Started by evangelical Christians, the Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C., makes a concerted effort to engage Catholics.
“Catholics are a very important part of the demographic of the nation,” said Harry Hargrave, museum CEO. Besides developing a Catholic advisory board, which includes several Legates, the museum has planned events and exhibits of particular interest to Catholics, including an upcoming Shroud of Turin exhibit to open Feb. 17, 2021. Additionally, Hargrave said the museum has established a relationship with the Vatican that has made possible a long-term exhibit of manuscripts and other treasures from the Vatican Museums and Vatican Library. Other such displays include “Inventors of the Alphabets,” for example, featuring contemporary interpretations of 16th-century frescoes in the Sistine Hall.
Crafted by Hobby Lobby family
A project of Hobby Lobby’s Green family, the 430,000-square-foot Museum of the Bible opened in 2017, three blocks from the U.S. Capitol in a repurposed building that was originally a refrigerated meat-storage facility which later housed the Washington Design Center. In its first year, it drew 1 million visitors and has since earned a 4.5 rating on Trip Advisor, which recently ranked it as No. 29 of 471 things to do in Washington, D.C.
The idea for the museum grew out of the Greens’ interest in and acquisition of biblical artifacts, which led to their amassing a collection containing tens of thousands of items. Steve Green, whose father, David, founded the Hobby Lobby arts-andcrafts retail chain, serves as chairman of the museum’s board and assembled the team that created the museum’s high-tech presentation of the Bible’s impact, stories, and history. Lee Crisp, chairman of the museum’s Catholic advisory board and vice chairman of the board of directors, said the Museum of the Bible is probably the most technologically advanced and engaging museum in the world. “If you want to know about the Bible, this is the place to go.”
Visitors to the museum’s six floors can view exhibits that show how the Bible influenced fashion, literature, art, architecture and American culture. They can walk through the stories of the Hebrew Bible and experience first-century Nazareth, and they can see the various forms in which the Bible has been read, from hand-written scrolls to mobile devices.
What draws Catholics
Jeffrey Kloha, the museum’s chief curatorial officer, said the section devoted to the history of the Bible is probably the most important. Catholics, he said, may be especially interested in the treatment of the Protestant Reformation and the Council of Trent, when many beautiful manuscripts such as devotional books and illuminated psalters were produced. “That period really [undergirds a key period in] the history of the Catholic Church through these manuscripts and these incredible objects,” Kloha said, “and I hope people can appreciate how the Church preserved these and see how it is an important part of their inheritance today.”
Among the artifacts in this section, he said, is the prayer book of Charles V, the 16th-century Holy Roman Emperor who was instrumental in helping the Church navigate through the Protestant Reformation. “It’s amazing to have the personal devotional book of the most powerful person in the world at that time, and an incredibly important Catholic leader.” Kloha said the Green family acquired the book and donated it to the museum.
Also of interest to Catholic visitors are a first-edition Rheims New Testament translated into English in 1582 by English Catholics in France, a full-sized replica of Michelangelo’s Pieta, and a collection of bronze Stations of the Cross sculpted by contemporary artist Gib Singleton and exhibited during Lent.
Upcoming Shroud exhibit
Although an upcoming exhibit on the Shroud of Turin, which many believe to be the authentic burial cloth of Christ, is expected to draw Catholics because of their affinity for the Shroud, Hargrave said the museum is hoping it will spark interest among Christians in general.
Legate Myra Adams, executive director of the Sign from God Foundation, which educates people about the Shroud as a means of evangelization, broached the idea for the exhibit in 2018. By March, 2019, a decision had been made to proceed and the following month, it was announced at the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast. A kick-off and fundraiser for the exhibit featuring experts on the shroud was held at the museum Jan. 18 and was attended by Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States, who has visited the museum several other times.
Even though the museum doesn’t track visitors’ religious affiliations, Crisp said it is known that many Catholic school groups have visited as have Catholics attending events there sponsored by organizations like Legatus, the Papal Foundation, and the Napa Institute. Legatus will again be visiting for the third consecutive year, as part of its “Catholics at the Capitol” event in September.
Lisa Rowan, who serves on the museum’s Catholic advisory board with Legates Tim Busch, Tom Heule, and John Meyer, said, “Every time a Catholic comes to the museum, they’re just in awe … There’s something for everybody.”
JUDY ROBERTS is a Legatus magazine staff writer