Call it the Catholic 20th century in pictures. More than seven million photographs in the Vatican archives — including historic and intimate shots from every pontificate back to Pope Pius XII — are slated for a hi-tech makeover.
The Vatican announced that it has begun the process of translating the photo archives of its daily newspaper L'Osservatore Romano from negatives and prints to digital images.
In a press conference, the head of the Vatican’s photography department, Father Giuseppe Colombara, said the project would be spearheaded by Solegenia Group, an Italian hi-tech company.
The group has its work cut out for it. Many of the negatives and prints have yellowed and degraded over the years. Restoration in many instances will require painstaking work by hand, with experts forced to review individual frames.
The project will take at least five years and may cost an estimated $3-4 million.
Nearly 80 percent of the photos are in color, with the remainder in black and white. The archives cover seven pontificates, beginning with the photos taken by Francesco Giordani, a Rome-based photographer who began shooting for the Vatican in the 1930s.
Among the extraordinary material in the collection are shots of Pope Pius XII visiting the bombed-out San Lorenzo neighborhood just after it had been shelled by the Nazis in 1943.
By far the most photos are of Pope John Paul II. In addition to a reign of more than 25 years, Pope John Paul was said to have given the Vatican photographer unprecedented access to record informal and private moments with the Pope — including his daily Masses celebrated in the papal apartment.
The Rome press conference used as its backdrop one such memorable photo — the Pope’s famous meeting with his would-be assassin, Ali Agca, in a Rome prison cell.