Holy Land Art Discovered in DC Monastery to be on Exhibit

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Nearly 50 pieces of intricate mother of pearl art created over the past century in the Holy Land and discovered at the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in Washington, DC will be on display Feb. 16-March 3, 2013.

Great Seal of the United States in mother of pearl

This Great Seal of the United States handcrafted a century ago by Bethlehem artisans was discovered in the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land

The collection of nearly 50 artifacts includes an intricate Great Seal of the United States that was crafted 100 years ago.

A new exhibit at the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in Washington, DC will feature rarely seen mother of pearl art handcrafted in the Holy Land over the past century and discovered in the archives of the monastery, 1400 Quincy St. NE, Washington, DC. Admission is free for Hidden Treasures Rediscovered, Feb. 16-March 3, 2013.

The collection of nearly 50 artifacts includes an intricate Great Seal of the United States that was crafted 100 years ago; a multi-part game table with olive-wood chess pieces; and religious artifacts such as crucifixes ranging from a few inches to nearly six feet tall, plus intricate three-dimensional scenes of the Last Supper. Hidden Treasures Rediscovered brings the entire collection together for the first time.

Video about the exhibit

Mother of pearl is a type of calcium that forms on the inside of shells. Pieces are very luminescent and so small that the art must be created from a mosaic of pieces, making each unique. The material has been used for thousands of years, and is found in furniture, boxes, tile and other items.

The art became increasingly popular 500 years ago. Crusaders brought mother of pearl rosaries and other religious art back to Europe in the 11th to 13th centuries. In the 1400s, the Franciscan friars who care for the sacred shrines in the Holy Land began to encourage the development of the art form. They brought artists from Italy to teach local artists more intricate designs. From the 1600s until today, mother of pearl art, often inlaid in local olive wood, has been a major means of support for families in the Holy Land.

The pieces in the Franciscan Monastery collection were brought to the United States by Franciscan friars. Members of the Gidi family, one of the most prominent mother of pearl families, identified a number of significant pieces on visits to the monastery in 2012, including several that likely were crafted by their ancestors.

The exhibit is a collaboration between the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in America and faculty and students from the George Washington University Museum Studies Program. Students designed the exhibit under the direction of faculty member Barbara Brennan.

Hidden Treasures Rediscovered is free and open 10 a.m.-4 p.m. weekdays and 10 a.m.-6 p.m. weekends and holidays at the Franciscan Monastery, 14th and Quincy Streets, NE, Washington, DC 20017. Tours are available in English, and in Spanish by prior arrangement. Visit http://www.myfranciscan.com or call 202-526-6800.

About the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in America
For nearly 800 years, Franciscan friars have cared for sacred shrines associated with Christ’s life in the Holy Land. The Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in America was dedicated in 1899 as a pilgrimage site for those who cannot travel to the Holy Land and to support the ministry of the Franciscan friars in that region. The monastery includes a beautiful church, full-size replicas of Holy Land shrines, and urban hermitage and extensive gardens.

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Susan Gibbs
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