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This past weekend I had a once in lifetime opportunity to take part in something truly amazing. On October 2nd the Vatican Splendors exhibit, which features more than 270 unique items from the Vatican, opened to the public in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania. Prior to this happening a select group of about 300 people were invited to participate in an opening ceremony and procession to kickoff the exhibit and thus being the first people to view the Splendors. My wife, mom, sister and I were invited by Monsignor Roberto Zagnoli, who is the curator of the Vatican Museums. The opening ceremony was held at St. Stanislaus Kostka Church in the Strip District. From there we proceeded down to the Heinz History Center, which is where the exhibit is housed until January 9, 2011.
The Ancient Basilica Gallery
Following a brief prayer by Monsignor Zagnoli we made our way to the exhibit. Before you enter you are greeted by two mannequins dressed as Swiss Guards. The exhibit takes you through 2000 years of history and you start with Saints Peter and Paul. One piece in this section is a beautiful reliquary containing the remains of both saints. This particular item has never been outside the Vatican. There are many beautiful sculptures and paintings of both saints. Included in this section is a brick from St. Paul's tomb and an incredible scale model of the Ancient Basilica.
Reliquary of Saint Peter and Saint Paul
As you make your way through you will come across numerous frescoes, paintings and sculptures from the likes of Bernini, Giotto and Guercino. The one section that I enjoyed the most is the one dedicated to Michelangelo. When you enter this area you are greeted by a cast of Michelangelo's famous Pietà from Saint Peters Basilica. Of all the items in this section the one thing that was spectacular was the Sistine Chapel. They carefully reconstructed how Michelangelo painted the ceiling. Scaffolding was erected and the ceiling showed an unfinished "Creation of Adam." It gave you a great perspective on how Michelangelo accomplished this masterpiece.
Cast of Pietà from Saint Peter's Basilica
The exhibit concludes with more recent paintings of various Popes and specific items that they used. The entire exhibit is hands off except for the bronze cast of the Hand of Pope John Paul II. It was a truly inspiring moment to place your hand in the bronze cast of Pope John Paul II's hand. It felt as though you were touching his hand. This brought tears to my Mom's eyes because it reminded her of the time she met with Pope John Paul II at the Vatican and touched his hand.
Cast of the Hand of Pope John Paul II
Depending on the amount of time you spend at each item you can expect to complete the tour in one to two hours. To enhance your visit you can rent an audio tape that describes the pieces within the exhibit. In addition to the Vatican Splendors the Heinz History Center worked with the Diocese of Pittsburgh to put together more than 70 rarely seen artifacts from the region. Included in this section are relics from the Chapel of St. Anthony in the Troy Hill section of Pittsburgh. Many people don't know this, but the Chapel of St. Anthony houses the largest collection of relics outside the Vatican.
If you are looking to go and take pictures you will be disappointed. No cameras are permitted to be used inside the exhibit and if they see you with cell phones they will ask you to put them away. You can however view my Vatican Splendors photo section that shows you some of these exquisite pieces. If you are hoping to see this in your city you will be disappointed once again. Only three cities were chosen in North America to host this exhibit. St. Louis, Missouri, which was the first stop, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and in 2011 Fort Lauderdale, Florida. To find out additional information on visiting the Vatican Splendors in Pittsburgh please visit the Heinz History Center.
Photo copyright © 2010 Vatican Splendors and Cittá del Vaticano.
Courtesy of the Senator John Heinz History Center.
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