Rome’s Jewish community and the Vatican join forces for art exhibition.

Rome’s Jewish community and the Vatican Museums will be holding a joint art exhibition from May 15 to July 23 in an effort to further improve Catholic-Jewish relations. The exhibit, a first-ever collaboration between the two, will showcase over 100 items, including religious documents, candlesticks, stone tablets from the Jewish catacombs in Rome, sarcophagi, ancient Roman glasses, and paintings. The main focus, however, will be a 2,000-year-old stone block featuring the image of a menorah, under the title “Menorah: Worship, History and Myth.” The legend of the golden menorah will also be explored during the exhibition.

The menorah, an ancient 7-lamp Hebrew lampstand made out of pure gold, is believed to have been used by Moses in the Tabernacle, and then much later in the Holy Temple (the Temple in Jerusalem). In 70 A.D., the temple was destroyed by Romans (under emperor Titus). They took the menorah with them to Rome. In the 5th century, when Rome was sacked, vandals stole the menorah, and until today it has not been recovered. The menorah became an important part of Jews, both religiously and culturally, during the Roman Empire.

The menorah has a history in the Christian world as well. Pope Alessandro VI's Borgia apartment in Vatican has a menorah frescoed on the wall.

Another interesting item that would be on display will be a bas relief recently discovered from a first-century Galilee synagogue. The majority of the items will be displayed at the Vatican Museums' exhibit space called as Carlo Magno in St. Peter's Square. The rest will be hosted at the Jewish Museum.

It was Cardinal Kurt Koch, head of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, and Riccardo Di Segni, the chief rabbi of Rome, that announced the exhibit last Monday (February 20). The deputy director of the Vatican Museums, Arnold Nesselrath, said the exhibit will show how religions can set aside their conflicts and work together.  According to him, the menorah actually helped Christians throughout the centuries to discover their Jewish roots.

Two of the artists to be represented in the exhibit include Nicolas Poussin and Marc Chagall. London's National Gallery and the Louvre would be lending items for the exhibit.

It was in 1986 that the Catholic-Jewish relationship got a healthy boost when the late Pope John Paul II visited the Great Synagogue of Rome and addressed the Jews as "our older brothers in faith."

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