Vatican Museums Open Boutique, Consider Specialty Products Catholic Museums Attempt What American Counterparts Were Forced to Do to Survive: "Develop the Retail Sector"

Article excerpt

ROME -- First the Vatican went on-line and on CD. Now the Vatican Museums may be coming your way with designer rosaries.

The Vatican Museums, which house one of the world's richest art collections, have opened their first boutique outside the city- state's walls.

Items on sale include silk ties and scarves designed for the Vatican by Salvatore Ferragamo and watches showing a tiny scene from Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel ceiling.

Museum officials said the Vatican may also launch its own line of rosaries.

The retailing effort is part of the Holy See's campaign to raise revenue and make Roman Catholic teachings and trappings accessible worldwide. It hopes to capitalize on popular Church symbols ranging from famous artworks in the museums to globetrotting Pope John Paul II himself.

The museums are doing what American museums were forced to do a long time ago to survive: "develop the retail sector," said Georgina Bernett, an assistant to Vatican Museums administrator Francesco Riccardi.

Mixing commercialism with Catholicism is nothing new.

The museums have sold T-shirts, posters, postcards and other items inside for years, and the Vatican sells CDs of the pope saying the rosary and copies of his book.

With all this, the Vatican just breaks even. In 1993, it had its first surplus after 22 losing years, and forecasts are for a 1996 surplus of $329,000 from its 49 offices, ranging from media to real estate.

But diplomatic missions, property upkeep and other sectors that run at a loss must be funded by money-making divisions -- such as the museums, if the revenue-raising initiatives go well.

The initiatives have the blessing of Venezuelan Cardinal Rosalio Jose Castillo Lara, who is on a Vatican Bank oversight committee, Bernett said.

The museums also need to raise revenue for restoration projects. Admission fees "no way get near" the money needed just to cover operating costs, she said.

The new store, Edizioni Musei Vaticani (Vatican Museums Editions), opened its doors two months ago just across the street from a Swiss Guard checkpoint along a busy Rome boulevard.

Price cards explain that "sales of museum reproductions help support the conservation of the art work in the Vatican Museums."

Popular items, salesclerks say, include reproductions of ancient Roman busts. …