Holy See announces plans for 500th birthday of Vatican Museums

.- Today the Vatican announced plans for its celebration honoring the Vatican museums, which turn 500 this year. 

Cardinal Edmund Casimir Szoka, president of the Governorate of Vatican City State, and Francesco Buranelli, director of the Vatican Museums were both on hand in the Holy See’s media office this morning for a press conference outlining the planned initiatives.

During the meeting, Cardinal Szoka explained that "This is not a conventional or a merely symbolic anniversary…it marks the chance but fortunate discovery of the marble statue of Laocoon and his sons in 1506.”

“The anniversary”, he said, “seeks to unify a centuries-long history of culture and art promoted with constancy and competency by the Roman Pontiffs, who collected the works of the past to save them from oblivion and destruction, and to hand them down to later generations."

Some 4 million visitors pass through the museums each year.

Cardinal Szoka went on to say that the Vatican Museums "house a centuries-old heritage, and not only a material heritage. The museums are responsive of their duty to conserve and transmit ... to future generation these expressions of genius, of life, of thought and of spirituality from the past; and they will continue to do so, without seeking to avoid the challenges of the present, with the perseverance and conviction that has always marked them."

Mr. Buranelli, the Vatican Museums‘ director, outlined the specific initiatives which will mark the fifth centenary. Most are scheduled to last throughout 2006.

The official commemoration, he said, will begin Friday, February 17, with the celebration of a Mass of thanksgiving in the Sistine Chapel. It will be presided at by Cardinal Szoka and attended by the entire personnel of the Vatican Museums.

He also said that during the first half of 2006, two important, and recently restored museums will be reopened to the public.

"They exemplify”, Buranelli explained, “the commitment of the Roman Pontiffs to promoting evangelization through the language of art."

The first, is the Pio Christian Museum, which was founded by Pope Benedict XIV between 1756 and 1757 in order to house various objects acquired by the Vatican during the first half of the eighteenth century, and "to promote the splendor of Rome and affirm the truth of the Christian religion."

It is scheduled to open this year on March 16th with an exhibition dedicated to finds made in the Roman catacombs during the eighteenth century. They will be exhibited in glass cases and decorated with busts of 24 cardinal librarians.

The second gallery slated to open during the year-long celebration will be the Missionary Ethnological Museum, which was founded by Pope Pius XI in 1926.

It was originally housed in the Lateran Palace until Blessed John XXIII moved it into the Vatican itself in 1963. The museum wasn’t opened to the public until 1973, then under the pontificate of Paul VI.

Buranelli said that this gallery will present the cultures and religious practices of non-European countries, and their contacts with Christianity. The sections dedicated to China, Japan, Korea, Tibet and Mongolia are due to open on June 20th.

Among other initiatives, the Holy See will this fall open a new section of the Roman necropolis on the Via Triumphalis. The section was discovered thee years ago during work on the Vatican’s new Santa Rosa parking lot.

The Holy See said that once opened, visitors can view some 30 mausolea and 70 individual tombs dating from the first century BC to the third century AD.

The centenary celebrations will come to an end in November with the exhibition: "Laocoon. At the origins of the Vatican Museums."

Simultaneously, the Vatican will hold an international congress on the theme of the identity, essence and role of museums in modern society.

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