Just last week I was thinking about eulogies and funerals, and of course here at MJL we have a number of articles about Jewish funerals and mourning.Â But what we donâ€™t have is a life-sized diorama of a funeral. If you want one of those you have to head to Houston. Specifically, to the National Museum of Funeral History. Except itâ€™s not really a Jewish funeral they have going there–itâ€™s the Popeâ€™s.
The museum is one of Houston’s best-kept secrets, a warehouse-like building in a working-class pocket north of Houston, where soft music and hushed words waft from the sound system, the sweet scent of flowers leaves a faint trail in the air and exhibits extol everything from the birth of embalming to the mourning rituals of the Victorian Era.
But now the subdued atmosphere has an ambitious new addition, “Celebrating the Lives and Deaths of the Popes,” billed as the only display of papal artifacts outside the Vatican.
It took the museum two years to secure Vatican permission for the project, plus another year to put the exhibit together, said Genevieve Keeney, the museum director who is also a bereavement counselor and licensed funeral director.
The exhibit is designed to recreate the experience of attending a papal funeral. There is a re-creation of a pope lying in state at St. Peter’s Basilica, flanked by two members of the Swiss Guard. A mannequin representing the pontiff is clothed in the funeral vestments made for John Paul II; the Swiss Guard figures wear blue and yellow uniforms donated by the corps.
Once permission was secured for the exhibition, many of the items that are part of it were donated to the museum by papal tailor Roberto Consorsi. They include two of the three sets of funeral vestments made for John Paul II, who was buried wearing one of the sets, and the embroidered sash–or fascia–the pope wore every day.
When Consorsi came for the opening and first saw the exhibit, he utter only one word: “Perfecto,” said Keeney. “He said he felt like he was there again.”
I don’t know why I think that it would be a really cool Jewish learning experience to go see this exhibit, but I really do. Road trip!