The Milwaukee Public Museum's new exhibit on Saint Peter and the Vatican opened recently with some fanfare. It's an exhibit tracing the role of the papacy in the Church, starting with Saint Peter and continuing through to Benedict XVI. The advertising to promote the exhibit uses a lot of phrases like "once in a lifetime" opportunity which seems a bit exaggerated. It is definitely *not* a tour of the Vatican's greatest treasures, but instead is more like a historical society exhibit. Don't expect to find Michelangelo's Pieta anywhere, but you will find a good deal about Peter himself and his tomb under Saint Peter's Basilica, lots of papal memorabilia like silk slippers, a chalice with 1000 diamonds on it, numerous papal tiaras, letters to popes from mission lands, and the machine that makes the white smoke during a conclave. In general, the level of understanding of Catholic thology in the exhibit is higher than one ususally sees at these things, though the film in the first room describes the papacy as a marker of the passage of history "from Peter to Constantine to Napoleon." A child behind me asked his mother who the second pope was and she answered"Constantine." Let's hope the film hasn't convinced people of the existence of Pope Napoleon I. The film also claimed that St. Peter's Basilica "inspires feeling of spirituality," which is different from the presence of God and the life of grace, but it will do. The exhibit ends with a film of Pope John Paul II in his last days, and visitors are invited to touch a bronze mold made of John Paul's clearly arthritic hand before they leave.
All in all, the exhibit is worth a visit. The $18.50 ticket price is pretty reasonable, and anyone interested in the papacy will enjoy it immensely. It's also a good way for families to learn and discuss the origins and meaning of the Faith.