Vatican Splendors: A Journey through Faith and Art

Guercino, The Virgin Mary with Infant Jesus and Book in Hands, 17th century, Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples

Requiescat in pace Mrs. Nancy Reagan

Artifacts from Vatican City go on display at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley from March 6 to the end of August. The exhibit brings together a number of stories:

  • The history of Christian faith given expression in art and architecture;
  • The popes as leaders of worship and evangelization and also as patrons and subjects of art; and
  • The worldwide inculturation of the Church.

People of all ages and backgrounds will be able to take something away from a visit. Children will find a primer in the history of Catholic Christianity. Adult Catholics will be reminded of traditions they grew up with or heard from their parents. People of other or no religious traditions will be treated to a respectful and historically savvy presentation of an international institution that they have heard of but that they may or may not know about.

Peter and Paul
Glass Medallion with Gold-leaf Image of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, 4th century, Vatican Museums

I have had the pleasure of being part of the team that prepared the exhibit and was on site during the days leading up to its gala opening. During the afternoon before the opening, two docents separately asked me about a statement attached to an artifact from the tomb of the Apostle Paul. The script reminds the viewer that Paul never knew Jesus in his lifetime. The question was how this could be true if Paul were an apostle. It was a wonderful question, one that led to sharing stories from the Acts of the Apostles.

Brick from Tomb of Paul
Brick from Saint Paul’s Tomb, ca. 2nd century, Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls

Fully a third of the exhibit is dedicated to the papacy’s dialogue with the world, showcasing artifacts preserved by the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples (formerly, the Propaganda Fide). Over the main hall of this part of the exhibit the words of Pope Francis greet the visitors. They remind us of the central movement of an incarnational religion that seeks to embrace and illuminate a world already redeemed.

“The Church was born outward bound… taking the salvation of all humanity to heart, not feeling indifferent or alien in facing the fate of so many of our brothers and sisters, but open and sympathetic toward them. It means, moreover, having a sense of the fullness, the completeness, the harmony of the Christian life, always rejecting partisan, unilateral positions, which close us within ourselves” (Pope Francis, Wednesday General Audience, September 17, 2014).

Vietnamese Funeral
Illustration of a Funeral in Vietnam, 1840, Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples

Though the exhibit opened its doors to the patrons of the Reagan Library on Saturday evening, its public opening has been delayed until March 13 as the Library prepares to receive the body of Mrs. Reagan and to lay her to rest near her late husband. After the funeral for the former first lady is over, the public will be able to visit the Vatican exhibit through the month of August of this year. For the present, let us offer prayers for the repose of the former first lady and for the consolation of her loved ones and the collegial community that serves the public at the Ronald Reagan Library and Center for Public Affairs in Simi Valley, California.

Reagan Grave site
President Ronald Reagan Funeral Monument, The Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Library, Simi Valley, California

Exhibition webpage:


Photo credits:
Exhibit photos from catalog inventory
Grave site of President Reagan by Brother Charles

3 thoughts on “Vatican Splendors: A Journey through Faith and Art

  1. Brother Dominic says:

    What a great exhibition from what I see in this article…and thank you Brother Charles for your very fine explanations. BrotherDominic


  2. Gabe Pihas says:

    This looks like a great chance to get an idea of the history and the art of the Vatican without going all the way to Rome.


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