Weekly theme: Meeting the gods
This week, as lead curator JD Hill explains, we'll hear about five objects that show how, between AD 1200 and 1500, people created images in an attempt to bring them closer to their gods and ancestors.
What we are seeing are the results of a similar desire that occurred in very different cultures around the world - to make images which help them feel closer to their gods. But as well as recognising the similarity in inspiration, it's fascinating to see how a common need can result in the creation of such different objects. As always, the objects reveal so much about the particular cultures and religions that made them.
In Western Europe pilgrims flocked to shrines to see holy relics, including the bodyparts of saints. The Holy Thorn Reliquary is a gloriously ornate object built to house one of the thorns that supposedly formed part of the crown placed on Jesus' head at his crucifixion. In Eastern Europe, the Orthodox Church created images of Christian saints - known as icons - to be the focus of worship.
In Hindu India, worshippers used statues of the likes of Shiva and Parvati - as they do now - to develop an incredibly personal relationship with their individual gods. While on the other side of the world, similar expresions of devotion in Huastec Mexico saw statues of the mother goddess visited to ask for forgiveness.
From Easter Island, Hoa Hakananai'a tells the story of the moment when religion in this remote spot changed. When the Polynesian inhabitants stopped erecting statues of their ancestors, they created a birdman cult in its place. Hoa was probably made to honour ancestors, but the distinctive marks of the new cult are carved on his back.
As Neil often says, spin the globe and you'll see just how in tune we humans are, despite the vast distances separating us. But, as JD points out, not all religions were - or are - the same:
In choosing five objects from around the world we are conscious that some religions deliberately chose not to create representations of the divine. For example, Judaism and Islam clearly felt at this time that the divine was something not appropriate to make images of.
What strikes me as we enter the final week of the latest set of programmes, is that here we are in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, knocking on the door of Tudor Britain and the Italian Renaissance. In my mind that's not so long ago, but during the same period there were cultures - and religions - in different parts of the world that left no written records. All we have now with which to discover and understand them are the objects they made.
I'm reminded of the power of objects, not only to embody the divine but also to unravel the lives, thoughts and beliefs of the past. Can't wait until September and the next set of programmes? Me neither.
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