Altar of the Confession in Saint Peter's Basilica Altar of the Confession in Saint Peter's Basilica  (Vatican Media)

Saint Peter's Basilica gets state-of-the-art sound system

As Pope Francis presides over Mass for Sunday's World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly, the faithful in St. Peter's Basilica will experience the papal Mass in a completely new way, with the help of a state-of-the-art digital audio system.

By Eugenio Bonanata

The new sound system installed in Saint Peter's Basilica aims to improve the quality of service offered to the thousands of faithful and pilgrims who visit the Basilica daily. The new audio infrastructure replaces the analogue system put in place almost 25 years in preparation for the Jubilee 2000 celebrations.

Over eighty speakers and a state-of-the-art digital system will improve the technical quality of the sound distribution and help increase appreciation for the voices and sounds heard during the celebrations.

Sound comes from the altar

"The system allows for a much more natural participation of those present for liturgical events," explains Italian architect Carlo Carbone, commissioned by the project team to carry out the testing.

Sound perception is ideal and precise, without the typical reverberation that comes with a large closed space. He says "the sound always seems to emanate from the altar, which is considered the central point of emission. In particular, the system provides for the activation of the speakers with a progressive and very slight delay, in the order of milliseconds, as you move away.

The Altar of the Chair in Saint Peter's Basilica
The Altar of the Chair in Saint Peter's Basilica

Surround sound effect

The technical upgrade is the outcome of an acoustic study of the Basilica conducted involving specific parameters and sound standards.

On Friday, 21 July, the overall measurements took place that confirmed the integrity of the system according to acoustic model simulations. Beyond the technical readings, the effect became clearly evident: it really did feel like the voices and sounds enveloped the listener.

On Sunday, 23 July, the faithful will be able to appreciate this improvement from the past sound system, when the new equipment will be inaugurated for the Mass for the Third World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly, which Pope Francis will preside over in the Basilica starting at 10 a.m.

The celebration will mark the public debut of the new system, which over the past ten months has involved the collaboration of the technical team of the Dicastery for Communication's Technology Department, the technical offices of the Fabbrica di San Pietro, and Bose Professional.

The upgrades

Cardinal Mauro Gambetti, the Archpriest of Saint Peter's Basilica, described the project as "a great team effort, a beautiful synergy" bring together experts from different areas.

The work often took place in the evening hours, after the Basilica was closed to the public, which led to a substantial cleanup operation.

First, wiring under the floor that had accumulated over the last seventy years had to be removed. Replacing that wiring is 200 kilometres of modern fibres that greatly facilitate signal transmission and management of the system itself.

Sound engineers explain that the new digital system will allow various sound setups to be chosen according to the celebration. There are around twenty available areas, and they can also be engaged simultaneously.

From an audio perspective, it is as if each "environment" were a sort of audiovisual production studio which naturally interfaces with the television and radio broadcasting system.

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22 July 2023, 14:12