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New Vatican Exhibit Emphasizes “Peter Within”

By Dr. Jeff Mirus (bio - articles - email) | Nov 03, 2006

If you can visit Rome during the next four months, you’re in for a treat: the Petrus Eni (Peter Within) exhibit in the Charlemagne Wing of St. Peter’s Square.

This exhibit brings together some 100 masterpieces from the most famous museums in the world, along with artifacts and documents relating to the construction of St. Peter’s Basilica, beginning in 1506. The exhibit marks the 500th anniversary of Pope Julius II’s decision to raze the crumbling Basilica of Constantine and build a more serviceable, and more magnificent, church. It opened on October 12th and will run until March 8, 2007.

The Petrus Eni exhibit is divided into six sections which highlight the following areas.

  1. The foundation and initial designs of St. Peter’s basilica, beginning with Bramante’s over-elaborate efforts and ending with Michelangelo devoting the last 19 years of his life to supervising the construction, without pay, for the glory of God.
  2. The long and convoluted process of construction, which took 120 years and involved innumerable conflicts.
  3. The Basilica of Constantine, which St. Peter’s replaced.
  4. The “ager vaticanus”—the specific area of land where St. Peter was buried and where monuments and churches have been erected to honor his memory.
  5. The presence of Peter and Paul in Rome and, specifically, the tomb of St. Peter which archeologists finally found in the 20th century when they came across a plaster marker inscribed with the words Petrus Eni (Peter Within) from which the exhibit is named.
  6. The steady stream of pilgrims to the tomb of St. Peter, including special exhibits relating to St. Francis of Assisi, St. Thérèse of Lisieux, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, and many key literary and artistic figures.

The first object on display is a marvelous walk-in model of St. Peter’s dome, designed by Michelangelo from 1559-61. In addition to many other artifacts and documents relating to the construction, painting masterpieces on display include Raphael’s portrait of Pope Julius II as well as his portrait of Leo X with two cardinals, El Greco’s “Peter Penitent”, Caravaggio’s “Crucifixion of St. Peter” and Rembrandt’s “St. Peter in Prison”. The display also includes the tunic St. Francis was wearing when he received the stigmata, St. Thérèse’s handwritten account of her pilgrimage in 1887, and Mother Teresa’s sandals.

The decision and struggle to build St. Peter’s Basilica ultimately gave us several of the world’s greatest artistic treasures, including Michelangelo’s monumental Sistine Chapel, the Raphael Rooms and the Basilica itself. Such exhibitions don’t come often. This one alone may be worth a trip to Rome.

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