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Meet the man who opens all the doors in the Vatican Museum

The Latin name that identifies his office means “he who bears, who gives the keys.” And this is exactly what Gianni Crea does in the Vatican Museums. Gianni, who hails from Melito di porto Salvo, is the head clavigero or key-bearer. That is, he coordinates with the clavigeri, a small team of Vatican staff members who are tasked with opening all the doors of the Museum every morning, and locking them every evening.

Talking about it in such simple terms, it may sound like a trivial task. But you’ll change your mind after hearing this: There are about 500 doors that must be opened and closed every day— 300 of which are in the Museums, and 200 of which are in the various workshops connected to the Museums. And they are doors of different kinds: doors leading to the most important rooms—and yes, this includes the door for the snack bar! Talk about a colossal task!

All in a day’s work

Gianni Crea Vatican Museum
Gianni Crea retrieves the keys to the Vatican Museums from a bunker.

This is how Gianni’s typical work day goes: “Until a few years ago, there were three clavigeri. Now we are 11, divided in two shifts, one in the morning and one in the evening,” Gianni explains. “Every morning, I enter the Vatican through Porta Sant’Anna at 5:45 am and I go to the Vatican Gendarmerie to get the keys.” As soon as he receives the keys, the Gendarmerie disconnects the alarm system in the Vatican Museums and the clavigeri are now able to enter the Four Gates. 

Each clavigero then heads to his assigned areas. Gianni says, “The Museums are divided into four zones and the keys are numbered in reference to the different areas of the Museums… Each clavigero opens around 80 doors and it takes us about one hour to open all on the whole.”

At this point, we need to ask: Just how many keys does a clavigero keep? “There are 2,797 all in all, because there are two to three copies for each key. They are kept in a small bunker with an air- conditioning system that prevents rust from setting in and periodically (Editor’s note: they say it’s done once a week), we test them all to check if they work,” answers Gianni. And while all the keys are numbered, there’s one key that’s unnumbered, just one, the most precious key—the key to the Sistine Chapel.

It’s a wrap!

Gianni Crea Vatican Museum
The spare copies of the approximately 500 keys used every day are tested and checked often to avoid damage and wear and tear.

Closing all 500 doors begins at 7 pm. “Compared to the morning round [of opening doors], it takes us half an hour more because we need to check some things very carefully; we must not leave any window open nor light on. We have to inspect the bathrooms and turn the water off to avoid any damage that may be caused by leaks that might occur at night. Then we check that there are no defective keys nor broken locks… and naturally, we make sure that nobody stays in any room!” Gianni exclaims.

The day ends at around 8:30 pm, when they retrace the morning route. The entrance of the Four Gates is closed and keys are given to the Gendarmerie who, in turn, activates the alarms. “Once in a while, someone asks me how is it possible that I don’t get tired of my job, which may seem repetitive to some,” Gianni muses. “I answer that I could never get tired of working in one of the most beautiful places in the world: the Pope’s Museums.”

For the full article, grab a copy of My Pope Philippines July 2019 issue.

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