"It was an exercise in patience," Father Bob Simon said

By Alex Heigl
September 18, 2015 11:45 AM

“I think there’s about half a million pieces in it,” Father Bob Simon says of his LEGO replica of the Vatican.

“I’m not sure,” he told CBS Philadelphia. “I think there are about 44,000 cobblestones of the square, 6,000 round bricks that make up the colonnade and under the little cobblestones, there’s 12,000 2 2 tiles that are under there.”

Father Simon’s replica – constructed over 10 months, using a picture of the Vatican on the cover of a book jacket with some help from Google Earth – is currently on display at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania’s Franklin Institute. (The timing coincides with Pope Francis’s visit to Philadelphia this weekend.)

Father Bob Simon's LEGO replica of the Vatican
Matt Rourke/AP

At 14′ by 6′ and about 100 pounds, Simon’s Vatican features a mini-Francis and a variety of Vatican personnel, including Swiss guards, a version of Simon himself, and a selfie-stick-wielding nun. Construction was “daunting,” he told the Associated Press. “It was an exercise in patience, and I was thrilled with the way everything came out.”

Simon is pastor at St. Catherine of Siena church in Moscow, Pennsylvania, about 100 miles north of Philadelphia. He’s visited the real Vatican five times, though his experience with LEGO is much more extensive. He built his first model, of the Roman Catholic church’s headquarters, when he was in seventh grade.

Simon needed to draw on every bit of that experience for his Vatican. The hardest part, he told the AP, was building the structure’s round basilica dome from square bricks, which he achieved partly by using LEGO life preservers to make the dome’s windows. Though he looked up tutorials on YouTube, he still felt outclassed. “I hardly understood what I was watching. I’m also not really great at math, so I was daunted by that as well.”

But all’s well that ends well. Simon’s sculpture is “amazing,” Larry Dubinski, president and CEO of The Franklin Institute, told the AP. “People are in awe.”