The Knights of Columbus Museum’s annual crèche exhibition, Ordinary Materials, Extraordinary Message: Christmas Nativities in Paper, is open to the public now through Feb. 2, 2014.
Designed in cooperation with Italy’s Friends of the Crèche Association, the display includes 39 Nativity Scenes from throughout Europe and the United States, ranging from small and simple depictions of the Holy Family to large, multifaceted visuals.
The Nativity scene or Christmas crèche has been an important part of Western Christianity for more than 600 years. The tradition’s roots are traced to St. Francis of Assisi (1182-1226) who devised a living crèche in a stable setting, with actual people and animals, as a visual reminder of the humble birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. This led to the annual practice of using figurines to portray the Nativity scene in villages, churches and homes. During the centuries, crèches have developed into both ornate works of art as well as simple folk pieces.
“The message of the crèche is profound,” said Supreme Knight Carl Anderson. “Through these Nativity scenes we recall and represent the extraordinary gift that God gave us in his son. This exhibition also demonstrates the depth and breadth of Christian devotion across the world.”
The Knights of Columbus Museum has featured crèches as the centerpiece of its yearly Christmas exhibition to show the popularity of the custom and the vastness of cultural expression for several years. Previous exhibitions included collections from Canada, Africa, Asia, Latin America, Poland, Italy and other locations across the world.
The Knights of Columbus Museum has been ranked by USA Today as one of the “10 great places to explore religion in artistic detail.”
Few customs or traditions have endured for longer than a millennium, but the use of icons in Russia is among them.
In this exhibition, the Knights of Columbus Museum is pleased to share more than 225 examples of Russian Orthodox iconography, along with other liturgical and devotional items.
Icons are often called windows into heaven because they are said to give the viewer a glimpse of the eternal realm. Many of the items are more than 100 years old, predating the Bolshevik Revolution (1917).
When Prince Vladimir of Kiev converted to Christianity — along with his country — in 988 A.D., iconography was introduced as a means of fostering religious understanding and devotion among the people of Kievan Rus (present day Ukraine, Belarus and northwest Russia). It followed the strict models and formulas of the Byzantine practice from which it originated but, through time, developed its own distinctions and styles. Today, Russian Orthodox icons are renowned throughout the world.
As a form of sacred art, iconographers historically prayed or fasted before and during the creation of an icon. Traditionally, icons were painted in egg tempera on wood and often accented with gold leaf or covered with ornately gilt metal covers called rizas. Rich in symbolism, they are still used extensively in Orthodox churches and monasteries, and many Russian homes have icons hanging on the wall in a “beautiful” (or prayer) corner.
“Icons have been synonymous with Christian prayer and practice for centuries,” said Supreme Knight Carl Anderson. “One of the great traditions of Eastern Christianity, icons are less well known here, and we are pleased that this exhibit will enable residents of the Northeast to grow in their understanding of the history and religious significance of these windows into heaven.”
Lecture - Orthodox Christianity in Early Russia: the Formation of a Tradition
Saturday, February 8, 2014, 2 p.m.
by Paul Bushkovitch Ph.D.
Orthodox Christianity has been Russia’s pre-eminent religion for more than a millennium and is integral to the nation’s history and culture. Yale University history professor Dr. Paul Bushkovitch will discuss the origin and foundation of Russian Orthodoxy, which has endured attacks and repression throughout the past, most notably during the preceding century. Dr. Bushkovitch earned degrees from Harvard and Columbia Universities and has studied in Russia. He has been a member of the Yale faculty since 1975 and has published and lectured extensively on Russian history. Admission and parking are free.