Skip to Content

Vatican Splendors Exhibit at Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum

Sharing is caring!

The Vatican Splendors exhibit at Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum is a 10,000 square foot exhibition featuring an extraordinary collection of historical and religious objects, and works of art by Michelangelo, Bernini, Guercino, and others. Explore how the Papacy has impacted, and been impacted by, the world throughout the centuries at this once in a lifetime experience.

Vatican Splendors Exhibit at Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum

We walked with Brother Charles Hilken, Ph.D, Exhibit Consultant as he shared unprecedented insight into the exhibit. Brother Charles Hilken is a professor and chair of the Department of History at Saint Mary's College of California, and is trained as a medieval historian with special emphasis on manuscript studies. Brother Charles was the historical consultant for a film documentary on the Vatican starring the late Sir Peter Ustinov, and for a previous exhibition, he helped evaluate and select never-before-exhibited objects from the papal sacristy.

Pre-sale tickets for the exhibit, which include admission into the main Reagan Library Museum and Air Force One Pavilion, are now available at

Vatican Splendors Exhibit at Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum

From the opening theater experience, where visitors will become immersed in the grandeur of the Vatican, to the closing object of a cast of Saint John Paul II’s hand (which guests may grasp), visitors will encounter the art, history and culture of the Vatican with unprecedented access and insight through 10 exquisite galleries. This special presentation of art and objects includes many never before on display in North America, and some not on view to the general public, even in Rome.

  • Among the items in the first gallery, “Early Christian Dialogue Between Faith and Art”, is a reconstruction of Saint Peter's tomb as it appeared in 160A.D.
  • Gallery two focuses on “The Rise of the Christian Rome,” as you have the chance to explore the Middle Ages and Byzantium period when Rome grew as a Christian city fostered by the papacy.
  • “The Early Renaissance” is highlighted in gallery three where you can learn how Christian art drew upon the art of Ancient Rome for inspiration.
  • The fourth gallery explores the fiery relationship between Pope Julius II and “Michelangelo” during the painting of the Sistine Chapel.
  • Gallery five features document signed by Michelangelo during the construction of “The Renaissance Basilica,” and decor from famed artist Bernini.
  • The sixth gallery presents “Art in the Service of Faith” with objects developed during the Protestant Reformation” period of change.
  • “The Art of the Liturgy” (gallery seven) features liturgical objects essential to the adoration of God.
  • Gallery eight, “Dialogue with the World,” shows how the Church has engaged the world through missionary outreach, teaching activities, and religious dialogue with both Christians and non-Christians.
  • “The Successors of Peter – Papal Portraiture” features a collection of papal portraits which have been collected and conserved over a span encompassing most of the 200 years of the papacy.
  • And, in the final gallery, “Art and the Contemporary Papacy,” is a broad collection of objects dating back to ancient Egypt and Assyria, to present day, including frescos, paintings, sculptures, liturgical instruments, and other works.

“Throughout his life, my husband had great affinity for the Catholic Church and as President of the United States, his relationship with the Vatican was very strong,” said former first lady Nancy Reagan. “He established a unique and very special friendship with Saint John Paul II. Remarkably, they shared similar personal backgrounds and together, they worked very hard – mostly in secret – to free the people of Poland and other captive nations from Communist rule. My husband would have been honored to know that his presidential library will be sharing this remarkable Vatican exhibition with the American people.”

“The potential to educate and spread the good news of the Catholic Church and faith through the educational content of this exhibition is unprecedented,” said Most Reverend José H. Gomez, Archbishop of Los Angeles. “To have this exhibit in the Los Angeles area is an honor.”

Following its time at the Reagan Library, the items will return to the Vatican, from which they cannot be absent for more than one year. The exhibit includes one of Michelangelo’s signed documents and a rarely seen bas relief sculpture created towards the end of his career. Other objects include venerated remains (bone fragments) of Saints Peter and Paul, artifacts discovered at the tombs of Saints Peter and Paul, and historical objects from the modern and ancient basilicas of Saint Peter’s in Rome. The objects are presented in galleries and recreated environments designed to enhance the understanding of their historical and artistic significance. Visitors will feel transported to the Vatican, from the underground catacombs where the remains of Saint Peter were discovered to the magnificent papal chambers found above ground. From the sights and sounds of the grand Basilica to a touchable cast of Saint John Paul II’s hand, the exhibition is a multi-sensory experience. It’s a true “insiders” view of the Vatican, including its spiritual, artistic and ceremonial treasures.

Portions of this material have been provided courtesy of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum.