June 1st, 2006

Ad Billboards Inside Famous Basilica Raise a Storm

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The management of the world-famous Saint Anthony’s Basilica in Padua, northern Italy, is planning to introduce poster advertising inside the church, Milan daily Corriere della Sera revealed on Thursday. Posters will cover the restoration scaffolds, providing the funds for highly expensive maintenance and restoration works, said the chief of the Basilica’s management Gianni Berno. “We need more money and at the end of summer we will launch a real marketing campaign,” added Berno, underlining that public funds promised by the government last year were never delivered.

In Italy it is common practice to cover the fašade of churches and historical buildings with massive poster advertising during restoration works, but this would be the first time that posters are affixed inside a church.

“Over three million people from all over the world visit the Basilica every year,” - added Berno - “and the advertising inside the church will grant our sponsors the publicity which is due to private companies kindly funding fundamental restoration works.”

Saint Anthony’s basilica complex was built between 1238 and 1310 and includes, as well as the Basilica itself, a huge XIII century friary and the tomb of Saint Anthony. It is regarded as one of the masterpieces of the Romanesque-Gothic style in Italy. The Basilica and the communal areas of the friary were magnificently decorated by Italian painters and sculptors of various periods, including Renaissance master Titian.

The management of the Basilica spends around eight million euros each year for ordinary maintenance. Following the recent collapse of part of the friary roof, more funds are currently needed to carry out extraordinary restoration works.

The management of the Basilica is currently ‘testing’ its plan for a marketing campaign through a first “smaller” poster affixed on a scaffold and advertising a local bank which has provided funds for the restoration of a rose-window.

Berno said that, after a series of checks to be carried out on the building and its decorations in the next two months, the management will decide the most urgent interventions and carefully choose the spaces to offer for advertising in exchange for restoration funds.

However, he pledged that advertising companies will be carefully selected and that posters will be “discreet” to avoid disturbing tourists and pilgrims during their visit.

The announce of the initiative by Saint Anthony’s Basilica’s management has triggered debate not only within the local clergy, but also among Italian art critics. While Berno said that the Vatican authorities had agreed to the proposal, a local Catholic weekly argued that “it will be no time at all before bikinis are advertised in a church.”

The art critic and former undersecretary of state for culture Vittorio Sgarbi however stated that there was nothing scandalous about the proposal. “In the past powerful figures used to help religious institution making a donation for their tombs, today they give funds in exchange for their trademark to be on display.”

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