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St. Peter’s Basilica is now lit by over 100,000 LED lights

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The before and after photos reveal St. Peter's in a whole new light.

Visitors and pilgrims to St. Peter’s Basilica, in Rome, have always been treated to the sight of the finest art adorning its high ceilings, but between the distance and the poor lighting, it has been easier for students to study the ceiling in pictures, rather than strain one’s neck for hours trying to distinguish minute details on the dimly lit domes.

Now, the treat is getting sweeter, as the Germany-based OSRAM light company has completed the much-needed lighting upgrade in St. Peter’s Basilica, trading the old halogen lights for around 780 LED luminaries, which house about 100,000 LED lights. The project came after OSRAM successfully completed similar installments in the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Square.

LEDs Magazine reports lights were installed at heights ranging from 12–110m (39–361 ft), brightening the domes by a factor of 10. The new light has illuminated frescoes, mosaics, paintings, statues, and other features that have waited in partial shadow for centuries — especially Michelangelo’s 137m-high (450-ft) main dome.

St. Peter's Dome
Fabbrica Di San Pietro | OSRAM Licht AG

“This project provides a significant service, both to art lovers and to those who come on pilgrimage to this symbol of Catholicism,” said Cardinal Giuseppe Bertello, president of the governorate of Vatican City State. “We are pleased that a special light has been cast on this important location — thanks to the new illumination.”

Dr. Thorsten Müller, Head of Innovation at OSRAM, explains in the above video that the project relied on digitization of the Renaissance-era architecture, in order to determine light placement without disrupting the site. The result of such precise lighting is an advanced, digitally-controlled system that can be set bright enough to support 4K and even 8K ultrahigh-definition television transmission.

Osram CEO Olaf Berlien noted that the effort has been a distinct melding of the past with the present, one that will reduce energy emission from the Basilica’s lights by 90 percent:

“The project demonstrates just how history and high-tech can be combined in the best possible way by using the right expertise,” Berlien said. “More than 500 years of history are now being bathed in digitally controlled LED light.

“We are honored to return to the Vatican and to bring our expertise to St. Peter’s Basilica,” He added. “Our digital technologies are able to draw the eye toward the artistic masterpieces on the sides of the church. Previously, these beautiful mosaics and statues were literally in the dark. We also brought new light into the cupolas and we installed new glare-free lighting in the altar area. The history and the masterful works of art inside St. Peter’s have reached a new era.”

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