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The Cradle of Christianity

Curator: Yael Israeli & David Mevorah

The objects on view in the exhibition are more than one thousand years old. Nevertheless, the exhibition is relevant to the present, for events that took place in this region some two thousand years ago shaped the history of Europe and the Mediterranean region, and their impact continues to be felt today.

Our knowledge of the first chapter in the history of Christianity – the days of Jesus - is based solely on sacred writings, as opposed to actual finds that can be firmly connected to the man and his activities. In contrast to the scarcity of artifacts associated with Christianity in the first centuries, there is a wealth of objects dating from the period in which Christianity developed as the Imperial religion - the fourth through seventh century. These remains, together with contemporary literary sources, present a fairly complete picture of Christian life in the Holy Land during the Byzantine period, an important chapter in the history of this country, which, to a certain extent, is unfamiliar to the local audience.

The exhibition is divided into several sections. The first deals with the time of Jesus, presenting the significant events of his life. Other sections are devoted to the structure and liturgy of the early church, pilgrimage to the Holy Land, and monasticism, a widespread and highly important phenomenon. Another topic addressed by the exhibition is the world of Christian imagery and symbols and its expression in local art, particularly in small-scale objects.

The exhibition attempts to synthesize the literary sources with finds that have been excavated in this country, particularly over the past fifty years: architectural remains, liturgical objects from churches, personal belongings of the Christian inhabitants of this land, and souvenirs made for pilgrims. The exhibition does not deal with the religious doctrine formulated in those years, and it consciously avoids the topic of relations between Christianity and the other faiths of this region, which could be the subject of a separate exhibition. Instead, the focus is on Christian material culture and its local expressions.

The mounting of such a complex installation was an exceedingly difficult undertaking, owing to, among other things, the many different aspects of the topic and the need to address a variety of audiences. To achieve our goal, we turned to numerous scholars, excavators, conservators, and collectors, among them church institutions, museums around the world, and private collectors. Most of the objects are from Israel, the majority of them unearthed in excavations. Some are on public view for the first time.
It is our hope that the exhibition will help shed light on the history of this land and increase understanding and tolerance at the dawn of the third millenium.

The photographs of the excavated objects are by courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authourity.

The cross on the hillock of Golgotha
Limestone relief on a chancel screen from
the church of Horvat Bata in Carmiel, 6th century
Israel Antiquities Authority, 92-267/8
Photo: The Israel Museum, Jerusalem / by Avraham Hay

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