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Treasure, artwork, and bones

Jan. 5, 2009

by Herald Journal & Enteprise Dispatch Editor Lynda Jensen

I recently was thrilled to visit the Vatican Splendors exhibit at the Minnesota History Center in St. Paul.

The exhibit, which is available through the rest of this week, spans 2,000 years of Vatican history, and features nearly 200 pieces of artwork.

For me, the highlight of the tour was to place my hand over a bronze cast of the hand from the late John Paul II. I did it twice.

The hand sculpture was created October 2002 by Italian sculptor Cecco Bonanotte.

The entire tour was done in the semi-darkness. I think they were trying to minimize the damage done by lights to centuries-old works of art, but cheese and crackers it was dark as a cave there!

Pushing 40 hard now, I decided to use the audio tour, which offers individual headsets, partly to drown out the loud-mouthed woman behind us explaining all the items to her young kids as we slowly moved along. We got away from her eventually.

But it was worth every moment of waiting in line to see the magnificent works from Michelangelo, Bernini, Giotto, and others. There was gold, jewels, and bronze galore, with plenty of security.

Some artwork dated back to the third century.

Here is a sample of some exciting points of the tour:

• Bone fragments from nine saints, including that of St. Peter, who is regarded as the first pope,

• An exhibit where you walk on scaffolding to look up to a rendition of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel fresco ceiling, which is shown undone in the exhibit.

I understand that the artist would argue with the existing pope of the time, with exchanges taking place like this: (Pope) “When will it be done?” (Michelangelo) “When I’m done!

• An intriguing towelette that is supposed to reflect the image of Jesus on it, called the Mandylion of Edessa, which dates back to between the third and fifth centuries.

According to legend, King Abgar of Edessa wrote to Jesus, asking him to come cure him of an illness. Abgar received a letter back, with the cloth that had Jesus’ likeness on it. The king was miraculously healed.

• Various items owned by Pope John Paul II, including a large silk scroll that was given to him by the Dalai Llama in 1979.

• An area devoted to the Papal Swiss Guard, which is a group of Christian soldiers commissioned to guard the pope.

• Statues, mosaics, jewelry, maps, paintings, and other kinds of art too numerous to mention. The collection comprises one of the largest Vatican collections ever to tour North America. Many items have never before been on public view.

The exhibit is open every day this week until 7 p.m. (last tour starts at 4 p.m.). The last day to view this exhibit is Sunday, Jan. 10 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Check out the Minnesota History Center’s web site at www.mnhs.org.

To obtain tickets, call 1-877-2VATICAN (1-877-282-8422); or online at www.ticketmaster.com. Another number to try is (651) 259-3149 or e-mail Joanna.Danks@MNHS.ORG .

Quotes to remember

“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” – Hebrews 11:1

“Faith leads us beyond ourselves. It leads us directly to God.” – Pope John Paul II