Support for the Vatican

Since 1981, the Knights of Columbus has collaborated with the  Reverenda Fabbrica di San Pietro on major restoration and building projects at the St. Peter’s Basilica, including the recent refurbishing of two chapels in the ancient grottoes beneath the basilica. The Fabbrica is the Vatican office responsible for construction and upkeep at St. Peter’s.

The Knights of Columbus funded the first major restoration work in 350 years on the 65,000-square-foot facade of St. Peter’s Basilica.

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“Whenever the Knights of Columbus has undertaken a project with the Vatican basilica and the Reverenda Fabbrica di San Pietro, it has done so as a sign of our Order’s loyalty and fidelity to the Church, to the Holy Father as Vicar of Christ and to the memory of St. Peter himself,” said Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson.

“That the Knights of Columbus has been chosen to enjoy this close relationship with St. Peter’s, a symbol of faith and fidelity, is a source of pride to Knights and their families throughout the world.”

Here are highlights of projects undertaken at St. Peter’s Basilica by the Knights of Columbus over the past 25 years.


The first project was not restoration but construction. After Pope John Paul II named Sts. Benedict, Cyril and Methodius as co-patrons of Europe, he desired to create a chapel in their honor in the Vatican Grottoes. The naming of these three saints as co-patrons highlighted a central theme of Pope John Paul’s pontificate, namely the common Christian roots of Europe. A striking feature of the Three Saints Chapel, dedicated by Pope John Paul, is a Carolingian cross commissioned by the Knights from the Italian sculptor Tommaso Gismondi. A replica of this cross hangs in St. Mary’s Church in New Haven, birthplace of the Knights.

Also during 1981 the Knights helped with the enlargement of the Chapel of Our Lady of Czestochowa, adjacent to the Three Saints’ Chapel.

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The second project, and one for which the Order received some renown, was the cleaning and restoration of the entire 65,000-square-foot façade of St. Peter’s Basilica. This was the first major restoration work on the façade in 350 years and took two years to complete. Fissures in the travertine stone were repaired, and stainless steel supports were installed in the 13 statues atop the façade.

In gratitude, John Paul II presented the Order with the large copper cross that was located in the arm of the statue of Christ the Redeemer on the top of the façade. The cross now has a place of honor in the Knights of Columbus Museum in New Haven.

In addition to the work on the façade, the Order refurbished the famous statues of Sts. Peter and Paul in St. Peter’s Square.

Another initiative during this time period was the subdivision of a space inside the basilica into six rooms where religious and liturgical collections associated with the Fabbrica di San Pietro are displayed. The project was dedicated to Count Enrico Galeazzi, who served as the Order’s Rome representative during most of the 20th century. One of the rooms is named for the Knights of Columbus.

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The Knights next undertook repairs to the roof over the Blessed Sacrament Chapel in St. Peter’s and the restoration of mosaics damaged by leaking water. The mosaics depict the “Mystery of the Eucharist” and date from the 16th century.

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On the eve of the Church’s celebration of the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, the Knights of Columbus funded the restoration of St. Peter’s “front door,” the Maderno Atrium, which dates from the early 17th century. This central area to the basilica was cleaned and restored, and the massive bronze Holy Door through which millions of pilgrims processed during the Jubilee Year was also cleaned.

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Ceiling mosaic at the Chapel of the Bruised Madonna.

The most recent work undertaken by the Knights was in the Vatican Grottoes. Two chapels honoring Mary – the Chapel of the Bruised Madonna (Madonna della Bocciata) and the Chapel of the Madonna of the Parturient (Madonna della Partorienti) – were restored. The chapels are known for the beautiful images of the Madonna that are found there. Both are fragments of murals from the first St. Peter’s.

The image of the Bruised Madonna is considered miraculous from an event in the 15th century. A soldier, angry about gambling losses, hurled a stone at the image and drops of blood fell. The other chapel features a traditional Madonna and Child especially venerated by pregnant women. The chapels are also decorated with murals of the first St. Peter’s and episodes from his life. In addition, there are interesting inscriptions from the original church.

A semi-circular corridor off the chapels, called the Peribolo of Pope Clement VIII, was also restored. It features wall portraits of several popes. Finally, a chapel with the tomb of Pope Pius XII has been refurbished.

In recognition of the Knights’ efforts, the Vatican has placed several commemorative plaques attesting to the Order’s generosity in restoring many sites in St. Peter’s Basilica. Special medals have also been struck, many of which are displayed at the Knights of Columbus Museum.

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Pope John Paul II receives Supreme Knight Anderson in an audience at the Vatican, where he is presented with $1.6 million from the annual earnings of the Vicarius Christi Fund.

Supreme Knight Anderson and two fellow Knights serve as the delegation representing the United States at the installation Mass of Pope Benedict XVI.

The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, a book on the Church’s social teachings, is prepared by the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace on which Supreme Knight Anderson is credited in the book as a consulter.

Supreme Knight Anderson and Supreme Chaplain Bishop William E. Lori attend Mass and a ceremony at which the Diocese of Rome officially opens the cause for canonization of Pope John Paul II.

Throughout the year, Knights provide financial assistance to several Vatican congregations and projects associated with the Holy See, including the Pontifical Council for the Family, the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, St. Peter’s Basilica for restoration, and youth athletic fields in Rome.

The Order provides financial and other support to the Papal Concert of Reconciliation at the Vatican.

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The Order’s Board of Directors votes in favor of financial support for the Vatican’s Fifth World Meeting of Families in Valencia, Spain.

At a symposium to mark the 25th anniversary of the founding of the worldwide John Paul II Institute, Pope Benedict XVI is presented, by Supreme Knight Anderson and Msgr. Livio Melina, several books of articles about his first encyclical.

A documentary on the lives of some of the Church’s most beloved holy men and women, called Saints: Gospel Artists, is produced in part by the Knights of Columbus.

The Order, in cooperation with the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, helps to fund the newly restored projection room at the Vatican Film Library.

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Supreme Knight Anderson is received with representatives of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace during an audience with Pope Benedict.

Knights help fund the restoration of the bronze funeral monument of Pope Sixtus IV.

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Pope Benedict declares Knights of Columbus founder, Father Michael McGivney, a “Venerable Servant of God.”

Knights offer funding to the Vox Clara Committee, a Vatican group that is reviewing and translating Mass texts.

Supreme Chaplain Bishop William E. Lori and Supreme Knight Anderson attend the opening of the first World Apostolic Congress on Mercy at the Vatican. The Supreme Council also helps sponsor the weeklong event.

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Holy Week liturgies from Vatican are transmitted worldwide by Order-funded satellites.

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Vatican Publishing House issues an Italian edition of Supreme Knight Anderson’s book, A Civilization of Love.

Knights of Columbus makes a considerable contribution to the purchase of a new mobile production studio for the Vatican Television Centre (CTV).

“Everybody Welcome, Everybody Free: The Knights of Columbus and Rome, Celebrating 90 Years of Friendship” special exhibit at Rome’s Capitoline Museum opens.

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With the January 14, 2011, announcement of the May 1 beatification of Pope John Paul II, the Knights of Columbus begin an online campaign to allow members of the JPII Generation the opportunity to say thanks to Pope John Paul II. Supreme Knight Carl Anderson and Supreme Chaplain Archbishop William Lori attended the beatification in Rome.

During 2011 World Youth Day in Madrid, the Knights of Columbus host the Love and Life Centre at the Palacio de Deportes from August 16-21. This offers thousands of English-speaking pilgrims the opportunity to participate in various liturgies, celebrations, catechetical programs and other World Youth Day activities.

On December 5, 2011, the funerary monument of Pope Innocent VIII in St. Peter’s Basilica is re-dedicated following a restoration undertaken with the support of the Knights of Columbus.

On December 6, 2011, in recognition of a near century of service and dedication to the people of Rome, the City of Rome began construction on a square to honor the Knights of Columbus. Supreme Knight Carl Anderson was on hand for the groundbreaking. At a concert celebrating the groundbreaking, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone thanked the Knights of Columbus for their 90 years of service.

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A special reliquary commissioned by the Knights of Columbus was present at a Mass celebrated by Pope Benedict XVI in Mexico on March 25, 2012. It contains the relics of 25 saints and 13 blesseds – including six saints and three blessed who were members of the Order – who were martyred during the persecution of the Catholic Church in Mexico in the 1920s.

From Dec. 9 to Dec. 12, the Knights of Columbus co-sponsored the “Ecclesia in America” conference at the Vatican. The conference, which addressed the history and the future of the Church in America, was co-sponsored by the Knights of Columbus with the Pontifical Commission for Latin America and with assistance from the Institute for Guadalupan Studies in Mexico City. Pope Benedict XVI addressed the conference attendees following the Mass that officially opened the conference.

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In February 2013, upon hearing of the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI, the Knights of Columbus began a “Prayer for the Church” initiative.

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