Pope Francis brings Rome to Philly in ‘Vatican Splendors’ exhibit

Print More
Jennifer Ruggio examines a piece of art at the Franklin Institute's exhibition, Vatican Splendors. Religion News Service photo by Anne Marie Hankins

Jennifer Ruggio examines a piece of art at the Franklin Institute's exhibition, Vatican Splendors. Religion News Service photo by Anne Marie Hankins

PHILADELPHIA (RNS) If Pope Francis were to visit the Franklin Institute during his weekend (Sept. 26-27) stop here, he might feel right at home.

That’s because the well-known science and technology museum, named for Founding Father Benjamin Franklin, is displaying more than 200 works of art and other treasures from the Vatican. The “Vatican Splendors: A Journey Through Faith and Art” exhibit depicts 2,000 years of Vatican history; nearly half of the objects have never toured the U.S.

The exhibit’s opening, just before the pope’s visit, is no coincidence.


READ: The ‘Splainer: What is the World Meeting of Families?


“When we first heard about (the World Meeting of Families) a year and a half ago we immediately got to work on this exhibition,” said Troy Collins, senior vice president of marketing at the institute. A former Vatican Museum director hand-selected the pieces, he added.

The World Meeting of Families, a four-day conference that has attracted 17,000 people from around the globe, is the pope’s reason for visiting this city. He will conclude the World Festival of Families — a kind of after-party to the main meeting — with Mass on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway on Sunday afternoon.

Vatican treasures on display at the Franklin Institute range from pieces of St. Paul’s tomb to papal portraiture. They are spread over 11 galleries and include tools used by Michelangelo to create one of the most famous frescoes in the world — the room in which Pope Francis was elected — the Sistine Chapel.

Visitors can interact with some displays. There is a bronze cast of the right hand of St. John Paul II that visitors can touch.

Jennifer Ruggio examines a piece of art at the Franklin Institute's exhibition, Vatican Splendors. Religion News Service photo by Anne Marie Hankins

Jennifer Ruggio examines a piece of art at the Franklin Institute’s exhibition, Vatican Splendors. Religion News Service photo by Anne Marie Hankins

Collins said the exhibition aims to tell a 2,000-year-old story while also showing how the pope relates to the modern world.

Jennifer Ruggio of Austin, Texas, stopped by the exhibit in the middle of her trip to see the pope.

“I’ve never been to Rome so I thought I should take advantage of the exhibit while it’s here,” she said.

Ruggio’s favorite piece was a bas relief of Peter being crucified upside down.

“It’s hard to meditate on or imagine a crucifixion,” she said. “But it makes you in awe of the love he (Peter) had because he actually knew Christ.”

The historic museum — among the oldest science museums in the nation — often seeks to bridge science and culture, according to Collins.

“We hope this exhibit can help people appreciate that science and religion are not mutually exclusive,” Collins said.

The museum expects some 300,000 visitors. The exhibit runs through mid-February and then moves to the Los Angeles area with a six-month run at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum.

Religion News Service graphic by T.J. Thomson

Religion News Service graphic by T.J. Thomson

Click on the logo to read more coverage of the pope in the U.S.

YS/MG END HANKINS