“Welcome at the Sistine Chapel in Tottenham.”
These were the words that greeted me as I entered London’s answer for Michelangelo’s masterpiece, a life-sized replica of the Sistine Chapel built on an industrial estate in Tottenham Hale.
It might seem unlikely that this would be an ideal location to imitate one of Christendom’s most sacred places, but it is.
The neighboring area is a chaotic mass of construction sites, a train station, and some A-roads. There is not much to be sacred about it.
But step inside the exhibition, and things begin to feel a little different.about:blank
Choral music replaces car horns. Low-level lighting is more effective than neon signs. The chatter of crowds drowns out the groaning of the underground.
Michelangelo’s masterpiece gets a new look
This warehouse, complete with corrugated iron and roller shutters, is not the typical setting for a High Renaissance exhibit.
Visitors to this attraction are not required to prebook, unlike the Vatican, where bookings must be made in advance. They can visit on their way home, after they have picked up their children from school, or while practicing yoga.
Christina, a Tottenham mother who brought her 6-year old son to the exhibition, said that she wanted to “show him something new.”
“We won’t be going to Rome anytime soon so this is the next best.”
The wall prints bring out the brilliance and simplicity of Michelangelo’s art in an accessible way. They have a lifelike texture and precise brushstrokes, as well as an unerring sense accuracy.
They can be touched.
Even better, they can be positioned at eye level, giving guests an unrivalled view of the beloved compositions.
How does it compare with the real thing?
Five years ago, I was able to visit the Sistine Chapel.
It was summertime and the streets were filled with fruit sellers selling boxes of prickly pear.
After waiting for over two hours, I was finally allowed into the Vatican Museum. This long hallway boasted an impressive array of jewels and paintings, as well as ecclesiastical treasures.
As most visitors, I came to see one thing.
Anyone visiting Rome should visit the Sistine Chapel. The intricate collection of frescoes on the ceiling brings to life The Book of Genesis with a grandiose flair.
Many people are moved by the religious significance of this work.
It was a different reason that brought me to tears.
The Vatican felt like an amusement park with the Sistine Chapel being the most popular ride.
Once I was inside, I found myself quickly surrounded by enthusiastic tourists who were eager to have their moment in “the most visited room in the world”.
My toes were stepped on. My arms were pushed. One group of exaggerated security guards shouted “Silenzio!” at anyone daring to speak while two Vatican police officers wrestled any camera from anyone trying to take a picture.
It was far from the spiritual encounter that I expected.
To my dismay, the Vatican felt like an amusement park. The Sistine Chapel was the most popular ride.
This replica feels fresh and clean.
It is not surprising that exhibitions like this are becoming more popular with over 5 million people visiting the Sistine Chapel each year.
Concerns have been raised by the Vatican about the high number of visitors to its most famous attractions.
The Sistine Chapel in Tottenham, however, feels like a breather of fresh air.
There are no crowded anterooms, shouting guards, or queues.
The replica, currently touring cities all over the world, takes visitors through the history and inspirations of the artist’s works in a relaxed way that encourages them to think about the impact of each piece.
For guests who want to brush up on their biblical knowledge, an audio guide is available. Information boards are scattered around the floor to provide additional information.
For those who want to learn more about Renaissance masters, there is a video installation.
This is not the consecrated experience of spirituality that many visitors might hope for.
Guess what? But, guess what?