A Closer Look at Christian Art and the Symbolism of Angels
The thrill of the hunt is so real when you go to an antique shop! I attend local and occasional international antique events, lockdown permitting. Heritage Antique Show is one of them, and I spend hours going through antique and vintage items, and I have discovered many treasures so far. There are a lot of reasons to buy antique and vintage. Thrift, value, and an appreciation for quality are excellent reasons to get down to the antique mall. But, there are some other reasons why going treasure hunting is so fun. We get to rediscover parts of our past while learning about history in ways that can be quite surprising. Antique pieces can decorate a home beautifully and bring character to any space I find.
Antiques and collectibles connect you to every era, no matter which year you were born. Even millennials will find things in antique shops that resonate with their childhoods. Every thrift store or vintage shop will contain items that remind us of being kids or that first school dance... In this way, going to the antique mall can be a bit of a field trip for grown-ups! Also, it’s enjoyable to see what items are priced at.
I have a particular liking for antiques as my sister, Elham Mostaghim Vasseghi, owns a charming antique shop in the most ancient city of Holland, Dordrecht:
Filming of the movie The Scrooge from Charles Dickens in front of Rose Garden Tea & Porcelain Dordrecht
Rose Garden Tea & Porcelain Dordrecht has become a thriving Porcelain, Crystal Shop and a hub for antique lovers of all kinds, attracting local and international clientele alike. They offer countless decorating products, crystals and bone china of museum quality! All their items have been meticulously chosen and are so sought after, worldwide.
As this lovely and unique store, has an extensive collection of Christian Art, I wanted to take a closer look at them and explore them further, accompanied by pictures of those precious items.
Photography Courtesy of Elham Mostaghim Vasseghi
Art and Christianity
Christian art is sacred art that uses themes and imagery from Christianity. Most Christian groups use or have used art to some extent. However, some have had strong objections to some forms of religious image, and there have been significant periods of iconoclasm within Christianity.
Images of Jesus and narrative scenes from the Life of Christ are the most common subjects, and scenes from the Old Testament play a part in the art of most denominations. Images of the Virgin Mary and saints are rarer in Protestant art than Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy.
Christianity makes far more extensive use of images than related religions, in which figurative representations are forbidden, such as Islam and Judaism.
The first centuries of the Christian Era were ones of extraordinary upheaval: the great traditions of the classical world were transformed by dramatic changes in the political and social structure, by continual warfare against invaders, and by the growing influence of the nascent religion Christianity. The trend of this period has been interpreted by some historians as the decline of civilization, but it is represented by its art as a time of cultural experimentation. Although they abandoned some of the realism of the classical mode, artists of the post-antique world continued to borrow from the repertoire of images of pagan and imperial Rome, ultimately creating works distinguished by spiritual grace and an abstraction of form. The innovative style that resulted from the coexistence of the Eastern and Western Empires, of the pagan, mystery, Jewish, and Christian religions, and of the urban and provincial societies was to determine the development of the Byzantine and then the medieval, artistic traditions.
A little bit of History
Christianity had a rough ride in the Roman Empire, especially during the first centuries of the millennium, which helps explain why so little early Christian art survives.
Christians provoked animosity because they refused to believe in the divinity of the Roman emperors. ''Much of the worst persecution of which there is reliable testimony was that initiated by Diocletian in A.D. 303, which included ruthless executions, torture, deaths in the arena and condemnations to imprisonment or to work in the mines,'' says ''History of the World: Prehistory to the Renaissance,'' edited by Esmond Wright.
Rise of Christian Culture, 300-600 A.D., ''These three centuries witnessed the slow decline of the Classical tradition and its eventual assimilation into a rising Judeo-Christian culture,'' Michael Ward, the gallery's director, writes in the show's catalog.
For Christians, the political climate improved significantly during the reign of Constantine the Great. It is not known exactly why Constantine converted to Christianity. In about 310, he was sent as a military commander to the western reaches of the empire. As the story goes, because he saw a cross in a dream, he put crosses on his army's military standards. His soldiers were then victorious.
When he returned to Rome in 312 he was a Christian. He became co-emperor with Licinius, known as the Augustus of the East. In 313 they published the Edict of Milan, which allowed freedom of worship and gave Christians the right to own property. Even so, Licinius began to persecute Christians. Later, Constantine had him executed for treason. In 324 Constantine, now sole emperor, made Christianity the state religion, which had a profound impact on Christian art and the decorative arts. In Rome he built St. Peter's Basilica, which survived until the Renaissance, and commissioned many new churches in the Holy Land and elsewhere. Monasteries and convents spread throughout the empire.
In 326 Constantine left Rome and in 330 made Constantinople (now Istanbul) the new capital for the Roman Empire. The Roman Empire was one of the greatest and most influential civilizations in world history. It began in the city of Rome in 753 BC and lasted for well over 1000 years. The Roman Empire in the West collapsed during the barbarian invasions of the fifth century.
In the Catalog, Mr. Ward writes: ''Apart from a few periods of religious conflict, Christians and pagans lived together peacefully, sharing a common heritage. It was entirely natural, therefore, that Christian artists would rely on established Classical images and that gradually these pagan images would be infused with Christian meaning.''
For example, Christian iconographers appropriated the image of the shepherd and gave it a new meaning, equating it with Jesus, ''the Good Shepherd'' who ''giveth his life for the sheep'' (John 10:11).
Source: Antiques; In the Art World, A Conquest By Christianity. By Wendy Moonan
Some more Antique Pieces from Rose Garden Tea & Porcelain Dordrecht
Do you believe in Angels?
Rosy-cheeked, winged cherubs may be the most common images associated with angels, but these heavenly messengers take many forms in world religions. Whether they are Buddhist devas, Muslim malaikah, the archangels Michael and Gabriel in the Torah (Judaism) or Mormon ministering spirits, and in Christianity, the Archangel Gabriel visits the Virgin Mary and predicts the birth of Jesus Christ, angels play significant roles in many faiths.
The Bible is replete with appearances of angels:
“Then I saw another angel flying in midair, and he had the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth—to every nation, tribe, language and people.” – Revelation 14:6.
“Forget not to show love unto strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”– Hebrews 13:2.
But can’t each and every one of us, created in God’s image, possess and show forth those divine attributes and act like angels in this earthly life, to a certain extend?
In the ancient religions, angels represented goodness, kindness and altruism, while creatures like Satan represented selfishness, mean-spiritedness and evil.
Source: The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica
People used to understand angels as some kind of metaphysical beings who could instantly protect our souls. Instead, the Baha’i Writings refer to angels as symbols of the confirmations of God and His celestial powers—and as detached, spiritual people who act kindly, peacefully and positively in this world.
Abdu’l-Baha confirms it: "The meaning of ‘angels’ is the confirmations of God and His celestial powers. Likewise angels are blessed beings who have severed all ties with this nether world, have been released from the chains of self and the desires of the flesh, and anchored their hearts to the heavenly realms of the Lord. These are of the Kingdom, heavenly; these are of God, spiritual; these are revealers of God’s abounding grace; these are dawning-points of His spiritual bestowals." – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 81.
"The meaning of angels is the confirmations of God and His celestial powers." Abdu'l-Baha
Further more Abdu’l-Baha says: “Look ye not upon the fewness of thy numbers, rather, seek ye out hearts that are pure. One consecrated soul is preferable to a thousand other souls. If a small number of people gather lovingly together, with absolute purity and sanctity, with their hearts free of the world, experiencing the emotions of the Kingdom and the powerful magnetic forces of the Divine, and being at one in their happy fellowship, that gathering will exert its influence over all the earth. The nature of that band of people, the words they speak, the deeds they do, will unleash the bestowals of Heaven and provide a foretaste of eternal bliss. The hosts of the Company on high will defend them, and the angels of the Abha Paradise, in continuous succession, will come down to their aid."
What are the “Confirmations of God and His Celestial Powers?”
We can get a clue from the Book of Revelation in the New Testament; and Abdu’l-Baha’s illuminating explanation of the meaning of one of its most famous passages:
"And he carried me away in the spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me that great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God, having the glory of God: and her light was like unto a stone most precious, even like a jasper stone, clear as crystal; and had a wall great and high, and had twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and names written thereon, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel: On the east three gates; on the north three gates; on the south three gates; and on the west three gates. And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and in them the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. And he that talked with me had a golden reed to measure the city, and the gates thereof, and the wall thereof. And the city lieth foursquare, and the length is as large as the breadth: and he measured the city with the reed, twelve thousand furlongs. The length and the breadth and the height of it are equal. And he measured the wall thereof, an hundred and forty and four cubits, according to the measure of a man, that is, of the angel." – Revelation 21:10-17.
St. John the Divine wrote the Biblical Book of Revelation, and here Abdu’l-Baha reveals the true meaning of St. John’s symbolic words:
"Accordingly did Saint John the Divine tell of twelve gates in his vision, and twelve foundations. By ‘that great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God’ is meant the holy Law of God, and this is set forth in many Tablets and still to be read in the Scriptures of the Prophets of the past …. The meaning of the passage is that this heavenly Jerusalem hath twelve gates, through which the blessed enter into the City of God. These gates are souls who are as guiding stars, as portals of knowledge and grace; and within these gates there stand twelve angels. By ‘angel’ is meant the power of the confirmations of God—that the candle of God’s confirming power shineth out from the lamp-niche of those souls—meaning that every one of those beings will be granted the most vehement confirming support." – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, pp. 165-166.
Source: Do Angels Really Exist? Rodney Richards May 12. 2017. Part 2 In Series The Dawning Points of God’s Spiritual Bestowals.
We receive the confirmations of God and His celestial powers, those heavenly angels, from the messengers of God, the prophets and founders of the world’s great Faiths:
Abraham, Krishna, Moses, Buddha, Zoroaster, Christ, Muhammad, the Bab and now Baha’u’llah—all have given humanity the laws of God according to the needs and requirements of the time and place they appeared.
All have served as “portals of knowledge and grace” and all have shone as guiding stars to all humanity.
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Rose Garden Tea & Porcelain Dordrecht:
Address: 14 Grotekerksbuurt, 3311 CB, Dordrecht, The Netherlands.
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