Seen in Philly: The Lego Vatican

The Art of the Brick is seen next to a cardboard cutout of Pope Francis
The Art of the Brick is seen next to a cardboard cutout of Pope Francis (photo: Photo by Tom McDonald)

The Franklin Institute in Philadelphia has two special exhibits running while the World Meeting of Families is taking place. One is the impressive “Vatican Splendors” collection of treasures, while the other is a wonderful display of Lego art by Nathan Sawaya, called “The Art of the Brick.” Put them together in you-got-your-chocolate-in-my-peanut-butter style, and you get … the Lego Vatican!

Father Bob Simon, pastor of St. Catherine of Siena Church in Moscow, Pa., in the Diocese of Scranton, started work on a scale model of St. Peter’s Square about 10 months ago, in anticipation of the Pope’s arrival. The specifications of the finished work are impressive. It weighs 100 pounds, measures 14-by-6 feet and is made of almost half a million bricks.

Prior to beginning, Father Simon spent about two years buying bricks, beginning work in September 2014, in order to have it ready for the papal visit.

Father Simon told USA Today that working on the model was a “very quiet experience at the end of the day. … While your hands are busy, your mind and heart are elsewhere. It frees up the mind.” He likens the process to praying the Rosary.

This wasn’t the first time Father Simon tried to build St. Peter’s. As a precocious seventh-grader he attempted the feat using only white and red bricks at hand, with disappointing results.

This version is far more impressive. From the cross on the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica to the individual people in the square, it’s packed with detail and life.

Michelangelo’s dome and Maderno’s facade are represented in impressive detail. The mosaic floors can be seen through the passages flanked by Swiss Guards. Bernini’s dazzling piazza is equally impressive, stretching out and embracing the area in its twin ellipses. Each of the statues along the roof line and the colonnade are also represented.

Down in the square, the tourists and pilgrims are represented in Lego Mini-figs, the popular little block figures of people. Father Simon made an effort to show as many of the cultures as he could and even included a tourist with a selfie stick and a model of himself.

They’re spread out joyfully (Lego people always look happy) around the obelisk at the center of the square. The square itself is finished in thousands of blocks that represent the stone pavement of the area.

To top it all off, there’s a figure of Pope Francis, waving from the balcony.

The impressive sculpture was reassembled in Bartol Atrium over two days and will remain on display throughout the run of “Vatican Splendors.”

It can be seen by any visitors to the atrium without buying a full museum ticket.