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Virtual Reality Tours Bring Papal Basilicas to Worldwide Audience

A team from Villanova University continues to make touring the Vatican’s most sacred sites a reality with just the simple click of a mouse. The Virtual Reality Tours are a collaborative effort by the Vatican and Villanova University designed to bring the papal basilicas in Rome to a worldwide audience.

Students and faculty from Villanova have been granted rare clearance to photograph some of Rome’s most sacred, and restricted spaces – work that has led to the creation of state-of-the-art Virtual Reality Tours for the Vatican. Anyone with access to a computer can now tour some of Italy's most historic cathedrals.

Most recently, Virtual Reality Tours of the Papal Basilica of St. Peter and the Pauline Chapel have launched on the Vatican Web site.

On-line visitors can also tour the Sistine Chapel in all its glory – work that will forever change the way artists and historians can view the amazing work and mind of Michelangelo. The tour presents the Chapel three-dimensionally and allows viewers to control the angles and zoom in for high-resolution close ups of all Michelangelo’s work. Villanova students and faculty spent five nights in a closed Sistine Chapel, gathering images from every corner, from Michelangelo’s famous artwork on the chapel ceiling to the large fresco, The Last Judgment, on the sanctuary wall. This was the most extensive access ever granted by the Vatican to an outside group.

In total, Villanovans have designed six tours. In addition to the Papal Basilica of St. Peter, the Pauline Chapel and the Sistine Chapel, three other tours also are on the Vatican Web site: Basilica of St. Paul, Basilica of St. John Lateran, and St. Mary Major.

Villanova students are working on these Virtual Reality Tours as part of an exclusive internship program the University has with the Vatican. Villanova’s Vatican Internship Program and Virtual Reality Tour project are made possible through a generous gift from Lawrence Waterhouse, a 1959 graduate of Villanova University’s College of Liberal Arts & Sciences, and the Founder and Chairman Emeritus of TD Waterhouse Investor Services, Inc.

About the Vatican Program: Through a unique internship program, Villanova University (VU) students are helping change the ways in which the Vatican communicates with the rest of the world – using the internet, multi-media technology and social media. Villanova began this program in 2003, sending computer science students to the Internet Office of the Holy See. Since then, communication majors have joined these students in Rome. In 2008, VU began sending students to the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, where they have been integral in helping add to the Papal presence on YouTube and Facebook. Villanova students also intern in the Rome bureau of Catholic News Service.

About Villanova University: A co-educational Roman Catholic institution, Villanova University was founded by the Order of Saint Augustine in 1842. A premier institution of higher education, Villanova provides a comprehensive education rooted in the liberal arts; a shared commitment to the Augustinian ideals of truth, unity and love; and a community dedicated to service to others. A wide variety of undergraduate and graduate degree programs are offered through the University’s four colleges: the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the Villanova School of Business, the College of Engineering and the College of Nursing, as well as the Villanova School of Law. With a total enrollment that surpasses 10,000 undergraduate, graduate and law students, Villanova is the oldest and largest Catholic university in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.