Vatican     POPE TO BLESS ST PETER'S FACADE TODAY
After the basilica has undergone its most thorough scrubbing in centuries, Pope John Paul II will today bless the facade of St Peter's Basilica.
    The $A8 million restoration funded by the Italian state energy company ENI has provoked some controversy. The Vatican spokesman has said that St Peter's has been returned to its 'ancient splendour'. But architectural historian Carlo Bertelli has accused the Vatican of sacrificing the solemn unity of the original facade for the sake of making it more telegenic.
    Architect Carlo Maderno built the Baroque facade at the behest of Pope Paul V, who thought Michaelangelo's original basilica wasn't grandiose enough. Work began in 1606 and ended in 1616.
    ENI, whose gas and diesel produce the exhaust fumes that have helped coat Rome in grime, was eager to burnish its image when it took on the restoration project after being embroiled in corruption scandals.
    The basilica will be center stage for the Vatican's yearlong celebration of a new millennium, when millions of pilgrims will visit Rome. The pope will greet the faithful gathered in St Peter's Square nearly every day in the year 2000. And on special days such as Christmas, he will appear on the basilica's central balcony, flanked by walls of deep green and red.
   
    AP 9:56am 30/9/99

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