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Inside the Sistine Chapel are Sights to Behold

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ROME — One of the hottest tourist spots in the world next year will be Rome. Jubilee 2000, the millennium celebration of the Catholic Church is expected to bring millions to the Eternal City.

Step anywhere within the 180 acres of Vatican City, and great and wondrous works of art envelop you. Statues, fountains, the Great Colonnade, the Vatican itself. They are reminders why all roads lead to Rome.

"You've entered the very portal of heaven. This is the doorway to heaven," says one Catholic priest.

Inside St. Peter's basilica is Bernini's altar and Michaelangelo's dome -- tall enough to stack twoCape Hatteras Lighthouseson each other.

The walls are lined with more than two dozen chapels. In between are mosaics, popes, and life-like statues. The most famous is Michaelangelo's Pieta, Mary cradling her crucified son.

The Vatican gardens buffer the basilica and its massive museums, where inside, the works of the world's most famous artists breathe life into ancient stone.

Take a few more steps, and your breath is taken away as you enter the Sistine Chapel.

Pope Julius summonedMichaelangeloto Rome to paint theceiling, which is huge. The chapel is the same size as the Temple of Solomon.

Michaelangelo was a sculptor, but, to many, his talent as a painter has never been matched.

"It took him four years to paint this. The restoration took over a decade," says Father Tim O'Connor of Raleigh's Sacred Heart Cathedral.

Across the middle of the ceiling is the Old Testament as portrayed in Genesis. In the center, possibly the most dramatic portrayal of God and Adam -- is "Creation."

Gazing on this great work, O'Connor explains how Old Testament stories come into focus.

"In each one of them was a connection, likeNoah'sdrunkedness relating to Christ being rejected. The flood to baptism, various connections. Everything was being brought back to speak the sense of creation," O'Connor says.

"Twenty years later, the pope was Paul III; he wanted something painted on the wall. He wantedThe Last Judgment. By that time, Michaelangelo was in his 60s, and it took him four years to paint," O'Connor recounted.

Four hundred figures make up the wall. In the center, Christ is separating good from evil on Judgment Day.

Those on the left of Christ are happy, and ascending to heaven. On the right, agony grips the faces of those doomed to hell. Included in that group is Pope Julius, who forced Michaelangelo to create the masterpiece against his will.

Also in the painting is a self-portrait. The artist was never really sure where he would be sent.

"The beauty for me in all of this, is the title, the "Final Judgment," O'Connor said. "Christ holds judgment until the very end, so our whole life is an opportunity to be redeemed. I'm just glad that God has not made a judgment, a final judgment on my life, and I, too, can have redemption of God."

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David Crabtree, Reporter
Jay Jennings, Photographer
Michelle Singer, Web Editor

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