New York City and much of the east coast, is experiencing Pope fever this week, with the Pope arriving to Philadelphia on Tuesday and New York City on Thursday. Another unique visit from the Vatican was Michelangelo’s Pieta in 1964, which had been located inside St. Peter’s Basilica since 1499. It was shipped from Europe inside a metal waterproof container to the World’s Fair in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park.
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Without question, the Vatican Pavilion at the 1964 World’s Fair was one of the most popular exhibits. One entered a dark blue room, lit up with more then 400 lights, arranged in forty-eight vertical strings. In the center sat the “Crown Jewel” with the status encased in bullet-proof, ceiling-to-floor plexiglass.
Immediately following the exhibition, the Vatican passed a ban barring the loan of artwork, a policy that stood until 1979 when Pope John Paul II approved of a traveling exhibit “‘The Vatican Collections: The Papacy and Art” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Chicago Art Institute and de Young Museum.
While the Pieta is long gone, Flushing Meadows-Corona Park still contains reminders of the statue. Its original location is marked in an inscription on a marble bench at the Vatican Shrine, located east of the fountain.