Comprised of 11 galleries, Vatican Splendors aims to make the visitor feel as though they have traveled right to Vatican City, with its selection of 200 historical artefacts and artworks on display and the design of the galleries themselves. When entering the exhibition, visitors will be greeted at the entrance by two Swiss-Guard mannequins, clad in red, yellow and blue, and will then be whisked off into a pontifical world. There are marble statues, tapestries, etchings, relief carvings, mosaics, papal thrones, vestments, mass vessels, portraits, and crosses.
While meandering through the galleries, visitors will learn to follow a historical trail, beginning with subjects such as St. Peter, one of the 12 apostles of Jesus and the first pope of the Catholic Church, along with the development and design of the Vatican Basilica in Rome throughout the centuries. The art displays also focus upon the succession and accomplishments of other popes and their commissioned artists, namely Michelangelo, Guercino, Bernini, Parmigianino and Sassoferrato.
In 1939, Pope Pius XII started to explore, in secret, to find St. Peter’s relics. In 1968, Pope Paul VI said that St. Peter’s bones had been identified and the Ronald Reagan Library now exhibits the reliquaries of St. Peter and St. Paul. In one of the galleries there is a reconstruction of what the original tomb of St. Peter looked like in the necropolis or Vatican Scavi, underneath the altar in the grottoes.
For 300 years Christianity was outlawed, and there is an exhibit with a poignant etching that shows where the Christians were brought to be tortured. Later, it was Emperor Constantine who ordered the construction of shrines over the tombs of St. Peter and St. Paul and in these shrines magnificent statues, frescoes and pillars embellished the sacred sites can be seen.
In the Renaissance gallery there is a model of the scaffolding ladders and tools that Michelangelo would have used to paint scenes of the Old Testament and the Last Judgment on the Sistine Chapel ceiling (while lying on his back suspended in the air). Pope Julius I had first commissioned Michelangelo to construct a tomb for himself but then tried to convince Michelangelo to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican – and Michelangelo did!
Many of these Vatican treasures have never been seen outside of the Vatican City and have never been on display before so it would be a worthwhile day trip to learn about one of the world’s major religious traditions and its inherent spiritual and artistic impact.