St. Louis Public Radio News
6:38 pm
Tue March 23, 2010

St. Louis to host exhibit of art and relics from Vatican

St. Louis – The city of St. Louis has been selected to host one of the largest exhibits of art and religious symbols from the Vatican.

The Missouri History Museum in Forest Park is the first of three North American sites for the "Vatican Splendors" exhibit. It will also stop in Pennsylvania and Florida.

Museum officials used the strong Catholic heritage of St. Louis to help attract the exhibit. But Archbishop Robert Carlson said the exhibit has broader appeal.

"The very focus of art is to move you beyond yourself and to understand that there is a world bigger than you," he said. The exhibit, he added, gives St. Louis residents a chance to see how some European masters did that.

The area has several important religious destinations, including the Cathedral Basilica in the Central West End, the Old Cathedral on the Arch grounds, and the National Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows in Belleville. But Kitty Ratcliffe, the president of the St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission, expects many more religious travelers to reach St. Louis this year.

"Seventy-five percent of people who travel in bus groups are religious-affiliated groups. And those people can't get on a bus and go to Rome. But they can get on a bus and come to St. Louis this year," she said.

"Vatican Splendors" is the second major exhibit from the Vatican to be displayed at a St. Louis museum. The Art Museum hosted an exhibit of artwork depicting angels in 1998. But the History Museum was a better fit for "Vatican Splendors," said president Bob Archibald.

"This is an exhibition that contains not only objects of art but lots of religious and historic objects as well," he said. "Western culture and the history of Christianity and the Vatican and the Roman Catholic Church are intertwined."

The museum is not paying any fees to display the exhibit, Archibald said. Ticket sales will cover the costs of strict security and handling requirements.

Objects in the exhibit include bone fragments of saints Peter and Paul, tools that Michelangelo likely used on the Sistine Chapel or St. Peter's Basilica, and a chalice used by Pope John Paul II.

Tickets for the exhibit will go on sale April 19th. The show runs May 15th through September.