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Lives and Deaths of Popes Exhibit

There’s an “unusual” new exhibit at Houston’s most unusual museum. It’s at the National Museum of Funeral History, and it documents the deaths and funerals of some of history’s famous Popes. Jim Bell reports.



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It’s not every day you can see real Vatican artifacts on display in a museum thousands of miles from Rome, but Bob Boetticher has done it. Boetticher and the Museum of Funeral History even had a high-ranking Monsignor from the Vatican and the Pope’s own tailor in town to help Daniel Cardinal DiNardo bless the exhibit when it opened this week. Boetticher says he got the idea for the exhibit when he watched the funeral of Pope John Paul II on TV three years ago.

image of Pope in Repose at St. Peters“I just thought that was very interesting, so I was thinking, well why don’t we do an exhibit on how they bury a Pope and all of the steps and all of the rituals for over two thousand years.”

Boetticher says it took him and his staff more than three years of work and travel, and dealing with international bureaucratic delays, but his exhibit Celebrating the Lives and Deaths of Popes is open to the public. Boetticher says it’s so large he had to add ten thousand square feet of new space to the museum to accommodate everything.

“When we came back from the Vatican I had a certain amount of in behind the scenes pictures of how did the Vatican bury Pope John Paul the Second. But we didn’t want to make this tour only about Pope John Paul the Second, it’s all of the Popes.”

image of Pope John Paul likeness Boetticher spent more than a year researching the Papacy and digging for newspaper articles and photographs of Papal funerals in modern times, going back to the 19th century. Many of the articles and photos he found were blown up to be part of the exhibit. Boetticher says his artifacts are a mixed bag of real Papal items on loan from the Vatican, and reproductions of real items he was unable to get. He had the reproductions made because he wanted to recreate the look and feel of a Papal funeral down to the last detail.

“So when you look at the pictures and when you look and see what we have done, it’s exact. I mean from the fabrics used in the bier that the Holy Father was lying on, to the bookstand that the Book of Gospels was on, we recreated it exactly. And the end of it is the only part that is dedicated to Pope John Paul the Second, we have, it took us a long time, but we recreated his crypt exactly the way that you see it in Rome.”

image of PopemobileAmong other things, the exhibit has actual vestments worn by various modern Popes, uniforms worn by the Vatican’s Swiss Guards, and the actual Popemobile used by Pope John Paul the Second during his visit to the United Kingdom in 1982. Boetticher says this exhibit is a permanent addition to the museum, and the artifacts from the Vatican are there on permanent loan. For more information about the National Museum of Funeral History, view

Jim Bell, KUHF, Houston Public Radio News.

image of Pope repose

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