The Pope’s Museums will inaugurate a small but unique exhibition on 31 January in the intimate and cosy spaces of Room XVII of the Vatican Pinacoteca. For just 18 days, until 17 February 2024, it will be possible to admire the precious artefact of the Tablecloth of Forgiveness, before it is donated to Pope Francis and solemnly handed over to the Vatican Basilica on 22 February, the Feast of the Cathedra of Saint Peter. The precious linen tablecloth – “needle-painted” in matildic embroidery by the “Reggio Ricama" cultural circle - is destined to cover the Altar of the Cathedra, in memory of the “Great Countess” Matilda of Canossa (1046-1115): “honour and glory of Italy”, the first woman to be buried in Saint Peter's next to venerated and supreme pontiffs.
The name of the tablecloth recalls the pardon granted at Canossa exactly 947 years ago, on 28 January 1077, by Pope Gregory VII to the penitent Emperor Henry IV in front of the walls of the Apennine castle of the “Great Countess”. The motifs taken from the miniatures of Donizone's poem, the famous codex (kept today by the Vatican Library) that narrates the vicissitudes of Matilda and her ancestors, are transposed onto the white liturgical linen.
The exhibition event, which also showcases one of the liturgical vestments that accompanied the gift of the tablecloth to the Basilica, is also an opportunity for a renewed reflection on the figure of the Lady of Canossa and her lasting legacy. She was neither a saint nor blessed, but for the Catholic Church she remains a heroine: the last descendant of a powerful feudal dynasty and a skilful mediator in the age-old struggle between empire and papacy. Also significant on this special occasion is the symbolic role of the Vatican Museums, which, after hosting the official presentation of the exhibition "Il tesoro dei Canossa" (The Canossa Treasure) in Reggio Emilia in 2008, are once again participating and playing a leading role in an initiative that is at once historical, cultural and artistic.
The project, curated by Fernando Giuseppe Miele, enjoys the patronage of the Emilia Romagna Region, and involves the collaboration of the Vatican Apostolic Library, the Chapter of the Vatican Basilica and the Fabric of Saint Peter in the Vatican.