“Welcome to the Sistine Chapel of Tottenham”.
These were the words which greeted me upon entering London’s answer to Michelangelo's masterpiece - a life-size replica of the Sistine Chapel erected on an industrial estate in Tottenham Hale.
This might seem like an unlikely location for an imitation of one of Christendom’s most sacred locations, and that’s because it is.
There is very little that is sacred about the neighbouring area - a swirling mass of construction sites centred around a retail park, an unattractive train station and some rumbling A-roads thrown in for good measure.
But step inside the exhibition, and things begin to feel a little different.
Car horns are replaced with choral music. Low-level lights supersede the glow of neon signs. Even the groan of the underground fades out amid the chatter of gathering crowds.
A new take on Michelangelo's masterpiece
Complete with roller shutters and corrugated iron, this warehouse is not the conventional setting for a High Renaissance exhibition.
Unlike the Vatican - where pre-booking is essential - visitors to this attraction pop in on their way home from work, en route to yoga, or after picking up their kids from school.
“I wanted to show him something different,” says Christina from Tottenham, who brought her 6-year-old son to the exhibition.
“We won’t be going to Rome anytime soon, so this is the next best thing.”
The prints hanging from the walls bring to life the brilliance of Michelangelo's work in a way which is accessible to all. They are complete with lifelike texture, detailed brushstrokes and an unerring sense of accuracy.
You can even touch them.
Better yet, they are positioned at eye-level, allowing guests a never-before-seen view of the artist’s much-loved compositions.
So how does it compare to the real thing?
I visited the real Sistine Chapel five years ago.
It was summertime, the air was hot, and the streets around the Vatican were lined with fruit vendors selling boxes of prickly pears.
After queuing for two hours, I was finally permitted into the Vatican Museum, a laborious string of hallways boasting an illustrious array of jewels, paintings and ecclesiastical relics.
Like most visitors, I’d come to see one thing and one thing only.
The Sistine Chapel is a must for anyone visiting Rome, and for good reason. There is something grandiose about the intricate collection of frescoes that adorn the ceiling, bringing to life The Book of Genesis in unparalleled fashion.
For many, the religious significance of the work brings them to tears.
I was brought to tears, too, albeit for a very different reason.
Once inside, I quickly found myself engulfed by a crowd of enthusiastic tourists, all desperate to enjoy their moment in “the world’s most visited room.”
My toes were trodden on. My arms were elbowed. A group of excitable security guards shouted “Silenzio!” at anyone who dared speak, while a pair of Vatican police officers wrestled cameras from anyone who tried to take a photo.
This was a far cry from the spiritual encounter I had anticipated.
Much to my dismay, the Vatican had the feeling of an amusement park, with the Sistine Chapel its most popular ride.
This replica feels like a breath of fresh air
With over five million tourists making the trip to the Sistine Chapel every year, it is perhaps little surprise that exhibitions such as this one are becoming more and more common.
By contrast, the Sistine Chapel of Tottenham feels like a breath of fresh air.
There are no queues, crowded anterooms or shouting guards.
The replica - which is currently on tour in cities around the world - takes visitors through the history of the artist’s paintings in a leisurely manner, encouraging them to consider the impact of each composition.
An in-depth audio guide is available to guests looking to swat up on their biblical knowledge, while information boards dotted around the floor offer further information.
There is even a video installation for those wishing to sit back and learn more about the Renaissance master.
In short, this is not the consecrated spiritual experience many visitors may hope for.
But guess what? Neither is the real thing.
Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel: The Exhibition runs until January 2022.