For fans of Church history and architecture, 3D imaging may be the second-best thing to time travel, allowing them to experience a medieval church as it existed hundreds of years ago.
Users of a soon-to-be launched website and app will be able to harness modern technology to see architecture that existed centuries ago.
The technology was presented at a recent international conference in Germany. On display was a 3D model of the cathedral of Sessa Aurunca, a town north of Naples.
“Our main goal was to make the beauty and the heritage of the Church in Italy known, on a hyper-modern and multi-media platform,” said architect Danilo Prosperi, scientific director of the endeavor.
“Our project consists of a full 3D model of the Church from the inside and outside, and a reconstruction of the same edifice as it would have been in the Middle Ages,” he added.
Prosperi and his team combined research on medieval churches throughout all of Italy to collect data, which was later used to reconstruct the church’s structure before it was refurbished in the 17th century in Baroque style.
Many Italian churches underwent a restoration and partial reconstruction during the period after the Council of Trent in the 16th century, commonly known as the “Baroque” era.
“The most interesting part of our research was to re-construct the old elements of the church: the ceiling with its wooden beams, the windows of the main nave, which were later walled in, the relocation of the ambo to its original place, as well as the modulation of the Iconostasis, the choir and the ciborium,” Prosperi explained.
Information came from the museum of the diocese and historical texts.
“The diocesan museum holds marble slaps and pieces of the original structures, which were photographed, scanned and later incorporated into the church to re-create the feeling of the ‘original’ medieval structure,” Prosperi explained.
The 3D technology allows for modification of the original structure and interaction with the stone model, which would be impossible with mere photographs, he said.
As a result, the tourist or visitor is able to see the original model of the church in an interactive way.
“We have created two primary interactive products: the virtual tour within the ancient church and an app,” the director said.
The application, he continued, “enables you to visit the ancient church by standing physically inside the new church. To do so, you access the app of the tablet or of the smartphone, which projects the 3D model onto the existing surface. The portable device turns into a kind of ‘window to the past’.”
The tourist stands in the real church, which merges with the virtual church to create an “augmented reality tour.”
Prosperi explained the motivation behind the endeavor: “the diocese of Sessa Aurunca, along with the bishop, asked us to work on this project, in order to make his cathedral known to a vast public, since it is a zone highly frequented by tourists, who mostly are still ignorant of the beautiful cathedral.”
“The church is in fact a small copy of the Benedictine Monastery Montecassino, one of the most important and oldest monasteries in Italy,” he said.
After seeing the outcome of the cathedral project, the Italian city quickly took interest.
The city of Sessa Aurunca’s cultural department “approached us and asked to apply the same 3D modelling to an ancient Roman amphitheater, an ancient Roman bridge and the Duke’s palace,” Prosperi said.
“It was mostly the multi-media approach that convinced them,” he added.
In September 2015, a website will be launched in Italian and English containing all the fruits of the past year’s work.
“We have also planned to present a 3D print-out of the ambo and other parts of the church,” Prosperi said. “It is overall very engaging research that combines the ancient beauty of architecture and art with hyper modern usage of technology at our hands.”