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PHILADELPHIA — Over 2,000 years of historical and cultural history from the Vatican will be crossing the Atlantic Ocean to The Franklin Institute as part of the 2015 World Meeting of Families.
The nearly 10,000 square-foot exhibit, called Vatican Splendors, will run at The Franklin Institute from Sept. 19 to Feb. 15.
“The local officials with the World Meeting of Families said this is the biggest type of affiliated program that they heard of or have seen in quite some time,” said Troy Collins, senior vice president of The Franklin Institute.
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The Franklin Institute is the only stop on the East Coast for the exhibition on its two-city North American tour. It will also appear at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif., March 6-Aug. 28, 2016.
After the tour wraps up in Calif., all the items will return to Vatican City, where it cannot be absent for more than a year.
“When we got wind of the World Meeting of Families last year — this was even before we knew the Pope was coming — we just thought it was a wonderful opportunity to exhibit the kind of artifacts that come from the Vatican,” Collins said. “We reached out to them and to some of our partners of ours that have worked with the Vatican before. Before we knew it, we were bringing the Vatican treasures to Philadelphia.”
About 200 items will be in the exhibition, which is organized into 11 galleries to illustrate the evolution of the church and will have thematic areas highlighting important developments, events and people.
The exhibit will contain a combination of 2- and 3-dimensional items.
“On the 2-D side, we have a mosaic of Saint Paul,” Collin said. “From the (3-D)side, we have 16th-century iron clamps and a nail that were used in the scaffolding for the painting of the Sistine Chapel. An actual piece of that scaffolding has been recreated.
“One of the premiere objects is a bronze cast of the hand of Saint John Paul II,” Collins said. “What’s exciting is not only is it quite striking and moving, but that our visitors will actually be able to touch it.”
Many of the items are typically on display in Vatican City, but some of the objects coming to The Franklin Institute have never before been viewed by the public.
“It’s amazing enough for visitors (who) have not been to Vatican City,” Collins said. “Once you go to Vatican City, you can truly appreciate the art, the artifacts and the history that is presented there. For even someone like myself, who has been to Vatican City, to know that there maybe things that have never been seen by anyone outside of Vatican officials is such an exciting thing. Another first for Philadelphia and we certainly deserve it as a city.”
Though Vatican Splendors won’t be the largest exhibition The Franklin Institute has showcased, that doesn’t mean it still won’t take a lot of work to put together.
“(The first week of September) we begin the installation process and it takes several weeks,” Collins said. “The artifacts will arrive with curators from the Vatican. There are procedures related to both security and preservation of the objects that need to be followed. It’s a fairly lengthy process. We’ll install the exhibit over a period of several weeks.”
The Franklin Institute will open the week before the World Meeting of Families and will stay open the following week.
However, during Pope Francis’ visit Sept. 26- 27, The Franklin Institute will have to close due to its prime location along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.
The Franklin Institute is expecting to have a high attendance rate for Vatican Splendors during its five-month stay in the city.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime for Philadelphia,” Collins said. “It’s really wonderful that the World Meeting of Families will be held here, that the Pope is coming and we have the opportunity to bring treasures from the Vatican so that people don’t have to cross that great, big pond to go see them. We’re very excited.”