis, an avowed Fiat driver, sermonizes about poverty and is vigorously cleaning house at the scandal-plagued Vatican IOR Bank. Only last week, the financial institution replaced all members of its board of auditors. But this nose for money seems to have moved to the Sistine Chapel.

And at the Sistine Chapel, there is little to be found of the transparency demanded by the Pope from the IOR, in terms of open balance sheets. In response to an inquiry, a Vatican spokesman could not name the sum that Porsche had shelled out for the exclusive event. And the automaker declined to give specific figures but confirmed the transaction. The Italian media are naming €200,000 as the amount paid by the Swabian sports car company.

“This was not a rental, but a charitable undertaking,” said the Vatican spokesman. “All the revenues are going to the charitable works of the Pope.”  He would not say which works has been earmarked for the money.

Apparently the Vatican sees no disconnect between Pope Francis’s program and the priorities of event culture. The cultural event must be appropriate for the chapel too – a classical concert is okay, but “you won’t see a fashion show or a striptease here.”

The spokesman said that the decision to open the Sistine Chapel for individual events was made by the directorate of the Vatican Museum and the Sistine Chapel, not by the Pope himself. While Porsche fans, who are said to have paid almost €5,000 for their brief trip to Italy, were being feted in the sacred precincts, Pope Francis was most likely engaged in controversy with the cardinals of the Synod about whether divorced Catholics may take Communion.

Perhaps the Pope is in utter disagreement with the business acumen on display. His reactions up to now would seem to indicate some disenchantment with such things. For example, there was rumored to have been a discreet uproar when he learned that selected politicians, businessmen and journalists had witnessed the canonization ceremony for Popes John Paul II and John XXIII from a terrace with sponsored buffet and chairs, while pilgrims camped on St. Peter’s Square in sleeping bags.




Katharina Kort has been reporting on Italian politics and economics for Handelsblatt since 2013. To contact the author: kort@handelsblatt.com

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