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'Eastern Christians: Two thousand years of history' at the Arab World Institute in Paris

The Arab World Institute or AWI is currently displaying an exceptional exhibition entitled Eastern Christians: Two-thousand years of history.

'Eastern Christians: Two thousand years of history' at the Arab World Institute in Paris
Book of Syriac-Arabic prayer (Qondaq) manuscript. Syria seventeenth century.
Coll. Antoine Maamari, Beyrouth [Credit: AWI]
Organized with the collaboration of L’Oeuvre d’Orient, a French association that supports Christians in the Middle East, the exhibition is presenting masterpieces of the Christian patrimony from September 26, 2017 to January 14, 2018.

According to the archbishopric of Paris, under whose protection L’Oeuvre d’Orient has been placed, this is “the first great exhibition on this theme in Europe”. It includes artifacts from the Middle East and Egypt, maps, models, documents, and diplomatic archives. Also on display are the first Christian frescoes known to the world, those of Dura-Europos in eastern Syria, on the banks of the Euphrates, that date back to the 3rd century. This is the first time they are being exhibited in Europe.

'Eastern Christians: Two thousand years of history' at the Arab World Institute in Paris
Silver plate representing St. Julien, Mar-Elian, protector of the city of Emesa, current Homs. 
Homs-Emesa (Syria), seventh century. Coll. George Antaki, London  [Credit: AWI]
The Arab World Institute's presentation mentions that the transitional periods of Eastern Christianity are illustrated: "The adoption of Christianity as the official state religion, the founding councils, the Muslim conquest, the development of missions, … and the changes of the 20th and 21st centuries”.  The goal is to show visitors that the Eastern Christian community “has made and continues to make a significant contribution to political, cultural, social and religious development in the Arab world”. 

The exhibition also highlights the great diversity of Christianity in the East, with its Coptic, Greek, Assyrian-Chaldean, Syriac, Armenian, Maronite, Latin, and other communities.

'Eastern Christians: Two thousand years of history' at the Arab World Institute in Paris
Stele depicting Apa Shenoute, Sohag (Egypt), fifth century limestone. 
Coll. sculptures and Byzantine Art Museum, Berlin [Credit: AWI]
When questioned by on August 21, 2017, historian Charles Personnaz who is in charge of heritage and culture for L’Oeuvre d’Orient remarks that the Church in Syria was “far more developed than the Church in Europe at the time”.  In his opinion, the Christian works of art that have come down to us over the centuries are “the best ambassadors of the wealth of the Eastern Christians’ culture”. He specifically mentioned the Rabbula Gospels that “are a masterpiece”. Written in the 6th century, they are decorated with colored floral motifs on 292 folios, most of which are still intact.

Besides these pieces, the exhibition also includes several icons and mosaics, and ends with photos of the current tragic situation of the Eastern Christians, who today find themselves the victims of Islamism.

After Paris, the exhibition will be transferred to the Musée des beaux arts in Tourcoing, from February 17 to June 5, 2018.

Source: The Arab World Institute [August 28, 2017]

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