Sacred texts and rarely seen materials from the Library’s holdings comprise Three Faiths: Judaism, Christianity, Islam
Three of the world’s most followed religions each started from Abraham’s covenant with a single, unseeable God and are now the lived experience of half of the world’s population. Three Faiths: Judaism, Christianity, Islam, The New York Public Library’s leading fall 2010 exhibition, explores these three religions through the texts they have produced. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam live side by side around the world and in New York City and continue to be part of the local dialogue, fueling discourse and debate. Three Faiths informs the discussion with four millennia of spiritual history as seen through 200 of the Library’s most inspiring sacred texts. Three Faiths is on view from October 22, 2010 through February 27, 2011 at the Library’s Stephen A. Schwarzman Building at Fifth Avenue at 42nd Street in Manhattan.
Showcasing materials drawn entirely from the permanent collections of The New York Public Library, Three Faiths portrays major aspects of each of the three Abrahamic faiths. Although not a strict comparative analysis of the three religions, the exhibition illustrates the most important basic commonalities among the three: Monotheism, Abraham, Revelation, and Scriptures. After introducing the founding figures of these faiths, the exhibition presents the scriptures they produced or inspired, and the ways in which those texts have been used, for centuries or millennia, in the daily lives of ordinary people. These broad themes are illustrated through focused vignettes ranging from artifacts of Jewish mysticism to revolutionary vernacular translations of the Christian Bible to depictions of the Hajj.
Accompanying the exhibition in the adjacent Wachenheim Gallery, the Three Faiths Scriptorium is an interactive gallery that illuminates the scribing traditions of these faiths, showcasing the resources — animal hides, minerals, gems, and plants — from which parchment, pigments, and inks are derived as well as the tools required to create such works. Brief videos help elucidate the artistic processes and the result of rigorous training following centuries’-old traditions. Visitors are invited to create their own illuminated works using the techniques of master scribes.
“The New York Public Library is proud to exhibit so many of its treasures in Three Faiths: Judaism, Christianity, Islam. The sacred manuscripts from each of these three Abrahamic religions are stunning artworks but also invaluable documents to the followers of each faith,” says Dr. Paul LeClerc, President of The New York Public Library. “The content in the materials provide the basis for dialogue and is part of the living, breathing discourse happening today in New York City and around the world. As an organization serving the public, we’re pleased to provide a historical look at the religions’ histories through their texts and welcome any interested parties to the Library to view the exhibition.”
The rare Library works on view include a Veiled Prophet manuscript from Istanbul (1594); the Scroll of Esther from Amsterdam (1686); the Harkness Gospels in Latin, from Landévennec, Britanny (circa year 900); and Two Gold Amulets and Case from Irbid, Jordan (5th-6th century). The Veiled Prophet manuscript on display is the third of six volumes that contain a Turkish translation of the Prophet’s biography; it was completed in Cairo in 1386 and presented to a local ruler. The 100 inches of the treasured 17th-century Scroll of Esther, a megillah, is displayed, described, and explained. The small amulets on display, written in Aramaic on gold foil, were discovered in Jewish tombs and likely worn as jewelry by the deceased. The Harkness Gospels is the earliest Western manuscript in The New York Public Library. The volume in the exhibition is of considerable textual and artistic importance; it comes from an abbey located in the far reaches of Brittany, near present-day Brest, which was abandoned in the midst of Viking raids in the year 919.
“At a time when attitudes toward religious beliefs worldwide have generated significant debate, the Board of Directors of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation is proud for the opportunity to support the Three Faiths exhibit at NYPL. This exhibition should be critical in promoting an informed dialogue and interreligious understanding based on the important proposition that Judaism, Christianity, and Islam have more in common than not,” stated the Board of Directors of the Niarchos Foundation.
“Coexist is delighted to be sponsoring Three Faiths at The New York Public Library. This unique exhibition will enable visitors not only to see this great institution’s magnificent collection of Jewish, Christian, and Muslim treasures, but also to explore the ways in which the history, culture, art, and theology of these three religions have influenced one another through the ages,” says James Kidner, Director of the Coexist Foundation. “This is a wonderful opportunity to take a journey into these faith traditions and learn how they can coexist in society today.”
The Library has organized a dynamic schedule of events that complement the exhibition at both the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building and branches across the Bronx, Manhattan, and Staten Island. Highlights include a series titled “The 411 on Faith: Communities in Dialogue,” which engages faith leaders in dialogue with local communities. LIVE from the NYPL hosts three events, among them an evening with The Moth presenting “OMG: Stories of the Sacred.” Teen and children’s workshops range from an exploration of illuminated manuscripts to an introduction to Islamic art and architecture. For more information on Three Faiths programming, visit www.exhibitions.nypl.org/threefaiths.
In conjunction with the exhibition, the Library is inviting New Yorkers to take photographs of contemporary expressions of any faith, which we will then publish in a Flickr gallery featured on our exhibition website at www.exhibitions.nypl.org/threefaiths. This visual project, Faith on the Street, will connect the sacred, ancient texts featured in Three Faiths to the ways people in the city practice religion today by allowing New Yorkers to help create a collective snapshot of religious faith in this time and place. Such photographs could include a family bible, a grotto on Staten Island, a Hindu First Rice ceremony, Islamic graffiti art, religious jewelry or tattoos, Buddhist prayers, and endless other subjects. Photos can be submitted starting October 22, the day Three Faiths opens, by e-mailing them to [email protected].
In addition to the programs detailed, there will be hands-on workshops in the Scriptorium and at branch libraries from Monday, January 31 through Friday, February 4, 2011 that allow participants to construct geometric patterns, draw floral motifs, and explore the profound symbols that are visible in all three Abrahamic faiths. These programs will be conducted by artists from The Prince’s School of Traditional Arts. The London-based Prince’s School specializes in teaching, researching, and promoting the practice and theory of the arts and crafts of the world’s great traditions and believes that sharing this traditional knowledge fosters understanding among people of different backgrounds. These programs have been supported through the generosity of the Coexist Foundation.
Several professional development events for teachers and school librarians have also been planned. For more information on these, visit www.teachandlearn.nypl.org.
Three Faiths: Judaism, Christianity, Islam is open on Mondays, Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays from 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; Tuesdays and Wednesdays, 10 a.m.-8 p.m.; and Sundays, 1 p.m.-
5 p.m. Admission is free. Docent-led tours are held Monday through Saturday at 12:30 and 2:30 p.m. and on Sundays at 3:30 p.m. During the Three Faiths exhibition, the Library is closed on Monday, November 1; Thursday, November 11; Thursday, November 25; Sunday, December 5; Saturday, December 25; Saturday, January 1; Monday, January 17; and Monday, February 21.
This exhibition has been organized by the following curators and advisors: H. George Fletcher; Edward Kasinec; F. E. Peters; Patrick J. Ryan, S.J.; Priscilla Soucek; Bishop Anoushavan Tanielian; Michael Terry; and David Wachtel.
Three Faiths: Judaism, Christianity, Islam is cosponsored by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation and the Coexist Foundation.
With generous additional support from Carnegie Corporation of New York and The Achelis and Bodman Foundations.
Support for The New York Public Library’s Exhibitions Program has been provided by Celeste Bartos, Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, Mahnaz Ispahani Bartos and Adam Bartos Exhibitions Fund, Jonathan Altman, and Pannonia Foundation.
Three Faiths was inspired by the British Library’s 2007 exhibition Sacred: Discover what we share.
About the New York Public Library
The New York Public Library was created in 1895 with the consolidation of the private libraries of John Jacob Astor and James Lenox with the Samuel Jones Tilden Trust. The Library provides free and open access to its physical and electronic collections and information, as well as to its services. Its renowned research collections are located in the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building at Fifth Avenue at 42nd Street; The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center; the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem; and the Science, Industry and Business Library at 34th Street and Madison Avenue. Eighty-seven branch libraries provide access to circulating collections and a wide range of other services in neighborhoods throughout the Bronx, Manhattan, and Staten Island. Research and circulating collections combined total more than 50 million items. In addition, each year the Library presents thousands of exhibitions and public programs, which include classes in technology, literacy, and English for speakers of other languages. All in all The New York Public Library serves more than 17 million patrons who come through its doors annually and millions more around the globe who use its resources at www.nypl.org.