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CULTURE & POLITICS, ODDS & ENDS

Ultimo Aggiornamento: 29/08/2013 19.47
04/02/2006 03.47
 
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Registrato il: 23/11/2005
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PAPAL EXHIBIT NOW IN MILWAUKEE

This past December, I went to this exhibit when it was on display in San Antonio, Texas. It is now in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, its final stop in the U.S. My daughter and my youngest son, both in their 30s, accompanied me. We spent three hours moving relatively quickly through the exhibit and still did not view every object. However, the exhibit was beautiful and very moving for all three of us. Most of it was very low-key but powerful. In fact, it was tempting to overlook ancient letters hung inconspicuously on the walls and move on to the more flashy objects like bejeweled chalices or the glittering, multi-colored robe that JPII wore to open the great door at the start of the year, 2000. However, the humble looking letters often told of the life and death drama of missionaries in hostile or uncivilized locations.

The exhibit was very popular in San Antonio. I was amazed at the quiet reverence of the crowd, including many school children, and the emotion many people were obviously feeling at some of the exhibits, especially the bronze replica of JPII's hand and the makeshift chalice used by the inmates at Auschwitz. This is definitely an exhibit worth seeing if you have the opportunity. If anybody plans to go and wants some helpful hints, let me know.
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By JACKIE LOOHAUIS
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Feb. 2, 2006

So you think you already know everything about what you'll see at the "Saint Peter and the Vatican: The Legacy of the Popes" exhibit opening Saturday at the Milwaukee Public Museum.

If you believe that, get ready for a revelation - a lot of them. And they are eye-poppers.

Anyone expecting merely a showcase for the gold, diamonds and other earthly riches of the Vatican museums is in for a pleasant jolt. That's because church officials designed this show as a revealing history of the entire papacy, a mission devised by Pope John Paul II himself.

"John Paul wanted this exhibit to be a lifting of the veil of mystery around the pope," said Jeffrey Wyatt, senior vice president of exhibitions for Live Nation, which staged the show's tour. Milwaukee is its only Midwest stop.

The late pope asked officials to retell the 2,000-year development of the papacy and its effect on the world.

So "Vatican" - the largest traveling exhibit ever staged at the Milwaukee Public Museum - ia a treasure of surprises for Catholics and non-Catholics alike.

"This is one of the largest collections of Vatican historic objects ever to tour, and most of these have never been seen before in public anywhere," said exhibit curator Carter Lupton. "Not all of these are museum objects. And some were used by the new pope."

One surprise is the way exhibit planners kept current on their task of tracing the entire papacy.

They immediately added newsworthy items from the 2005 election of Pope Benedict XVI, including the device that produced the white smoke heralding Benedict's selection.

In "Vatican," even expected pieces of history offer unexpected twists.

Designers re-created a section of "The Street of Tombs" from the first century A.D. so visitors find themselves walking among the catacombs of ancient Rome. Turn the corner and a simple crypt looms up. Is it the tomb of St. Peter himself?

Other reproductions materialize in unusual settings.

Any exhibit about the Vatican has to include Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel paintings. But in "Vatican," visitors stand not on the floor, but in a fantasy, on "scaffolding" set six feet below the ceiling paintings. The paintings appear to be in the process of their 16th-century creation, a "you-are-there" moment complete with dripped paint on the scaffold planks.

"It's as though Michelangelo just left for a plate of pasta," Wyatt said.

So many other parts of the exhibit are so jaw-droppingly beautiful that it's hard to take everything in. But there are several particularly amazing power-packers, "Ten Revelations of the Vatican Exhibit":

1. The Mandylion of Edessa. The Mandylion ranks with The Shroud of Turin and The Veil of Veronica as one of the holiest Christian relics, Wyatt said. It is not on public display at the Vatican, and its up-close exhibition here is a marvel.

Church tradition holds that this piece of linen, now set in a silver frame flanked by two sculpted angels, shows the true face of Christ. Just how that image came to be on the linen is unknown. But according to Monsignor Roberto Zagnoli, the curator of the Vatican Museums who travels with the exhibit: "Tradition says the image was created miraculously."

One explanation holds that it is the physical impression made by the face of Christ on the cloth.

However the original image came to be, Zagnoli noted that it has been touched up with paint over the centuries. What exhibit visitors will see is a dark-brown face gazing evocatively from a brown background.

The Mandylion has emerged as one of the most emotionally powerful items in the exhibit. The Archdiocese of Milwaukee co-sponsored "Vatican," and Archbishop Timothy Dolan said of the Mandylion: "Traditionally housed in the Pope's private chapel in the Apostolic Palace, the venerable legend is that it is the oldest known representation of Jesus Christ. No wonder that, at the other North American stops of the exhibition, people have paused at the Mandylion for prayerful reflection."

2. Map of "A Southern Land." At first glance an old map showing what looks like two halves of a football may not seem like much of a revelation.

But actually, this is the first geographical map drawn of Australia. It was created in 1676 by Father Vittorio Ricci, who was serving in the Philippines at the time. His map would be the basis of the Church's early plans to spread the faith to the continent.

3. The Auschwitz Chalice. This piece has an "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" grail quality to it: very plain, very simple, but of great worth.

That worth comes from its origins in the Auschwitz death camp. During World War II, camp inmates fashioned the main parts of the goblet out of an ordinary drinking glass and the bottom of a metal canister. Imprisoned priests used the chalice, risking their lives to celebrate Mass under the noses of the German guards.

"This chalice carries more emotional weight than some of the objects studded with precious stones. You see so many people moved to tears by it," Wyatt said.

4. The Cope with Stole of Urban VIII. The "Vatican" exhibit may be a history of the popes, but this 17th-century work has more than liturgical meaning.

Urban, who reigned from 1623 to 1644, commissioned the cope and stole. They were created by some of the greatest fabric artisans in Europe who wove and embroidered the silk, silver leaf and gold thread. This pontiff was known for his patronage of the arts, and the vestments reveal his love of beauty.

This particular piece also reveals just what makes "Vatican" such a catch for Milwaukee. In Rome, these pieces of cloth would be stored away or displayed behind glass. Here, the cope is so close to visitors that "you can see every thread," Wyatt said. "It shows there is something for everyone in this exhibit."

5. The Missal Stand of Christopher Columbus. This portable stand for the book of prayers used in the Catholic Mass is one of the rare items still existing with links to a Columbus voyage.

The stand traveled with Columbus to the Americas in 1493. Carved in the shape of a shell out of brown wood, it's inlaid (true to its ocean theme) with thin strips of fish spine and tortoise shell. It reveals just how much Columbus and his men depended on the power of prayer.

6. The Napoleonic Papal Tiara of Pope Pius VII. Visitors to the exhibit will learn that this 1805 piece has another name: "The Tiara of Offense."

That's because this heavy crown proved to be good news/bad news for Pius. Napoleon's troops had overrun the Papal States, and the little general gave the tiara as a "goodwill" gift to Pius to make up for the damage.

Or maybe not so much. In fact, Napoleon made sure that the glittering gold tiara was made too small to fit the pope's head. Pius never got to wear it.

The tiara's impact is felt even today. Most of the glittering bits in the piece are actually cut glass because Pope Benedict XV had the original precious stones sold to help World War I veterans. Wyatt recalls that one of the reasons the current pope chose his papal name was that he "liked the good works Benedict XV had done." Those works included the donation of the jewels in this crown.

7. Election urns. Those items that are the newest tell one of the best stories: They witnessed the elevation of a cardinal to pope. These two urns were used for the only time to elect Pope Benedict XVI last year. The voting cardinals wrote out their ballots, set them on a small bronze plate and then slipped them into the urn adorned with sheep. The urn topped with a shepherd held the ballots after they had been counted. Sculptor Cecco Bonanotte, who also created the bronze cast of Pope John Paul II's hand, designed the pieces.

8. Habakkuk and the Angel. This piece from about 1655 gives art lovers a rare look into the mind of a great sculptor.

The swirling work is a terracotta model of a statue Gian Bernini never actually crafted, depicting the Old Testament prophet Habakkuk. But the revelation comes from the insights it provides into Bernini's techniques in movement and imagination.

9. The Thanka. A 1978 gift to Pope John Paul II from the present Dalai Lama, this devotional cloth lends an extraordinary ecumenical note to the exhibit.

Embroidered in gold and silver threads on red silk and encrusted with pearls, the Thanka depicts "one of the many postures of the Buddha, one of 'infinite light,' " Zagnoli said. Amazingly intricate, the huge tapestry shows what Zagnoli calls "the many faces of religion."

10. The Pastoral Staff of Pope John Paul II. Wyatt labels this "the single object most associated with John Paul's ministry" for good reason. Photos of John Paul resting against this 6-foot staff appeared throughout his papacy.

The staff in this exhibit reveals a poignant secret. This is the heavy, silver original work. In later years, the ailing pontiff found the staff too weighty to carry, and it was replaced by an aluminum reproduction.
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