Museum exhibits Catholic relics

Yalies need not travel to Rome this spring break to see Vatican artifacts firsthand — they can be found just a few blocks from campus at the Knights of Columbus Museum.

Opened six years ago by the Knights of Columbus — the world’s largest Catholic fraternal and family organization, with 1.7 million members worldwide — the museum specializes in Catholic art and has escaped the attention of many Yalies. Currently hosting “Crosses and Crucifixes” and an exhibit on the history of the Swiss Guard, the museum will soon add an exhibit on Joan of Arc on loan from Washington, D.C.

Armor is on view at an exhibition about the history of the Swiss Guards, currently on view at the Knights of Columbus Museum. The Catholic organization — founded in New Haven in 1882 — opened the museum six years ago, but it is not a popular destination for Yalies.
Annie Spokes
Armor is on view at an exhibition about the history of the Swiss Guards, currently on view at the Knights of Columbus Museum. The Catholic organization — founded in New Haven in 1882 — opened the museum six years ago, but it is not a popular destination for Yalies.

The Knights of Columbus was founded in the basement of St. Mary’s Church in New Haven in 1882 and is now headquartered in a concrete and brick masonry tower built during the city’s urban renewal period. The organization — which counts famous Catholics John F. Kennedy and Jeb Bush among its members — has seen a steady increase in visitors to its museum annually, attracting school groups, senior citizens and families, said Peter Sonski, spokesman for the Knights of Columbus.

But museum workers said Yale students seldom come to the museum and are largely unaware of its existence.

Edward Dunar ’08, a religious studies major and practicing Catholic, said though he has never visited the museum, he has always intended to go there to examine the history of his own religion.

“I would see it as more of a pilgrimage than an intellectual visit,” he said.

Angie Chamberland ’07, an art major, said she was aware of the museum but only through her job at the Yale Art Gallery.

“I have given directions to the museum,” Chamberlain said. “Often people [visit it] on museum tours of New Haven, but I’ve never been. I don’t think any of my friends know about it.”

Sonski said he wants to change that. In a city rich with cultural offerings, the Knights are trying to etch their own place, he said.

“We’re still the new kid on the block,” Sonski said. “We’re looking to gain more recognition because our exhibits are truly world-class.”

There are two exhibits currently on display at the museum. “Crosses and Crucifixes” brings together an assortment of 187 historical crosses, some as many as 800 years old, on loan to the museum from the Robert J. and Yvonne S. Klacko Collection of religious items. The collection is being shown publicly for the first time. The most recent exhibit celebrates 500 years of Swiss Guard history, with uniforms, helmets, munitions and drawings on display from as far back as the 16th century. Coming soon to the museum is an exhibit on Joan of Arc, arriving from the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, D.C.

Both admission and parking are free. The museum, located at 1 State St., is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays during the winter.

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