London’s Courtauld Gallery Shows Off German Miniature Bibles

London
The Courtauld Gallery in London has opened a new exhibition of two of the smallest Bibles you’ll ever see.

“Dess Alten Testaments Mittler” and “Dess Neuen Testaments Mittler” are tiny illustrated Bibles produced by two sisters from Augsburg, Germany, in the late 17th century. It was a time of increased private devotion, when people looked for more from religion than the rituals in the church. Personal Bibles and images hung in the home became popular for those who could afford them and were used as the individual’s way to reach the Divine.

Tiny Bibles like these were generally for children, but the fine quality of the engravings on these examples hint that they were for adults. If you won’t make it to London this summer, you can turn the pages of one of the Bibles and admire the detailed yet miniscule artwork at this webpage.

The exhibit is part of the “Illuminating Objects” series, prepared by postgraduate students on their area of study. “Dess Alten Testaments Mittler: Dess Neuen Testaments Mittler” runs from May 1 to July 22.
London

Cyrus Cylinder, ‘The First Bill Of Rights,’ Tours US

Cyrus Cylinder
The famous Cyrus Cylinder, a baked clay tablet from the 6th century B.C. that’s often called the “first bill of rights,” has made its U.S. debut at the Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery in Washington, D.C.

The Cyrus Cylinder was deposited in the foundations of a building in Babylon during the reign of the Persian king Cyrus the Great. It commemorates his conquest of Babylon and announces religious freedom for the people displaced by the Babylonian king Nabonidus. Among them were the Jews, who had been in captivity in Babylon. Many Jews soon returned to Jerusalem and built the Second Temple.

While Cyrus’ announcement and inscription isn’t unique for that time, the cylinder became instantly famous upon its discovery in 1879 because of its connection to events that are mentioned in the Bible. Ever since, Cyrus has been considered the model of a just king ruling over a diverse empire.

It’s the centerpiece of a new exhibition titled “The Cyrus Cylinder and Ancient Persia: A New Beginning,” which examines the religious, cultural and linguistic traditions of the vast and powerful Achaemenid Empire (539–331 B.C.) founded by Cyrus the Great.

The exhibition runs until April 28. After the Smithsonian, the Cyrus Cylinder will tour the U.S., stopping at Houston, New York City, San Francisco and Los Angeles. You can see the full details of the schedule here.

[Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons]

Shroud Of Turin One Of 40 Fakes, Historian Says

Shroud of TurinThe Shroud of Turin has been causing controversy for centuries now. The linen cloth, measuring 14 feet by 4 feet, has what appear to be bloodstains on it. Also, the image of a wounded man can be seen, an image that becomes clearer when looked at as a photographic negative.

Now historian Antonio Lombatti of the Università Popolare in Parma, Italy, says the Shroud of Turin is a fake, and not only that, it’s not a very original one. About forty pieces of cloth purported to be the burial shroud of Jesus circulated in Europe during the Middle Ages and Renaissance. Religious relics were popular then and now.

Lombatti say the shroud was given to a French knight in Turkey in 1346. This is the first concrete record of the Shroud and agrees with radiocarbon analysis of the linen. In 1988, the University of Oxford, University of Arizona, and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology independently tested parts of the Shroud and each said it dates to sometime between 1260-1390.

The photographic negative image was well within the ability of medieval technology as far back as the eleventh century A.D., according to one researcher who made his own shrouds using medieval techniques.

Also, John 19:40 and 20:6-7 clearly state that Jesus was wrapped in several strips of linen, not just one, and that his head was wrapped in a separate cloth.

None of this, of course, will dissuade the thousands of believers who flock to the Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist in Turin, where the Shroud is kept and (rarely) exhibited.

[Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons]

Queen of Sheba’s gold mine discovered in Ethiopia

Queen of Sheba
The gold mine of the Queen of Sheba has been discovered in Ethiopia, the Guardian reports.

A local prospector led British archaeologist Dr. Louise Schofield to a mysterious mine in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region. Schofield believes that this was the source of the Queen of Sheba’s fabulous gold, a large pile of which she gave to King Solomon when she visited the Holy Land, as is reported in the Old Testament, the Koran, and the Kebra Nagast, one of the holy books of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.

Sheba was probably the Sabaean Kingdom, a wealthy kingdom that included what is now northern Ethiopia and Yemen. It rose to power 3,000 years ago and controlled trade along the Red Sea, especially the profitable spice trade.

Inside the extensive mine, Schofeld found an inscription in Sabaean and a stele bearing a carved sun and crescent moon, the symbol of the Sabaean Kingdom. The remains of a temple and battlefield were found nearby. Schofield is planning to start a major excavation at the site.

This can only be good news for Ethiopia’s growing tourist industry. During a road trip around Ethiopia two years ago, I was stunned by the desolate grandeur of Ethiopia’s Tigray region. The main attractions are Axum, the ancient capital of a kingdom dating from 100–940 AD and considered by many to be a successor state to the Sabaean Kingdom, and Debre Damo, an amazing clifftop monastery that I had to climb up a leather rope to visit.

When I returned to Ethiopia a year later to live in Harar, I found that tourism had increased. Most of the visitors I spoke with said that Ethiopia’s history was one of the main reasons they came to visit, and the Queen of Sheba was often mentioned. While Ethiopia can be dangerous just like any other adventure travel destination, most regions are safe and I’ve had no trouble in the more than four months I’ve spent in the country. Going back is my number one travel priority this year.

Hopefully this latest discovery will help inspire more people to discover Ethiopia’s long history, friendly people, great food, and of course the world’s best coffee.

Photo of an Ethiopian painting of the Queen of Sheba on her way to meet King Solomon courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

%Gallery-147211%

Medieval painted churches in England and Wales

medieval
England and Wales are full of beautiful medieval churches. From the famous like Christ Church cathedral to the lesser-known like Dorchester Abbey, they offer breathtaking architecture and decoration, and since many are free, they make good budget travel destinations.

Some even preserve fragile paintings from the Middle Ages, like this one photographed by Roger Rosewell, author of Medieval Wall Paintings in English and Welsh Churches. This is a thorough and richly illustrated guide to an art form many travelers know little about. He takes us through the history of these paintings and their sometimes obscure meanings, and delves into how they were seen by their contemporaries.

The above illustration shows the “Harrowing of Hell” and was painted in the late 15th century at the church of St. Peter and St. Paul in Pickering, Yorkshire. It’s a scene from The Gospel of Nicodemus, when between Christ’s burial and the third day, God undid Christ’s death and Christ released Adam, Eve, and other righteous souls from Hell. If you haven’t heard of this gospel, it’s because it’s one of the many books that didn’t make it into the final standard version of the Bible we know today. Scenes from this book and many other so-called Apocryphal texts were well-known to medieval Christians, though.

Other subjects include the Virgin Mary, the lives of saints, the Doom or final judgement, and the Warning to Blasphemers–a grisly scene in which those who have taken the Lord’s name in vain are shown tearing apart his body.

Rosewell also looks at the patrons who commissioned the work and the painters themselves, telling us a lot about medieval society. Interestingly, it appears some of the painters were women, yet little is known about any church painters, male or female. There’s also a handy gazetteer and subject guide to help you locate any church paintings along your trip itinerary.

I only have two minor criticisms of this work. Firstly, while Rosewell explains Christian iconography very well, sometimes he leaves architectural terms undefined. Despite having written two books on medieval history, I had to look up “soffit” and “voussoir”! Also, while many of the photos are lovely, some have less than ideal lighting and look like simple snapshots. Granted, many medieval wall paintings are so faded it’s virtually impossible to get good photos of them, yet I feel a bit more effort would have enhanced these photos considerably.

All in all, I highly recommend Medieval Wall Paintings in English and Welsh Churches to anyone interested in the Middle Ages, art, or travel in England in Wales. It’s the perfect mixture of art, history, and guidebook, something I wish the travel industry would give us more of.

%Gallery-135794%