Blessed Angelico's tomb vandalised in Minerva basilica

The damaged tomb of Blessed Angelico in the basilica of St. Mary above Minerva

ROME -- Art buffs expressed outrage Sunday after vandals seriously damaged the marble funeral tomb of the 15th century Renaissance painter and monk Blessed Fra Angelico in the basilica of Saint Mary above Minerva in Rome, underlining the vulnerability of the art treasures of the Eternal City.

 The attack on the hallowed tomb in which the marble face and external frame of the tomb were damaged recalled another act of vandalism when a landmark Bernini statue of a baby elephant in the piazza in front of the same church near the Pantheon was damaged by vandals who snapped off one its tusks in November 2016. The latest incident took place before Easter but was not immediately noticed by authorities in the vast church which also contains work by Michelangelo, the main focus of the limited security available.

“On March 28 we noticed an act of vandalism against the mould of the sepulchre of Blessed Angelico damaging part around the face and part of the surrounding frame,” the rector of the Dominican church. Brother Gian Matteo Serra, told Il Messaggero newspaper.

 “We are not able to determine for the moment the author of this act,” the rector said. After the attack on the elephant statue Brother Serra had cautioned that the church received scant support from Italian authorities to protect its priceless art works.

 “We are abandoned to ourselves. For a  basilica that is 80 M by 40 M, where we are two or three people to keep watch, which a Michelangelo statue inside, what is one to do?”

 “Sooner or later something will happen,” he predicted then.

 The tomb was sculpted by Isaia of Pisa.

Blessed Angelico was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1982, the first stage in the Roman Catholic Church’s path to sainthood.  Two and a half years later the Polish pontiff declared the Tuscan monk the Church’s universal patron of artists.

 The basilica belongs to Italy’s FEC fund for religious buildings managed by the Italian interior ministry, which entrusts the day to day running of the church to monks of the Dominican order.

 The office of the Rome Superintendant of artistic monuments has already sent a team to evaluate the damage and prepare a restoration project to be funded by the basilica.

 “We carried out a immediately a first inspection to evaluate the damage,” said Arianna Cajano, an architect for the Superintendant’s office.

 “This is a very grave act, indicating the total lack of respect for a holy place and for artistic works. It amounts to a heavy scar … in the coming days a second technical inspection will be carried out to decide the form of restoration, which can be quick and will leave almost no trace of what happened.”

 The tomb was evidently attacked with a sharp tool, “such as an umbrella tip or a big key.” The rear entrance to the basilica has now been closed and the tomb of Fra Angelico cordoned off.

In other attacks on monuments in recent years Dutch football fans in 2015 trashed the Bernini boat fountain at the foot of the Spanish Steps and in 2011 a vandal hurled stones at the Moro fountain in the vast Piazza Navona.