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The Vault, Santa Maria della Vittoria, Rome

For centuries, Christians have looked up towards God, the Divine Being; up in the sky, above the clouds, where the heavens lie, far away from earth and its baseness.

They placed crosses on domes and steeples as high as humanly possible, to be seen as far as possible. And inside the most prominent houses of the Divine, the ceilings are also high up, seemingly unreachable from the ground.

It is on such ceilings that majestic pictures have been flawlessly painted, making the display of God more real, more accessible, and more grand for all who take notice.

Cupola of the St. Stephen’s Basilica in Budapest, Hungary.

The most famous of these holy works is in the Sistine Chapel, painted by Michelangelo, and located in Rome’s Vatican City. It is from this chapel where the leader of the Roman Catholic Church, the Pope, is chosen.

A person is fortunate if they are one of the five million yearly visitors who get to see this masterpiece with their own eyes.

A few years earlier, Michelangelo had completed his David in Florence. Standing more than three times the size of a normal man, it easily surpassed other images of the biblical giant-killer.

When called to paint the Sistine Chapel ceiling, he was working on forty marble statues for Pope Julius II’s tomb. How could he, as a master sculptor, possibly go and fill in some spaces on the round ceiling of an important but small church?

The Creation of Adam by Michelangelo

Yet Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni, who we know simply as Michelangelo, had to obey the Pope’s request.

So, he stood on a system of platforms that he designed himself and that attached to the walls, where with his beard up and his spine arched backwards, he worked tirelessly for four years. He stood on this wooden staging, mostly alone, from 1508 to 1512.

Sistine Chapel ceiling by Michelangelo, Apostolic Palace, Vatican City

After four gruelling years, he returned to sculpture. Though he had finished the chapel, many of his projects were left incomplete.

Structurally, the Sistine Chapel ceiling does not have a focal point. After gazing upwards for some time (or at the reproductions), a person is drawn to certain scenes by following visual contours as one would in a two-dimensional painting. The architecture here is quite symmetrical.

Ornate ceilings in other churches often have a circular center, or the interior of a dome to which all the architectural features guide the eye. The complexity of some ceilings is like a static image from a celestial kaleidoscope.

Here is a selection of awe-inspiring ceilings in churches and cathedrals. All are decorated with paintings, but most captivate us with their towering and powerful architecture.

Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood, St. Petersburg, Russia
The interior dome of the Tempio Civico della Beata Vergine Incoronata in Lodi, Italy

By: Middle Land Editorial