Why was Lubbock, of all cities, chosen to serve as host of an exhibit of 31 priceless, never-before-displayed, historical fres-coes rather than, well, any major metropolitan area from Los Ange-les to Chicago and on to New York City?
These are questions on the lips of many planning visits to see the exhibit titled "Traditions and Renewal: Medieval Frescoes from the Vatican Museums" a collection of art from the Vatican Museums in Rome at the Museum of Texas Tech.
Even the Rev. Richard Bourgeois, overseeing North American chap-ters of Patrons of the Arts in the Vatican Mu-seums, said, "My first thought when I heard about this exhibit is, 'Who in Lub-bock knows who with the Vatican Museums?' Things like this just don't happen."
The simple answer might be that the Rev. Malcolm Neyland, a West Texas priest who over-sees congregations in small towns of Post and Wilson, came to know and form a friendship with Francesco Buranelli, acting director general of the Vatican Museums in Rome since 1997.
Yet obtaining the rights to showcase art from the Vatican Museums is no simple matter.
Bishop Placideo Rodriguez of the Catholic Diocese of Lubbock opened the door for the Vatican medieval frescoes exhibit with his offical request.
Seeing art travel from the Vatican Museums in Rome to Lubbock is a 14-year dream come true for Neyland, who was overcome when he viewed artworks at the Vatican Museums for the first time in 1988.
He traveled from Lubbock to Vatican City 14 times at his own expense to speak with church and museum officials and promote Lubbock.
When he bonded with Buranelli in 1991, he also found an ally, as well as a liaison with Pope John Paul II , although
nothing in terms of art for Lubbock was ever mutually discussed until 1997.
After his first eight years of exploratory work, Neyland knew it was time to present his vision to Bishop Placido Rodriguez of the Catholic Diocese of Lubbock. The bishop embraced the priest's dream.
Francesco Buranelli, acting director of the Vatican Museums, shows the Etruscan tombs outside Rome.
"Once Father Neyland communicated to me his desire," Rodriguez said, "we prepared and went to Rome in 1997 and asked the proper permission of the Vatican. First, I asked Cardinal (Angelo) Sodano, the secretary of state for the Vatican, for permission to host a Vatican Museums art exhibit.
"I spoke on behalf of the Catholic Church in Lubbock. The key to understand why this exhibit is possible is to understand the important role of the bishop. The entire Catholic Church hinges on the bishops, and even though we're a young diocese only 18 years old nevertheless, we're truly respected as a local church, as a diocese. I knew that the Vatican would hear the diocese's request."
Neyland recalled that Buranelli promised an exhibit if Neyland would just wait until 2002. Buranelli gave no details, saying only, "You and the world will be grateful and pleased if you do."
A verbal agreement was made in 2000 after Buranelli gave Neyland a peek at the yet-to-be-restored frescoes, then housed in a conservatory basement of the Vatican Museums.
A contract finally was signed in February. Neyland said the primary reason Lubbock was approved was to allow citizens who generally do not travel to large American cities, much less Rome, an opportunity to view art from the Vatican Museums.
What: "Traditions and Renewal: Medieval Frescoes from the Vatican Museums"
When: June 2-Sept. 15
Where: The Museum of Texas Tech
Tickets: Free tickets must be obtained in advance. Visitors should know the day, and hour of day, they wish to attend before requesting tickets. Tickets can be reserved in advance by calling 742-6800 locally or toll free 866-803-6873.
But first, Neyland and Rodriguez had to secure a gallery that could support such an exhibit and, of course, provide ample security to protect works of art being exhibited for the public only once, then returned directly to Rome.
And they needed political, as well as financial, clout.
The first letters of support came from then-Tech Chancellor John Montford, Lubbock Mayor Windy Sitton, Lubbock City Council members and Tech professors.
U.S. Rep. Larry Combest, R-Lubbock, served as official liaison between the U.S government and the Vatican City State.
Tech agreed to:
Provide in-house space for the exhibit.
Provide the official catalog for the exhibit.
Train and provide professional security for the exhibit.
It fell to Neyland to raise funds for shipping, publicity, security outside the Tech museum and all ancillary costs.
The Vatican Exhibit 2002 Foundation was formed, with Neyland as president and executive director. That foundation, co-founded by scores of South Plains residents, was aided by the Vatican Exhibit Committee and charged with raising funds to support the exhibit.
The Vatican Exhibit 2002 Foundation was responsible for:
Packing and preparation of art work.
Transportation of exhibit from Rome to Lubbock and its return to Rome.
Costs incurred by couriers traveling between Rome and Lubbock.
Care for visiting diplomats and dignitaries.
Neyland noted that his first major supporters were Giles McCrary, Doug Sanford, Mark Scioli and Fred Underwood. An array of doctors, lawyers, judges and teachers served on committees raising funds and in-kind donations.
Members of Lubbock's city government will serve as hosts for dignitaries from the United States and abroad. University Medical Center will provide health care and medical expertise for such guests as Vatican officials. Continental Airlines is donating overseas transportation for the Vatican treasures.
These frescoes could not have been exhibited anywhere before now. Buranelli noted that it wasn't until five years ago that scientific methodology was perfected to allow frescoes to be removed from walls.
A failed attempt at restoration took place in the 1930s.
William Kerns can be contacted at 766-8712 or email@example.com