WASHINGTON (CNS) — A swirling image and the sounds of a whirlwind let visitors to the exhibit know that, through the magic of technology, they will soon be transported to another time and another place.

Afterwards, they can contemplate the ceiling or peer into the depths of the famous Parisian cathedral Notre-Dame. Or with a simple swipe of the screen, they can see what that corner of the church would have looked like hundreds of years ago.

“Notre Dame de Paris: The Expanded Exhibit” at the National Building Museum is one of two summer exhibits in Washington that delve into the history of a beloved place of worship visited by pilgrims and tourists.

At the Bible Museum “Basilica Sancti Petri: The Transformation of St. Peter’s Basilica”, visitors can see what the famous church almost looked like and how it came to be the celebrated sacred space it is today.

The Notre Dame exhibit calls itself “an augmented reality immersion into the history and restoration of the revered cathedral.”

Upon arrival, visitors are given a tablet, called HistoPad, and enter a room decorated with statues, faux stained glass windows and giant photos of Notre Dame.

The self-guided tour begins with video footage of the devastating fire that tore through the cathedral in 2019. The docent noted that French visitors refer to it as “the wound”.

Then it continues with the beginnings of the cathedral, when Bishop Maurice de Sully in 1163 began demolishing the 500-year-old Cathedral of Saint-Etienne, which was too small and too old for Paris’ needs, and began to build Notre-Dame in its place.

Scannable portals, much like QR codes, unlock a virtual reality scene where users can see the site as it was then and quickly swipe to see its modern appearance.

When users click on the bright spots in the image to learn more, church bells, clanging hammers, chants, and other sound effects play.

After guiding visitors through the building process, momentous scenes from the life of Notre-Dame are explored, from its desecration during the French Revolution to the coronation of Napoleon Bonaparte. The final part of the exhibition shows images of the cathedral’s incredible restoration process underway, with 360 degree views in high definition.

At the Museum of the Bible, illustrated prints tell the story of the reconstruction of St. Peter’s Basilica. The exhibit is housed in a room titled “Treasures from the Vatican Museums and the Vatican Library.”

Catholic visitors to the museum may also be interested in the “Mystery and Faith: The Shroud of Turin” exhibit, which delves into the artifact believed by some to be the burial garments of Christ.

St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome was built over the burial place of the Apostle Peter by Emperor Constantine I in the 4th century. At the beginning of the 16th century, due to its age and poor condition, the basilica had to be demolished.

The reconstruction process took many years and many architects participated in the project, including Michelangelo and Bernini. The new basilica was consecrated in 1626.

The prints illustrate the different plans of the new basilica and end with an engraving of the final basilica and Saint Peter’s Square.

The Notre Dame and St. Peter’s Basilica exhibits celebrate these architectural works of art and remind visitors of the dedicated Catholics who worked faithfully to produce and preserve these houses of God.

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Editor’s Note: More information on these two exhibits is available online, respectively, at https://www.nbm.org/exhibition/notre-dame-de-paris-the-augmented-exhibition and to https://www.museumofthebible.org/basilica-sancti-petri-the-transformation-of-saint.

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Maraist is an editor for the Arlington Catholic Herald, a newspaper for the Diocese of Arlington, Virginia.