Oriental Christians: 2000 years of history

 

Oriental Christians: 2000 years of history

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Arab World Institute

According to the Gospels, Christ preached in Palestine, and it was in the region between the Mediterranean and the Euphrates, along the Nile, on the banks of the Bosporus that the new religion developed and was disseminated.

Today, despite all the vicissitudes of ancient and contemporary history, the Christians living in the Near and Middle East are not merely the residual traces of a forgotten past, but rather an important part of an Arab world that they largely contributed to building.

The Arab World Institute will present this exhibition-event—from 26 September 2017 to 14 January 2018—to recount the specific story of these Christians as communities intheir own right in the countries in which they live (Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan, and Palestine).

UNIQUE AND ORIGINAL PIECES

Organised in close collaboration with the representatives of the various communities, thanks to the support of the OEuvre d’Orient association, the itinerary will be comprised of 300 objects, including many heritage masterpieces, some of which have never been exhibited before in Europe and have been loaned for the event by the communities themselves. These extraordinary items will include the Rabbula Gospels, a famous illuminated Syriac manuscript dating from the sixth century, the earliest known church frescoes – from the third century – from Dura-Europos in Syria, mosaics from the oldest Palestinian and Syrian churches, portraits of Coptic monks from the Bawit Monastery in Egypt, stelae and pilgrims’ souvenirs with effigies of Saint Menas, Saint Symeon, and Saint Thecla, and icons illustrating the magnificence of God.

A DIVERSITY THAT ATTESTS TO A LONG HISTORY

The exhibition will cover the religious, political, and cultural history of the Christian communities, from antiquity to the present day. It will initially cover the emergence of a new religion in the pagan Roman Empire, which, over the course of three centuries, replaced the old gods. It played an important role in the development of monasticism.

It will show how the Greek, Coptic, Assyro-Chaldean, Syriac, Armenian, and Maronite Churches were formed in the context of fundamental theological debates, which were resumed in the modern era at the instigation of the Catholic and Protestant missions that came from Europe. It will shed light on these Churches today, with their diverse liturgical rites, saints, traditions, sites, sacred languages, architecture, and iconographic representations.

LIFE AFTER THE ARAB CONQUEST

The rapid Arab conquest of the first four caliphs (632–661), which introduced a new religion to the Middle East, was a challenge for the Christians, even though they were able to continue practising their religion. Despite having the status of dhimmis (protected people) and the gradual decrease of their number in the population, they continued to play a major role in the administration and social and intellectual life, under the various caliphates and in the Ottoman Empire (1453–1923). They disseminated culture through translations of their works. Through their contribution to the arts, architecture, and the crafts, they contributed to the development of the new civilisation, whose language they gradually adopted. Their Churches remained active, as attested by the subsequent architectural and artistic works.

THE CHRISTIANS PLAYED AN ACTIVE ROLE IN ARAB NATIONALISM

In the nineteenth century, despite their sometimes bloody history and suffering, the involvement of often secular Christian thinkers in the emergence of Arab nationalism consolidated the historical roots of their communities in the Arab world. They therefore played a major role in social, political, and economic life, the arts, and the literature of their countries. This is why the exhibition will highlight this aspect while addressing the more difficult contemporary issues.

A PRESENT FRAUGHT WITH DANGER BUT A PROMISING FUTURE

Today, in certain regions, the turmoil sweeping across the Near and Middle East is threatening the very existence of the Christians. Apart from the human drama that this represents and concerns about the preservation of the two-thousand-year-old material and immaterial heritage, the diversity of the Arab world is at stake. However, overshadowed by the horrors of current events and the development of extremist movements, a new citizen-based, secular consciousness is currently developing in Arab societies. This exhibition will conclude with evidence of a possible future for Oriental Christians.

With the new exhibition-event ‘Oriental Christians: 2,000 Years of History’, the Institut du Monde Arabe is beginning autumn 2017 in a spirit of diversity and multiculturalism. Following ‘The Islamic Treasures of Africa’, the new major exhibition will be held in conjunction with several major events: the second edition of the Biennial of Photography in the Contemporary Arab World, a programme of events and concerts that has been completely revised in the form of a focus on specific themes and, as usual, encounters, discussions, and debates with prominent contemporary figures. President of the IMA since 2013, Jack Lang is thus consolidating the IMA’s main goal: to open up and enrich our approach to the Arab world and provide a better understanding of it—a region, which, more than ever before, is at the heart of contemporary issues.

The end of 2017 will mark the thirtieth anniversary of the Institut du Monde Arabe. In this context, the iconic building designed by Jean Nouvel will be completely renovated: the moucharaby latticework panels will be modernised, the Library will reopen its doors, and, very soon, there will be a new exhibition of the museum’s permanent collections.

The exhibition ‘Oriental Christians: 2,000 Years of History’ will be presented at the IMA from 26 September 2017 to 14 January 2018, and subsequently at the MUba Eugène Leroy (fine arts museum), Tourcoing, from 22 February to 12 June 2018.

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