The History of Christianity in 25 Objects: Introduction

I have long had a love of history and so often find in the past the wisdom that informs and addresses present difficulties. Each generation—even each generation of Christians—suffers from self-obsession, and as we move forward in time and progress, we do well to keep one eye on the past, to consider not only where we wish to go, but also from whence we have come. Christianity has a long and storied past that testifies constantly to God’s enduring grace. …

The History of Christianity in 25 Objects: Augustus of Prima Porta

On the outskirts of ancient Rome stands what remains of the villa owned by Livia Drusilla, wife to Caesar Augustus, Rome’s first and greatest Emperor. Though the villa was discovered and explored as far back as the 16th century, serious excavations did not begin until the 1860’s. In 1863 these excavations uncovered a remarkable work of art, the statue that would come to be known as Augustus of Prima Porta. Livia kept this marble statue of her husband, itself a …

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The History of Christianity in 25 Objects: Rylands Library Papyrus P52

In this series we are tracing the history of Christianity in 25 objects, 25 relics of the past that survive today. Having visited the Vatican Museum to look at Augustus of Prima Porta, we travel now to England, to the University of Manchester, to peer at a tiny fragment of papyrus. Carefully encased within a climate-controlled cabinet in the John Rylands Library is Rylands Library Papyrus P52, the St. John’s fragment. Measuring only 8.9 by 6 centimeters at its widest points …

The History of Christianity in 25 Objects: Alexamenos Graffito

In this ongoing series of articles we are tracing the history of the Christian faith by pausing to look at 25 objects, 25 historical relics that survive to our day. From the John Rylands Library at the University of Manchester we return to the city of Rome and this time we travel to the Palatine Antiquarium Museum, a museum dedicated to the history of the Palatine Hill. Rome is the city built upon seven hills and the Palatine Hill is …

The History of Christianity in 25 Objects: Dogmatic Sarcophagus

The Vatican Museum houses a vast collection of ancient objects related to the early history of the Christian church. Within that collection, on public display and remarkably intact despite its age, is an intricately carved sarcophagus—a box designed to hold human remains—that was discovered in Rome’s basilica di San Paolo fuori le Mura during its restoration in the 1800’s. Historians date it between 330 and 350 AD. The outside of this sarcophagus is divided into an upper and lower tier …

The History of Christianity in 25 Objects: Codex Amiatinus

The Bibliotheca Laurentiana at Florence is a repository for ancient writing. It contains a vast collection of more than 11,000 manuscripts and 4,500 early printed books. None is more precious than the fine volume labeled Codex Amiatinus. This is the most celebrated of the myriad manuscripts of the Latin Vulgate Bible and an important witness to the history of the Christian church. It is the fifth of the twenty-five objects through which we are tracing the history of Christianity. As the Christian …

The History of Christianity in 25 Objects: The Book of Kells

Except for a brief foray to Manchester, our quest to trace the history of the Christian faith in twenty-five objects, twenty-five historical relics that survive for us to see and even touch today, has kept us in Italy, in the heart of the ancient Roman Empire. But today we depart from Italy and move west until we have touched down in Dublin, Ireland. In the heart of Dublin City is Trinity College and housed in its library we find Ireland’s national …

The History of Christianity in 25 Objects: Wycliffe’s Pulpit

John Wycliffe’s body had been buried outside St. Mary’s Church for more than forty years when his grave was disturbed. Upon the orders of Pope Martin V, his remains were exhumed, his bones burned and the ashes scattered on the river Swift. This act of desecration was deemed fitting for one who had been posthumously condemned as a heretic. But, as Donald Roberts says so eloquently, it was by no means the end of his legacy for, “As history has …

The History of Christianity in 25 Objects: The Gutenberg Bible

The Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas in Austin contains a copy of what many people consider the most valuable book in the world. The Gutenberg Bible is not only the oldest surviving book to be printed using moveable type, but also the first complete book to be produced with that technology. The volume in the University of Texas is one of only 20 complete copies to survive. Though its value is merely speculative as it has been …

The History of Christianity in 25 Objects: Novum Instrumentum Omne

The American Bible Society has a superb collection of old and rare Bibles. The Society began this collection in 1818, just one year after its founding, and much of it is now on display in New York’s Museum of Biblical Art. It includes a rare treasure: a first edition Novum Instrumentum omne, Desiderius Erasmus’ Greek New Testament of 1516, the first printed edition of the New Testament in Greek. This Bible was to go on to play a key role …