Exhibition Illustrates Bible's Role in Early Christian Art

At Vatican Museums Until Jan. 7

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VATICAN CITY, NOV. 8, 2005 (Zenit.org).- An exhibition being held in the Vatican Museums shows that the Bible is needed in order to understand the origin of Christian art.

Already in the third century the contents of Scripture were transmitted to posterity through sculptures and paintings, as the artists recounted biblical episodes in marble images.

To make known the enormous artistic and cultural treasure, and the theological thought reflected in paleo-Christian art, an exhibition is being held through Jan. 7 on «The Sculpted Word: The Bible in the Origins of Christian Art.»

The initiative commemorates the 40th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council’s dogmatic constitution on Revelation, «Dei Verbum.» The display of the Pious Christian Museum was organized by the Vatican Museums, the Universal Biblical Alliance, and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.

The exhibition includes texts of sacred Scripture, especially the Gospel of Mark and the Book of Jonah, as well as sculptures of the paleo-Christian sarcophagi of the Vatican Museums’ collection.

Umberto Utro, who oversees the Vatican Museums’ department of Christian art, told ZENIT that the exhibition aims to «recover an enormous historical patrimony, not only for those who live in Rome but for the whole of humanity.»

«It is paradoxical that specifically we Christians are ignorant of this patrimony,» Utro said. «I am in charge of ancient Christian art, paleo-Christian sarcophagi and paleo-Christian iconography, and I can say that it is difficult to make these images and monuments understood.»

A paradox

According to the organizer, there is a paradoxical situation, «because we have a richness, a treasure that tells us everything about the patrimony of the early Christian community, which is fundamentally a biblical-theological patrimony, insofar as the Church’s reflection on the revelation of Christ.»

«It is important to discover, together with the images of Christ’s miracles or the topics of the Old Testament, the passages of Scripture that have inspired them,» Utro said.

The images are of the sarcophagi of the Pious Christian Museum — «the most important collection in the world,» he assured. «There is no other as rich in ancient Christian documents of that period, of the third to fifth century A.D.»

The idea of commemorating the anniversary of «Dei Verbum,» noted the expert, is an ecumenical endeavor, in collaboration with the Universal Biblical Alliance and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.

This conciliar document has allowed Christians to work together to deepen their knowledge of Scripture, Utro said.

To foster the dissemination of Scripture, a free pamphlet is being distributed to all visitors with the texts, in an interconfessional version, of the Gospel of Mark and the Book of Jonah, illustrated with images of the sarcophagi, or stone coffins.

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