A collection of Vatican art representing 2,000 years of church culture and history was unveiled Thursday at the Franklin Institute ahead of a visit by Pope Francis and the World Meeting of Families.
The exhibit, called Vatican Splendors, includes objects that have never been seen in public, even at the Vatican. They include a bone fragments of Saints Peter and Paul, grammar primers on indigenous languages used by missionaries, a piece of brick from St. Peter’s tomb, and a biography of St. Francis Xavier printed on palm leaves and bound in bamboo.
"When we talk about splendor, we talk about working to see the splendor present in all of us,” said Monsignor Roberto Zagnoli, who works in the Vatican. “See the artwork, and really see yourself in that great beauty.”
The collection spans 10,000 square feet spread across 11 galleries and it is designed, organizers say, to illustrate the evolution of the church. Curators recreated the underground catacombs where St. Peter’s bones were found, as well as the Vatican’s papal chambers.
The exhibition "gives us a glimpse as to why it is that the church has always considered art so important,” said Bishop John McIntyre, of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
While the collection spans two millennia, some relics have a more modern provenance. But the stories behind them say something about the church nonetheless.
Zagnoli was present when artists were making the cast of Pope John Paul II’s hand that is now on display, and available to touch.
The artist, Zagnoli told dignitaries who attended a preview of the exhibition on Thursday, was worried about getting the pope’s hand dirty. Much discussion about the pope ensued between the artist and his entourage.
Then, Zagnoli said, the pontiff chimed in.
"He said 'I’m old, but I haven’t gone crazy. Even if I’m old, I still know how to wash my hands.”’
Though not directly tied to the Vatican art exhibit, the Franklin Institute is also playing host to art about the Vatican.
On display now is a 100-lb replica of the Holy See, made entirely of Legos.
The replica was made by Father Bob Simon, a priest from the Poconos. It took 10 months to complete.