Following an international open competition to curate, conceptualise and design the installation space for the Vatican's Pavilion for the year 2000, six short listed companies were invited to present their designs. At the completion of this stage, Morris Associates was commissioned by the Apostolic Nuncio on behalf of the Vatican and the German Bishops' Conference to realise its design.
Our design concept was based upon the major messages of Pope John Paul II throughout his papacy to reflect the jubilee celebration. Five themes were chosen including Peace and Justice, Women, Children, Family and Human Dignity to be highlighted in the outer ring of the Pavilion. Powerful photographic images were selected from revered international sources such as Magnum Photos and the Vatican's own archives to graphically depict these messages, removing the need for didactic text and allowing the visitor the freedom of interpretation. The central focus of the display was the "Mandylion", a 6th century painting on cloth valued at £120 million - venerated for centuries as the true depiction of Christ - which had never been seen outside the Pope's private chapel (Redemptoris Mater) in the Vatican. The Mandylion was shown in a light screened chapel-like setting within a specially devised environmentally controlled display case that constantly monitored humidity levels as well as the ambient and fibre optic light. Each of the outer areas of the Pavilion was complemented by exceptional sculptures from the Vatican Museum including a "Pieta of David" by Michelangelo.
Following the opening on 1st June 2000, the Vatican Pavilion was appraised by international critics and judged to be among the top 6 of 172 participating countries, which was surprising for a religious based theme. Although there were reports of a low attendance figure for EXPO 2000 in general, the Pavilion exceeded the client's expectations of 300,000 visitors and overwhelmingly attracted in excess of 2.5 million people.