Vatican Splendors at the Franklin Institute

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity of viewing the Franklin Institute’s Vatican Splendors exhibit. The exhibit opened September 19, 2015, just before Pope Francis arrived in Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families, and it will remain open at the Franklin Institute until February 15, 2016. Vatican Splendors includes over 200 objects related to Vatican history. The exhibit explores the rich history of the Catholic Church and examines the role of the papacy from Saint Peter to Pope Francis.

The exhibit begins with a section on Saint Peter, which includes a replica of his tomb and artwork depicting his martyrdom. Text panels explain the difficulties of early Christians in facing persecution and examine the changes that took place after Emperor Constantine legalized Christianity in the fourth century.

The exhibit then transitions into sections that describe the Medieval Church and the Renaissance. One of my favorite features of the exhibit is a replica of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. The visitor walks through small tunnel that depicts Michelangelo’s masterpiece as a work in progress, complete with scaffolding. This part of the exhibit also includes interesting information about Church patronage of the arts.

After the sections on the Renaissance and Counter-Reformation, Vatican Splendors includes sections on the liturgy and on the role of art in sacred space. The exhibit, organized by the Congregazione per l’Evangelizzazione dei popoli of the Vatican City State, does a good job of explaining the parts of the liturgy and in discussing the Church’s teaching on how the beauty of artwork can elevate the mind to contemplate the transcendent.

The final sections of the exhibit discuss the modern papacy and the global and universal nature of the Church. The last gallery includes portraits of the most recent popes of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

Vatican Splendors is a worthwhile exhibit for anyone to visit, and it presents a unique opportunity for people to view some of the beautiful artwork of the Vatican right here in Philadelphia.

Here is the exhibit website for more information:

Post by Melanie Dudley


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