Vatican Museums tour integrates art history, philosophy and theology

I’ve taken a lot of tours over the decades, from an audio-guided exploration of Alcatraz near San Francisco to a human-directed excursion through the seedy streets of London for a Jack the Ripper expedition.

But when I took a trip through the Vatican Museums with an art history professor named Elizabeth Lev, I felt like I experienced the mother of all tours.

Lev — who teaches art history at Duquesne University’s Italian campus – took me and a group of my fellow journalists through the museums. We were attending a seminar called The Church Up Close: Covering Catholicism in the Age of Benedict XVI, held Sept. 8-14 at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross School of Church Communications in Rome.

Her enthusiasm for art, history, philosophy and theology was infectious as she took us on a journey through a Christian time capsule. She used the stone, canvas, architecture and painted walls and ceilings as props in conveying the stories of Nero, St. Peter, Michelangelo and more popes than I could possibly mention.

In the former papal apartments leading up to the Sistine Chapel, Lev showed us how the artist Raphael married reality with spirituality, and philosophy with theology.

I have to admit, I hate crowds and don’t go through tourist attractions often because I dislike being crammed into rooms with too many other people. But Lev made enduring the swarm of sightseers worthwhile and the lessons learned became one of the highlights of the seminar.

Bravo, Elizabeth!

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