Many of Philadelphia’s renowned and historic arts and culture organizations mark the inaugural visit of Pope Francis with special events. Robin Bloom offers a Papal program.
“Vatican Splendors” at the Franklin Institute
The Franklin Institute is the exclusive East Coast destination of Vatican Splendors, exploring the historical and cultural impact of the Vatican over the span of 2000 years. Opening September 19, the exhibit features objects straight from the Vatican with many priceless artifacts that have never before been on public view. Items in the nearly 10,000 square-foot exhibition include mosaics, frescoes, paintings by Renaissance masters, works by well-known sculptors, intricately embroidered silk vestments, precious objects from the Papal Mass, uniforms of the Papal Swiss Guard, historical maps, documents and relics. Look for artwork by Michelangelo, including signed documents and a rarely seen bas relief sculpture, and tools used in work on the Sistine Chapel and Basilica of Saint Peter’s. Also, works by masters including Bernini and Guercino, artwork dating back to the first century, venerated remains (bone fragments) of Saints Peter and Paul, relics discovered at the tombs of Saints Peter and Paul, and historical objects from the modern and ancient basilicas of Saint Peter’s in Rome. Organized into 11 galleries that illustrate the evolution of the Church, with thematic areas highlighting important developments, people and events tied to the history of the Vatican, in multi-sensory recreated environments, 222 North 20th Street, Philadelphia. Vatican Splendors is produced by Evergreen Exhibitions and is organized and circulated in conjunction with the Congregazione per l’Evangelizzazione dei Popoli of the Vatican City State with items on loan from The Reverenda Fabbrica of Saint Peter, the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside-the-Walls, the Basilica of Saint Mary Major, the Vatican Library, the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, the Apostolic Floreria, the Papal Swiss Guard, the Vatican Museums, and private collections. The exhibit will not be accessible on September 25, 26, 27, and 28 during the Pope’s visit. Pictured: Mosaic Saint Paul © Cittá del Vaticano. While there, check out the 100 pound Vatican and surrounding St. Peter’s Square made entirely of LEGOs, created by Father Bob Simon, made to scale, on view in the atrium.
The Betsy Ross Bible on display in Historic Philadelphia
On display at the Betsy Ross House – for the first time in over a decade – is Betsy’s Bible. Through October 3, see this cherished family heirloom, published in 1790, and containing the handwritten birth dates of Betsy Ross’ seven daughters, 239 Arch Street. During the week of September 21 through September 27, all Historic Philadelphia, Inc. sites will be open to the public from 10am-8pm (Note: Franklin Square will be open 9am-8pm on Saturday, September 26 and Sunday, September 27). Stop by the Historic Philadelphia Center gift shop for exclusive Pope Francis merchandise, located across the street from Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell at 6th and Chestnut Streets.
“Eternally Rome” at the Comcast Center
See Eternally Rome, presented on “The Comcast Experience” video wall in the Comcast Center lobby. The new 13-minute show is a visual celebration of the ancient, beautiful city, shot using high-resolution cinematography and featuring breathtaking views of some of Rome’s most iconic landmarks, including the Colosseum, Pantheon, The Roman Forum, St. Peter’s Square and Vatican City. Shown daily at the top of every hour from 10am-8pm, except for 5pm on weekdays. Following the 3pm final showing on September 27, Comcast will carry the Papal Mass live in the Comcast Center lobby at 4pm. Pictured: Brian L. Roberts, Chairman and CEO of Comcast (L), and Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia at the unveiling. Photo by Joseph Kaczmarek.
“Sacred Stories: The World’s Religious Traditions” at the Free Library of Philadelphia
On display at the Free Library of Philadelphia is Sacred Stories: The World’s Religious Traditions, an exhibit that showcases a unique collection of sacred works that share messages of belief, faith and worship through written word. Items include scripture from Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism, printed and handwritten texts, illuminated manuscripts from Europe and the Middle East and notable books such as the first Bible printed in North America, Martin Luther’s first German New Testament printed in 1522, the first translation of the Koran into English and printed in 1649, on display through January 30, Parkway Central Library’s Rare Book Department, 1901 Vine Street, Philadelphia. Extended viewing hours on Sunday, September 20, Tuesday, September 22, and Wednesday, September 23. The Parkway Central Library will be closed September 26 and 27 during the Pope’s visit. Pictured: The Annunciation, Pictorial Bible, Ethiopia, ca. 18th century. Photo courtesy of the Free Library of Philadelphia.
“The Clergy & the Academy’s Collections” at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University
On view at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University is The Clergy and the Academy’s Collections, displaying the work of members of the clergy active in the Catholic, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Quaker, Jewish and Moravian communities who contributed to the understanding of the natural world. Items on display include plant and animal specimens, objects, rare books and archival materials from the Academy’s research collection of 18 million specimens, the library’s more than 250,000 titles, and the archives collection of more than a million items spanning four centuries. Look for the specimen of Bachman’s warbler, Vermivora bachmanii, that John James Audubon painted for his The Birds of America (1827–1838). The bird, now extinct, was collected by Lutheran minister and naturalist John Bachman (1790–1874), who also collaborated with Audubon to produce Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America. On view in the Library Gallery on the museum’s second level through October 30, with extended hours from Sept. 22-23, 1900 Benjamin Franklin Parkway, Philadelphia. A special public forum on Climate Change with Jeffrey D. Sachs, director of The Earth Institute at Columbia University (and who has worked with the Vatican on the subject), will be held on Monday, September 21, 6:30pm. Free with registration required. The Academy will be closed September 25-27 during the Pope’s visit. Photo by G.W. Cowper/ANS.
“Building Bridges of Faith: Photographs of Papal Visits to the Holy Land” at the National Liberty Museum
Building Bridges of Faith: Photographs of Papal Visits to the Holy Land, archival scenes from recent and historic visits to Israel by Blessed Pope Paul VI, Saint Pope John Paul II, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, and Pope Francis, from 1963-2015, are on display at the National Liberty Museum, September 19-21, 321 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia. Also on view, twelve stained glass scenes depicting heroes of the Bible, and other works of art. Tours at the top of every hour. Pictured: Pope Francis in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (courtesy of the Consulate General of Israel).
“Catholics in the New World: A Selection of 16th-18th Century Texts” at the Rosenbach
The Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia presents Catholics in the New World: A Selection of 16th-18th Century Texts, through January 31 with free admission during the World Meeting of Families, September 22-25. The exhibit highlights the works of the earliest Catholic settlers in the region with the 1544 Doctrina Breve, the oldest surviving book printed in the Western Hemisphere, the 1584 Doctrina Christiana, the oldest book published in South America, prayer books and catechisms printed in multiple Native American languages, 2008-2010 Delancey Place, Philadelphia. Catch Conversations with the Curator, Monday, September 21 and Tuesday, September 22, 3pm and 6pm. Pictured: Juan de Zumarraga, Doctrina Breve. 1544. Photo courtesy of the Rosenbach.
Sacred Writings: Extraordinary Texts of the Biblical World at Penn Museum
Penn Museum honors the first visit by Pope Francis and the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia with Sacred Writings: Extraordinary Texts of the Biblical World, through November 7. The special centerpiece exhibition offers one of the world’s oldest fragments of the gospel of Saint Matthew, the first Bible printed in the Americas (in the Native American Massachusett language), a New Testament Bible published in twelve languages in Nuremberg, Germany, 1599, and more. Also, rare artifacts from the museum’s collection and rare books and manuscripts from Penn Libraries, including a Latin Bible produced in Arras, France in the late 13th century, the first authorized Roman Catholic translation of the New Testament Bible into English, the first complete Bible printed in the New World, a polyglot New Testament Bible, a late 15th century Italian illustrated manuscript copy of Werner Rolevinck’s history of the world detailing events from the creation to the election of Pope Sixtus IV, an early 16th century Rabbinic Bible, and more, along with the museum’s renowned ancient Near East, Egypt, and the Canaan and Ancient Israel galleries, 3260 South Street, Philadelphia. Penn Museum will be closed September 26-27 during the Pope’s visit. Pictured: An ancient clay tablet in Sumerian cuneiform from the site of Nippur in Mesopotamia (now in Iraq), ca. 1650 BCE, contains the earliest version of the Mesopotamian flood story. Photo courtesy of Penn Museum.
Philadelphia Sculptors invited artists to create “Pope” inspired pieces in anticipation of the visit of Pope Francis. Pope Up offers contemporary approaches to religion and its meanings and interpretations with an exhibition of traditional, funny, and offbeat 2D and 3D works by Stephanie Kirk, Holly Smith, Kathleen Vaccaro, Clifford Bailey, Ellen Benson, Neil Benson, Jacintha Clark, Joan Menapace, Lisa Nanni, Andrew Purvis, Lou Serna, Georgette Veeder and more. Free and open to the public September 19-20, and 26 with a reception Sunday, September 20, noon-5pm, Globe Dye Works, 4500 Worth Street, Philadelphia. Part of this year’s upcoming Fringe Festival. Check out the store with POPEular products like a Pope tote, Pope-ourri, soap, and more! Pictured: Flying Nun by Simone Spicer. Photo courtesy of Philadelphia Sculptors.
Christian Art Tours at the Philadelphia Museum of Art
Discover paintings, sculptures, and architectural spaces inspired by the Christian faith in a self-guided walking tour of the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s pieces from the Middle Ages and Renaissance with emphasis on depictions of Saint Francis of Assisi (c.1181-1226), now through September 30, with extended hours on Tuesday, September 22 through Thursday, September 24, 10am-5pm, Wednesday, September 23 open until 8:45pm (Pay What You Wish admission from 5pm-8:45pm), and Monday, September 28, 10am-5pm. The museum will be closed Friday, September 25, Saturday, September 26 and Sunday, September 27 during the Pope’s visit. Pictured: Saint Francis of Assisi Receiving the Stigmata, Jan van Eyck, Netherlandish (active Bruges), c. 1395–1441, courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
“Religious Liberty and the Founding of America” at the National Constitution Center
Religious Liberty and the Founding of America, timed to coincide with the World Meeting of Families and the historic visits of Pope Francis and His Holiness the Dalai Lama to Philadelphia, opens at the National Constitution Center, exploring the role of religion in early America. The exhibit features 20 key documents from early American history that illuminate the role religion played in public life in the Founding era and shows how freedom of religion became a right guaranteed by the first amendment to the U.S. Constitution. See a copy of George Washington’s First Thanksgiving Proclamation (1789), printings of Washington’s Letter to the Roman Catholics in America, and Oaths & Declarations for Office, 1704 (pictured, courtesy of Seth Kaller, Inc.). Though Pennsylvania emphasized freedom of conscience, there was tension between Quaker and Anglican sects. Quakers refused to swear oaths that were considered mandatory to hold government office. Pennsylvania accommodated the Quakers with this document, signed by William Penn’s son, among others, showing Quakers agreeing to a separate affirmation, instead of an oath, to serve on the Provincial Council. On view through January 3 with discounted admission offered September 22-27, 525 Arch Street, Philadelphia. A Town Hall, “American Faith – The Origin and Meaning of Religious Liberty” takes place Monday, September 21, 5pm. Photo courtesy of the National Constitution Center.
Religious Liberty Documents on display at the National Museum of American Jewish History
The National Museum of American Jewish History displays two vital documents written by George Washington: the letter written to the Catholic Community (on loan to the Museum by the Archdiocese of Baltimore) and the 1790 letter to the Hebrew Congregation in Newport, Rhode Island where he proclaims “the government of the United States…gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance.” Both letters affirm the importance of religious liberty in the United States and will be on view together from September 22 through October 4, 101 South Independence Mall East, corner of 5th and Market Streets, Philadelphia. The museum will be open late until 8pm on Saturday, September 26 to accommodate those who attend the Pope’s historic address at Independence Hall. Pictured: Moses Ezekiel sculpture of Religious Liberty, which stands in front of the National Museum of American Jewish History, reaching a hand out to Independence Mall, carved from a single block of carrara marble in Rome.
Newly Restored Murals at Eastern State Penitentiary
Eastern State Penitentiary illustrates the power of penitence with extended museum hours and special access to the newly restored murals in the Catholic Chaplain’s office, Sunday, September 20 through Thursday, September 24, 10am-8pm. The pieces were painted by inmate Lester Smith in 1955, a self-taught artist who used the signature “Paul Martin” to honor is two favorite saints. Smith converted to Catholicism in prison and Father Edwin Gallagher, Eastern State’s Catholic Chaplin (1952-1958), saw him painting in his cell and invited him to decorate the offices where he met with and counseled inmates. Access to the murals is normally allowed at select times, 2027 Fairmount Avenue, Philadelphia. Eastern State will be closed Saturday and Sunday, September 26-28 during the Pope’s visit. Photo courtesy of Eastern State Penitentiary.
Verbum Domini II: God’s Word Goes Out to the Nations
Verbum Domini II: God’s Word Goes Out to the Nations opens Monday, September 21 with more than 80 artifacts from Museum of the Bible’s Green Collection, one of the largest private collections of rare biblical texts and artifacts in the world. Originally exhibited at the Vatican in Rome, the 15,000 square feet exhibit features fragments from the Dead Sea Scrolls, five pages from the Bodmer Psalms Codex, a near-complete copy of the book of Psalms in Greek on papyrus from the third to fourth century CE, pages from the Codex Climaci Rescriptus, which contains Christian texts from the sixth to eighth century, most of them in Aramaic (the language Jesus spoke), the fourteenth century Hours and Psalter of Elizabeth de Bohun, Countess of Northampton, one of the most extensively illuminated manuscripts of its kind, a first edition of the King James Bible, and more on display at the Pennsylvania Convention Center through Sunday, September 26 in Hall G of the Pennsylvania Convention Center, accessible via the Broad Street Atrium. Free and open to the public. Photo courtesy of the Museum of the Bible. Also on display at the Pennsylvania Convention Center is a life-size marble casting of one of Michaelangelo’s Pietá, September 22-25.
Woodmere Art Museum’s “Biblical Art from the Permanent Collection”
In anticipation of Pope Francis’ visit to Philadelphia, Woodmere Art Museum presents Biblical Art from the Permanent Collection, on view through October 18. The exhibit invites viewers to explore how the stories of the Bible have been interpreted by diverse artists working in distinct social and historical contexts to create images that express deeply felt faith and comment on contemporary issues. Artists include Paul Gorka, Anthony-Petr Gorny, Benton Spruance, and Walter Stuempfig, with varied stylistic approaches and media. Free related programs and events include a gallery talk “Contemplating the Divine in Art,” Sunday, September 20, 1:30pm, with Kathleen Szpila, Assistant Professor of Art History at Chestnut Hill College. Also, tours of the exhibit on September 23 and 30 and October 7 and 14, 2pm, 9201 Germantown Avenue, Chestnut Hill. Pictured: The Piazza (date unknown) by Benton Spruance. Photo courtesy of Woodmere Art Museum.
“Images of the Divine” at Reading Public Museum
Reading Public Museum draws from its collection of 15th through 18th century sacred paintings, sculptures and works on paper by Italian, Flemish, and Dutch artists for Images of the Divine, September 21 through January 3. Subjects include The Nativity of Christ, Raising of Lazarus, St. John the Baptist, Saints Peter and Paul, Virgin and Child, St. Lucy, a Sacra Conversazione, and the Lamentation by European masters such as Domenico Michelino (1417-1491), Jacopo Tintoretto (1518/19-1594), Giovanni Dó (1604-1656), Corrado Giaquinto (1703-1766), as well as works by Northern European artists such as the Master of the Wettringen Altarpiece (active early 16th century) and the workshop of Joos van Cleve (1507-1540/1), 500 Museum Road, Reading, PA. Pictured: Adoration of the Christ Child by Domenico di Zanobi, Italian, documented 1467–1481, tempera and tooled gold on panel, Gift, Mr. and Mrs. Stanley Bright. Photo courtesy of the Reading Public Museum.
Free screenings at International House Philadelphia
International House Philadelphia presents free screenings of films on the life of his namesake, St. Francis of Assisi: Roberto Rossellini’s 1950 classic The Flowers of St. Francis (pictured), Saturday, September 19, 7pm, introduced by Professor Stefania Benini. Thursday, September 24, 7pm is Brother Sun, Sister Moon by Franco Zeffirelli, followed by the St. Nicholas of Tolentine Centennial Celebration, written and produced by Leonard Guercio and Peter Spina, USA, 2012, introduced by Leonard Guercio, Temple University. Films will be screened in the Ibrahim Theater, 3701 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia. Photo courtesy of International House Philadelphia.
World Meeting of Families Film Festival
The first ever World Meeting of Families Film Festival takes place Tuesday, September 22 through Friday, September 25, a selection of Philadelphia-centric and family-friendly films curated by the Greater Philadelphia Film Office and the World Meeting of Families. Films include The Mighty Macs, Diary of a City Priest (pictured), A Man for All Seasons, Invincible, Wizard of Oz, Wide Awake, and the premiere of Urban Trinity at the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts. On Thursday, September 24, 1400 high school students from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and the School District of Philadelphia will see Schindler’s List at Congregation Rodeph Shalom and on Friday, September 25, an outdoor screening of the popular Sing-a-Long version of The Sound of Music will be held at Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia.
The Pope’s favorite films
The Philadelphia Film Society screens several of the Pope’s Favorite Films: Babette’s Feast, Tuesday, September 22, Rome, Open City, Wednesday, September 23, La Strada, Thursday, September 24, and a special one-hour short, The Vatican Museums 3D (pictured), twice each day before the nightly feature, Prince Theater, 1412 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia.
Festival of Families
Aretha Franklin, The Fray, Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli, Grammy and Latin Grammy winning Colombian superstar Juanes, the Philadelphia Orchestra, led by Music Director Yannick Nézet-Séguin (pictured), and many more perform for Pope Francis at the Festival of Families on Saturday, September 26 on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Hosted by actor Mark Wahlberg. Photo by Chris Lee.
“Illuminating the Word: The Saint John’s Bible” at Biggs Museum of American Art
The Biggs Museum of American Art hosts an international exhibition featuring 70 pages of The Saint John’s Bible, the first monumental hand-illuminated Bible to be commissioned by a Benedictine monastery in over 500 years. The art project was commissioned by Saint John’s University, Collegeville, Minnesota, and was hand-written and illuminated by Donald Jackson, whose team worked for almost fifteen years to adorn each vellum page of the Bible using the same tools and materials – quills and ink – that medieval monks used to create Bibles before the invention of the printing press. “Illuminating the Word: The Saint John’s Bible” will be on display December 4 through March 27, 406 Federal Street, Dover, DE. The final volume of the limited, full-sized fine art edition of The Saint John’s Bible was presented to His Holiness Pope Francis in April. Photo courtesy of the Biggs Museum.
Don’t have a ticket to the Papal events? All are invited to view for free in Historic Philadelphia at Franklin Square, 6th and Race Streets. The live feed is same that viewers will be seeing on Independence Mall or the Benjamin Franklin Parkway (not through television network), broadcast on a jumbotron, Saturday, September 26 and Sunday, September 27, as well as Pope Francis’ special mass at the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul. Franklin Square is outside the security zone for the ticketed events. The Hours are 9am-8pm both days (or when programming concludes).
Did you know? Philadelphia Trolley Works/Big Bus Company offers a Catholic Shrine Tour, Religious Walking Tours (Benjamin Franklin Parkway), Religious Walking Tours (Historic District), and Evening Religious Walking Tours.
To submit an event to be considered, email Robin Bloom at email@example.com.