Friday, September 19, 2008

Vatican Splendors Exhibit Opens September 27 at Minnesota History Center for Three Months

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A rare exhibit of Vatican art and artifacts opens this month in St. Paul, featuring one of the oldest representations of the face of Jesus Christ.

How many packing peanuts do you suppose it takes to transport priceless treasures from the Vatican to St. Paul?

As it turns out, none — just a lot of care to get two of the Roman Catholic Church's prized possessions to the Minnesota History Center for this month's "Vatican Splendors" exhibit.

The treasured "Mandylion of Edessa" and "Daniel in the Lion's Den" were uncrated Thursday morning at the center, where they will go on display Sept. 27 with 200 other works of art and historical objects from the Vatican.

The pieces had been packed individually in specially designed protective cases and flown from Italy to the United States in a private plane. Then, under heavy security, they were brought to St. Paul in a climate-controlled semi-trailer.

On Thursday, the two cases were carefully wheeled onstage. Technicians clad in lab coats removed multiple layers of wood, foam and paper wrapping before putting the pieces on display before a small audience and the watchful eye of a uniformed Minnesota State Patrol officer.

The "Mandylion of Edessa" is a small cloth containing one of the oldest known representations of the face of Jesus. It is believed to have appeared between the third and fifth centuries, and is one of three of its kind still in existence. All three cloths, which originated in different parts of the world, depict Jesus' face with the same features and measurements as those impressed in the Holy Shroud of Turin, which is said to have wrapped the body of Jesus after he was crucified.

"Daniel in the Lion's Den," a 17th-century statue created by famed sculptor and architect Lorenzo Bernini, is being shown outside the Vatican for the first time.

Monsignor Roberto Zagnoli, curator of the Vatican museums, was on hand for the uncrating. He explained the Bernini piece is a study created for a much larger statue in Rome. He apologized for not being able to the bring larger one but joked he'd welcome the audience to Rome "when the dollar regains its strength."

The idea for the "Vatican Splendors" exhibit came from Pope John Paul II, whose 2002 bronze cast of his hand is included in the exhibit.

St. Paul is the last stop on a U.S. tour of the exhibit that included St. Petersburg, Fla., and Cleveland. The History Center has not set an end date for the exhibit, but the pieces have to be returned in January, because they can be away from the Vatican for only a year at a time.

WHAT DOES MANDYLION MEAN?

A Mandylion is a representation of the face of Jesus. According to Monsignor Roberto Zagnoli, curator of the Vatican Museums, it can mean three things:

  • A "small painted cloth."
  • A "work not painted by human hands."
  • The "true face" of Jesus.

    Where: Minnesota History Center, 345 W. Kellogg Blvd., St. Paul

    Tickets: $20-$13

    Info: 651-989-5151 or mnhs.org/vatican

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