The Vatican on Wednesday inaugurated a new arts and crafts academy inside St. Peter’s Basilica, which revives a centuries-old apprentice system that trained stonemasons, carpenters and artisans to care for the treasures in the world’s biggest Catholic church.
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The ceremony came as the first 20 students in the academy are half-way through what amounts to a six-month unpaid internship. They attend lectures, participate in hands-on workshops and learn various trades and technical skills under the guidance of the basilica’s famed “Sampietrini,” the small army of workers who maintain the building.
The academy is free to the students and is open to high school graduates. Organizers said the current students, 12 men and eight women, hail from Italy, Peru, Germany and Belarus. Some are in a gap period between high school and college, some are already studying certain trades in college while others are unemployed or have part-time jobs, according to a statement. The initiative revives the 18th century Pontifical Art Studio, which trained craftspeople at night and on holidays for eventual employment as “Sampietrini.”
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Students who complete the course will receive a certificate but no guarantee of future employment at the Vatican, organizers said.
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The initiative comes after a period of financial housecleaning for the basilica, after Pope Francis put it under a special commissioner in 2020 to investigate its finances and update the statutes of its governing administration.