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Religion in the metaverse: the Vatican is launching an NFT gallery

The Vatican is planning to launch an NFT gallery meant to democratize art, hence bringing the headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church closer to the metaverse.

Home to around 800 art pieces by famous artists, which include works of Michelangelo, Raphael, Marc Chagall, Salvador Dalí, Vincent van Gogh, and Pablo Picasso, the Vatican’s museum attracts millions of visitors every year. Founded in the 16th century, it is considered one of the most culturally significant sites of Vatican City.

The project will kick off in partnership with a metaverse developer, Sensorium, and the Humanity 2.0 Foundation – a Vatican-led non-profit organization. It will be chaired by Father Philip Larrey, Dean of Philosophy at the Pope’s University in Vatican City.

“The public-private partnership aims to extend the availability of the Vatican’s heritage – manuscripts, masterpieces, and academic initiatives – to people, who otherwise won’t be able to experience it,” Sensorium’s press release reads.

The gallery should become available over the course of this year. It will be accessible via desktop and VR glasses for full immersion.

“We look forward to working with Sensorium to explore ways to democratize art, making it more widely available to people around the world regardless of their socio-economic and geographical limitations. The partnership with Sensorium brings this goal a step further and equips us with the latest tech solutions,” said Father Philip Larrey, Chairman of Humanity 2.0.

The Vatican’s representative told ART News that NFTs won’t be used to make a profit, although their exact purpose remains unclear.

“The nature of this project for Humanity 2.0. is exclusively social and not commercial. Also, here NFTs don’t necessarily have to come in a form of artworks, but can also include tickets and other objects.”

Faith in the metaverse

The idea of attending a Sunday church service using a VR headset is gaining traction. The religious experience in the metaverse is like no other: users are guided through spiritual places by a pastor’s avatar while listening to religious scripts and even watching holy events unfold in front of their eyes. Such experiences can range from more immersive to traditional church services and meditation.

To many, it’s a way to get closer to God through a strikingly personal adventure and attend religious events without the necessity of physically being there.

“The future of the church is the metaverse. It’s not an anti-physical thing. I don’t think the physical gatherings should go away. But in the church of 2030, the main focus is going to be your metaverse campus,” said DJ Soto, a Virginia-based pastor and the founder of VR Church, which exists entirely in the metaverse.

Soto believes that VR Church is no different from a traditional one. Still, as it allows parishioners to see and hear the verses at the same time, he considers the experience to be more meaningful.

Others, however, think that the church in the metaverse raises many questions, specifically around the validity of virtual sacraments.

“Theological reflections are like our bodies matter in part because God came in human form and showed great compassion and empathy for the embodied human. So as we meet more and more in digital spaces, what are the implications for that? Christian theologians have not yet grappled with what that means when they're gathered in digital spaces,” Paul Raushenbush of Interfaith Youth Core told Euronews.

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