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Museum dedicated to foster respect for Italy’s diverse religious history

Italy is officially a secular state with freedom of religion guaranteed under the 1947 constitution of the Italian Republic. Italy’s status as a secular state was further confirmed on Feb. 19, 1984, when Italy and the Vatican signed a concordat under which Roman Catholicism ceased to be the state religion of Italy.

To honor Italy’s rich history of different religious influences, Il Museo Interreligioso, (The Museum of the Three Religions) was established in the town of Bertinoro in the region of Emilia-Romagna. It was a result of the desire to increase understanding of the three monotheistic religions: Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. This voyage into religious knowledge is fundamental in Italy, which is a society undergoing major trans-formation. It has helped develop dialogue, understanding and respect between all citizens of Italy. There are differences between the three religions but also many similarities in how people of these religions express their faith.

What do people of Christian, Jewish and Islam share when they profess their religious faith? How can they all live together when they profess their faith in different ways? These are questions the museum seeks to answer through carefully planned exhibits and dialogue for visitors who come through this unique site.

Visitors enter the museum through an arched door which features symbols of all three creeds. They will then journey through a series of rooms that focus on the three religions. A beautiful mosaic of Abraham greets them near the entrance as he is recognized as the father of all three faiths. In the Bible, St. Paul emphasizes the fidelity of Abraham, while in the Koran he is the first example of a monotheist who devoted himself completely to God and built the first temple to Allah. In Judaism he is regarded as the patriarch of the Jewish people. He was the first person to teach the idea that there is only one God.

Entry to the museum highlights the three major religions of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. Visitors then pass through 15 rooms which highlight key figures and cultural mores of all three religions.

In recent years, the museum has added new exhibits which include reconstructions of the Tabernacle of the Desert, the Second Temple of Jerusalem, the Saint of Saints, and the Ark of the Covenant.

These new exhibits, with Moses as a central figure, highlight the common values of devotion to one God and the relation of all humans to one another regardless of their different religious and cultures. The exhibits allow visitors to live an authentic human experience, narrated through sacred texts in which were born the common ideals of monotheism and through exhibits of art and examples of daily life, including religious rites.

There are 12 rooms that explore each faith. Of particular interest are La Sala dell’Unicità di Dio (The Hall of the Oneness of God) which shows the three principal prayers of each faith. Another room is dedicated to le Sale della Sinagoga e della casa ebraica, (the Halls of the Synagogue and the Jewish home, and then the Sale dell’Islam (the Hall of Islam). All of these feature sacred places, clothing, sacred texts and documents objects and art which are important in each religion.

In the Sala del Male (Hall of Evil), art invokes the choice between good and evil. The story of Adam and Eve is told through a sculpture by Francesco Messina and reminds us that the first sin against God was not the temptation but a free choice between good and bad.

The Sala della Cena Pasquale tells the story and displays the celebration of Passover while La Sala della Moschea and La Sale delle Cinque Pilastri dell’Islam tell the story of the place of prayer for Muslims and the five pillars of Islamic faith. The last room is Le Oltre, where visitors will walk through a narrow tunnel which symbolizes the passage from death to the fullness of life. In the three religions, this is not viewed as the simple sentence of a tribunal, but as a divine reward or punish-ment, proportionate to the good or evil done by the faithful during his earthly existence.

This distinctive museum is housed inside Bertinoro Castle which has played a significant role in the history of Romagna for over one thousand years. Exhibits of Rembrandt, Francesco Messina, Giacomo Manzu, Floriano Bodini aned Sandro Pagliuchi are just a few of the treasures one can see after visiting the museum.

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