.- A much-anticipated exhibit of more than 300 pieces of Vatican art was launched yesterday at an invitation-only gathering at Notre-Dame Basilica. St. Peter and the Vatican: The Legacy of the Popes is making its only Canadian and Eastern North American stop in Montreal. It features paintings, mosaics, vestments, liturgical objects and Vatican documents that trace the history of the papacy from St. Peter to the current day.
One of the oldest objects is a 4th-century mosaic of St. Peter. On display is also the legendary Mandylion of Edessa, a piece of linen with an image of Christ’s face and mounted in a frame. Legend has it that the object has miraculous powers of healing.
The exhibit also has items belonging to the still very young papacy of Pope Benedict XVI, such as the brilliant chalice he used to celebrate his first mass as Pope in the Sistine Chapel. Visitors can also see the urns in which the cardinals placed their votes and the apparatus that generated the white and black smoke signals, indicating to the world whether a new Pope had been elected.
A number of dignitaries were present, including Quebec’s two cardinals: Jean-Claude Turcotte, archbishop of Montreal, and Marc Ouellet, archbishop of Quebec City. Quebec’s Lt.-Gov. Lise Thibeault, the Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Luigi Ventura, and Msgr. Roberto Zagnoli of the Vatican museums were also on hand.
In his address to the 400 people present, Cardinal Turcotte read a telegram from Pope Benedict XVI, which was sent for the occasion.
The Pope expressed his hope that those who see the beauty of the artwork will be drawn closer to Christ, and will grow in love and knowledge of God.
“The objects in this exhibit are the result of centuries of adoration and devotion to God,” said Cardinal Turcotte. “Art is one of the best ways to express our love for God.”
The cardinal then gave the exhibit his blessing, later saying: “I am happy that the people of Canada have access to these beautiful objects of the Vatican.”
“It is providential that the exhibit is here at this time, when people are very interested in the Vatican because of all of the recent events,” said Cardinal Ouellet. “It is an important resource for evangelization, through beauty, because God is the author of all beauty.”Tribute to John Paul II
An entire section of the exhibit is dedicated to Pope John Paul II, and the most touching object by far is a bronze cast of the late pontiff’s hands. Visitors are encouraged to touch the bronze cast, which is the last object in the exhibit. One by one, each person yesterday clasped the bronze hand, some visibly moved and lingering there for nearly a minute.
This section also includes John Paul II’s well-known pastoral staff, which is topped with the crucified Christ, the hammer with which he knocked on the Holy Door for the Jubilee, and the cope and miter he wore on that occasion.
“It was Pope John Paul’s desire to have exhibits of Vatican art travel outside of Rome,” said Msgr. Zagnoli.
“John Paul would say, ‘Since it is not everybody who can go to the Vatican, the Vatican will go out to the people so that they know these objects belong to them, too.’ In this way, the door to the Vatican has opened on Canada and North America,” Msgr. Zagnoli said.
The exhibit was “marvelous,” said Guy Ouellet, who came with his wife. “I learned a lot about the papacy and the Church,” said the retired 69-year-old. Ouellet had never been able to travel to Rome, and said he had never seen such beautiful objects before. “I will definitely return before the summer is over and really take my time with the tour,” he said.
The Vatican treasures will be on exhibit in Montreal from June 4 to Sept. 18. It will then head to San Antonio and Milwaukee, before returning to Rome.
For more on the exhibit, go to www.vaticanmontreal.ca