Tag Archive | Religion

Object: Indulgence

Materials: Paper/Paint

Dante between Purgatory and Florence by Domenico di Michelino, 1465. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

This object is a plenary indulgence, which is a religious document used by the Catholic church. Indulgences are used to grant the forgiveness of sins without having to do penance for them or be punished by spending time in purgatory. In the Catholic belief system, purgatory is where a person’s soul goes after death to be cleansed of its sins and prepared to enter heaven. This cleansing process is usually thought to involve being punished for any sins the person committed while alive. The most famous description of purgatory was written by Dante in his Divine Comedy. Dante described it as an island mountain, and divided it into three sections, Ante-purgatory, Purgatory proper, and the Earthly Paradise. Ante-purgatory was located on the lower slopes of the mountain, and was essentially a waiting area for souls who have yet to enter the punishment area of purgatory. The upper part of the mountain consists of seven terraces, each of which corresponds to one of the seven capital sins (popularly known today as the “seven deadly sins”). Eden, Dante’s Earthly Paradise is found at the very top of the mountain.

A Peasant Girl buying an Indulgence by François Marius Granet, 1825. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

There are two types of indulgences. These are partial or plenary, meaning complete or absolute. The difference between these two forms is in how much punishment in purgatory they forgave you for. These were given by bishops and church officials starting in the 11th and 12th centuries. These documents have a long history and have a large importance for the church and it’s members.

Indulgences have stirred controversy in the past however. Some felt that the church needed to reform and indulgences were at the top of the list. In the Ninety Five Theses, Martin Luther criticized catholic doctrine of the time, and in particular, the way indulgences were used. These criticisms would add fuel to a fire that had been strengthening for centuries. While the Protestant Reformation happens soon after Luther’s theses were published, earlier events show that the desire for reform in the Catholic church was not a new concept. The religious movements among the Waldensians, Hussites, as well as the Lollards were all challenges to the Catholic system long before Luther. [Ryan Farrell, edited by Kathryn S. McCloud]

Additional Resources:

Carson, Herbert M. 1965. Roman Catholicism today. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.

Cassone, Alberto, and Carla Marchese. “The Economics of Religious Indulgences.” Journal of Institutional and Theoretical Economics (JITE) / Zeitschrift Für Die Gesamte Staatswissenschaft 155, no. 3 (1999): 429-42.

Hardon, John A. 1975. The Catholic catechism. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday.

Hillerbrand, Hans Joachim. 2009. The Protestant Reformation. New York: Harper Perennial.

Wengert, Timothy J. 2015. Martin luther’s ninety-five theses: With introduction, commentary, and study guide. Augsburg Fortress Publishers.


Object: Miter


Greek Bishop’s Miter
20th Century
Materials: Cloth/Paper/Ink/Metal/Thread/Glass

This object is a Greek Bishop’s miter, or ceremonial headpiece.  It’s an elaborate headdress made from brocade, with elaborate embroidery and embellishments, and depicting Christian symbols and figures.   It belonged to Bishop John of Amorion, who was the first American-born bishop of the Greek Orthodox Church.  He was ordained in 1971 at the Annunciation Cathedral in Houston, Texas.

The Greek immigration story into Texas is a colorful and adventurous one.  The first recorded Greek immigrant, known only as Captain Nicholas, entered Galveston Island with the well-known pirate, Jean Lafitte in 1817.  He married a woman from the Karankawa tribe, but lost her in a storm.  He then sailed with Lafitte around the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, before finally returning to Galveston in 1842.

By 1860, Captain Nicholas was one of only two Greeks registered in Texas. He lived out his life selling fish and oysters, and transporting charcoal from the mainland to the island until his death in the Galveston storm of 1900.  He was nearly 100 years old when he died.

Many Greeks emigrated out of Greece to escape political, social, and economic problems.  Despite gaining independence after almost 400 years of Turkish rule, many people were still feeling oppressed, and by 1910, almost 10% of Greeks had emigrated out of their homeland.

Greek immigrants to Texas didn’t come as families, but rather as single men, looking for opportunities in the cities.  The first Greek colony in Texas was in Galveston, where 37 Greeks worked in saloons, markets, and cotton gins. They saw opportunities  to move up the economic ladder, working entry level jobs while learning English, saving money, and eventually opening their own businesses- often as restaurant owners, real estate investors, and owners of confectioneries– shops where candy was made and sold. By the early 1900s there were several thousand Greeks living in Texas, but they were scattered over 250,000 square miles of the state.

St. Sophia Greek Orthodox Church of San Antonio. Photo by Casca L., via Yelp.com

The first Greek Orthodox Church was finally established in Texas in 1910, near the Ft. Worth stockyards. It didn’t take long to determine that one parish serving the entire state was impractical, and soon, several more churches were built in cities around the state. In San Antonio, the untimely death of a small child due to illness was followed by a two week delay in burial because there wasn’t a Greek Orthodox priest nearby. The local Greek community, grieving the loss of the child, knew this wasn’t acceptable.  In response, St. Sophia Greek Orthodox Church was finally established in San Antonio in 1924.

Today, there are more than 32,319 Greeks in Texas.  They celebrate their heritage and customs proudly.  Through decades of growth and change, they have had one enduring source of stability and connection to their roots- the Orthodox Church. [Carrie Klein, edited by Kathryn S. McCloud]


Callinicos, Constantine.  The Greek Orthodox Church.  London, New York:  Longmans, Green, and Co., 1918.

Fairchild, Henry Pratt.  Greek Immigration to the United States.  New Haven: Yale University Press, 1911.

Greene, Meg.  Greek Americans.  San Diego: Lucent Books, 2003.

Witliff, William D.  The Greek Texans.  Texas: Encino Press, 1974.

Object: Print


I-0068k (01)

“The Black Madonna of Czestochowa”
Unknown artist
Materials: Wood, Ink, Paint

This object is a small print representing the Black Madonna of Czestochowa. The Black Madonna of Czestochowa also known as Our Lady of Jasna Gora is a revered icon of the Virgin Mary. Today the original painting sits in Jasna Gora Monastery in Czestochowa, Poland and has been there for six centuries. There are many stories surrounding the history of the original painting, some seem to be more fantasy than fact, and these stories have inspired many artists to create their own versions of this famous work of art. The print shown above, from the ITC collection, is one of a set of 15 different versions of the Black Madonna of Czestochowa.

Jasna Góra monastery by night Photo made on 2005-02-04 by Adam Kumiszcza. Imaga via Wikimedia Commons.

The original painting is said to have been painted by St. Luke and it remained in the holy land until it was discovered by St. Helena of the Cross sometime in the 4th century. After this discovery it was then moved to Constantinople, where it was proudly displayed by St. Helena’s son, the Emperor Constantine. Around 803 C.E. the painting was passed on to Prince Leo of Ruthenia. It remained in the royal palace, in present day northwestern Hungary, until the eleventh century when there was an invasion. The painting was then transferred to the Jasna Gora Monastery in Poland at the request of Ladislaus of Opole. Once the painting was in the hands of Ladislaus, the history became better documented.

In 1392 Tatars attacked the fortress at Belz and one of the arrows hit the painting lodging itself in the throat area. Fearing that the painting would be captured by the Tatars, Ladislaus fled with it to the town of Czestochowa and the painting was installed in the church. In 1430 Hussite looters attacked the church and one attacker struck the painting with his sword. The damage due to the sword and arrow can still be seen today. By 1655 Poland was overrun by Swedish forces. The monks at the monastery were able to defend the portrait during a forty day siege. Following the win against Sweden the Lady of Czestochowa became crowned as Queen of Poland.

Throughout the centuries there has been many reports of miraculous events surrounding the painting. The name Black Madonna was given due to the soot residue that discolors the painting.  The soot comes from centuries of candles burning in front of the painting. Today the feast day of the Black Madonna is celebrated on August 26. Many people make the pilgrimage to see the painting, leaving from Warsaw every year since 1711 on August 6th, the pilgrimage lasts 9 days and covers roughly 140 miles.

"Czestochowa National Shrine" in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Statue is Jan Pavel II. Near Dublin, PA. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

“Czestochowa National Shrine” in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Statue is Jan Pavel II. Near Dublin, PA. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

The Black Madonna is popular in places like Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia. In the United States there is a National Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa which is located in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. The shrine was founded in 1953 and features a replica of the painting. [Joscelynn Garcia]

Additional Sources:

Art, Belief, Meaning Symposium, Herman C. Du Toit, and Doris R. Dant. Art and Spirituality: The Visual Culture of Christian Faith. Provo, Utah: BYU Studies, Brigham Young University, 2006.

Pasierb, Janusz St, Jan Samek, Jan Michlewski, and Janusz Rosikoń. The Shrine of the Black Madonna at Czestochowa. Warsaw: Interpress Pub, 1980.

Paz, Adele. The Black Madonna of Czestochowa: A Fluid Symbol of Polish Nationality. 2005.

Object: Antimen

I-0529e (2)

United States
20th Century
Materials: Cloth and Thread

This object is an Antimen or Antimension which translates to “instead of the table” and is used in Orthodox Christian churches. It is an authorizing document printed on cloth that allows the priest to celebrate the Divine Liturgy. Antimens could be issued by a bishop directly to a priest, or to the church itself. If the priest was issued the antimen he would travel with it wherever he went to serve; while an antimen issued to the church would stay with on altar of the church. This particular antimension belonged to Rev. Nicholas Nahas who ministered for 47 years with it throughout North and Central America.

Photo via: Rev. Nickolas Albert Nahas, Identifier 097-0115, University of Texas at San Antonio Libraries Special Collections, Copy and Reuse Restrictions Apply

Photo via: Rev. Nickolas Albert Nahas, Identifier 097-0115, University of Texas at San Antonio Libraries Special Collections, Copy and Reuse Restrictions Apply

The altar table is the center of the church and its ceremonies. Because of this, the antimension plays an important role as it covers the altar. The antimension is typically made of either linen or silk. Typically antimensions are decorated with images of the entombment of Christ, the four Evangelists (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) and scriptural passages related to the Eucharist. The antimension usually has a relic sewn inside of it as well. Relics are items connected to important religious figures, events, or objects. In this antimension there originally was a bone fragment from a saint. Now there is a shard of gravel from the original St. Michael Church located in Beaumont, Texas.

Although the antimension plays a role in every service, it is especially important when celebrating the Eucharist. In fact, the Eucharist cannot be celebrated without the antimension. The Eucharist is a religious rite that began with the Passover meal which is a holiday in Judaism. Connections are also made to Jesus Christ and his disciples who shared a Passover meal before his death. Christian tradition states that during the meal, Christ symbolically gave his disciples his body and blood in the form of bread and wine. Today, many Christian denominations participate in the ritual of the Eucharist, or the Holy Communion, in which parishioners take a sip of wine and piece of wafer as Christ’s body and blood on Sundays.

Eucharist depiction

Eucharist depiction. Image via Wikipedia.org

The Orthodox Church traces its history back to the disciples of Jesus who appointed bishops to stay and manage the growing number of churches. Eventually this turned into a hierarchy, as bishops soon needed help to manage the churches in their area and they designated deacons and priests. At this point, Christianity was a single entity expanding across Europe and into the East. By around 750 A.D. the Church was facing problems as it grew and the East and West began to differ in the language used as well as customs. It wasn’t until 1058 though that the Western Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church officially split. As of 2010, 260 million people, or 11.9% of the Christian population worldwide, practices Orthodox Christianity. [Briana Miano edited by Joscelynn Garcia]

Additional Readings:

Chadwick, Henry. East and West: The Making of a Rift in the Church: From Apostolic Times until the Council of Florence. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003. 

Christy, Vladimir. The Antimension: Its History, Practice and Theology. PhD Diss., M. Div. St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary, 1979. 

Kallistos, Bishop of Diokleia. The Orthodox Church. London, England: Penguin Books, 1993. 

Object: Figurine


Religious Figurine
Spanish American
Northern Mexico or southern Texas
Mid-19th Century
Materials: Wood, Paint

This object is a wooden statue of Saint Anthony, or possibly Saint Francis. Spanish statues like this were called bultos or santos and they were depictions of saints or other religious figures in Catholicism. This work of art was probably made in southern Texas or northern Mexico. A figurine like this would have been used in a home shrine, rather than in a church. Santos have a long history dating back to the Spanish Colonial period, after the Spanish had explored and conquered the New World.

Example of a santos.

Example of a santos. Photo by Marina Hayman Ph.D., via colonialmexicoinsideandout.blogspot.com

Originally, santos were made by the missionaries living in the New World. These religious men would use them as props to help teach Native Americans about Christianity, and were often given to the converts to display in their homes. However, not all santos were placed in the home, many of them were treasured items and churches proudly displayed them during religious celebrations.

This santo is depicting either Saint Anthony or Saint Francis. Saint Anthony is the patron saint of finding lost things or people. He was a part of the Franciscan order and was known for his gifted preaching which had the ability to reach people of various backgrounds. This gift was celebrated so much that he was given the title of Doctor of the Church by Pope Pius XII in 1946. He is usually depicted holding a book, or with Jesus as a baby.

Saint Francis is the patron saint of merchants, ecologists, and animals. He was known for abandoning his family wealth to live a simpler life of poverty. He is one of the most respected religious figures in history. The Franciscan order was also founded by him and the members of the church would later become widespread in the New World in their attempt to convert native populations. He is usually depicted with animals such as birds.

Saint Francis

Saint Francis. Image via Catholic Online

Santos are carved out of wood and then painted into the likeness of whichever saint they were supposed to represent. Today, people called santeros make the santos and other religious images. Like all art, the materials they are made from and their style reveal where they come from. Many santos are attributed to New Mexico where the tradition of making and keeping santos is still practiced. However, not many examples of early colonial santos survived to today. [Briana Miano, edited by Joscelynn Garcia]

Additional Readings:

Dewhurst, C. Kurt, Betty MacDowell, and Marsha MacDowell. Religious Folk Art in America: Reflections of Faith. New York: E.P. Dutton in association with the Museum of American Folk Art, 1983.

Shalkop, Robert L., and Taylor Museum. Wood Saints: The Santos Of New Mexico. Buchheim Verlag, 1967.

Steele, Thomas J. Santos and Saints: The Religious Folk Art of Hispanic New Mexico. Santa Fe, N.M.: Ancient City Press, 1994.

Object: Ketubah

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Marriage Certificate (Ketubah)
Materials: Animal Parchment, Ink

In many cultures around the world, marriage is a major life event that celebrates the legal and/or spiritual union of two people. Marriage ceremonies have been around since ancient times, but today weddings have increasingly become large themed parties with elaborate decorations, formal dresses, and a gathering of friends and family. However, if you are the one getting married, a key component of the wedding day would be having your marriage certificate signed. For people of Jewish faith, this marriage certificate or ketubah (keh-too-buh) is not just an essential part of the wedding day, but an important object throughout their marriage.

What is a ketubah?

Photo of rabbi reading a katubah by Jenna Leigh Weddings, via http://thebigfatjewishwedding.com

A ketubah is a key component of a Jewish wedding ceremony, similar to a certificate of marriage used for legally documenting the union with the government. However, in Judaism the ketubah is more than that— by definition, the ketubah is a binding religious document that outlines and details the husband’s marital obligations to his wife. Usually written in Aramaic (an ancient language very closely related to Hebrew), the ketubah is read out loud by a scholar of the Torah such as a rabbi during the marriage ceremony, after the exchanging of rings. After the ketubah is read, it is handed to the groom who presents it to the bride. The ketubah is placed in a safe place and is regarded as an integral part of the couple’s married life.

What are the groom’s obligations?

The ketubah usually states what the groom must provide for his bride for the duration of their lives together: things like food, shelter, protection, and love. Some ketubahs also state the groom’s intentions of fidelity. Another key component of a ketubah is the amount of money that the wife is to receive if the couple separate or the groom passes away. In ancient times, the ketubah was a legal contract that was strictly enforced. Today, in some countries such as Israel, the ketubah is still a legally-binding contract. In places such as Europe or North America however, a ketubah is more of a symbolic document. Even though the ketubah is not always considered a legal document in modern times, for Jewish couples who observe this tradition, the ketubah is a beautifully decorated reminder of their commitment to each other.

 What does a ketubah look like?

Ketuba from Yeman. Taken from The Ketubot Collection of the National Library of Israel San’a, Yemen, 1794

Traditional ketubah are usually written in ink on materials made of parchment paper or rolled animal hides. Today ketubah are made out of many types of materials, even stained glass!

Kehtubah also can be written in a number of languages. In ketubah that are produced today, there is often an ornate front written in Aramaic or Hebrew with a less decorative back, often in the couple’s native language. Ketubah also have spaces where the date, couple’s names and the signatures of witnesses are to be written. This particular ketubah at the Institute of Texan Cultures is very ornate, with printed floral elements and grand columns. Today, ketubah can be manufactured or created by hand—in both cases, the intricate designs and symbolism behind those designs become a work of art. Popular images include biblical scenes and images of nature, and geometric patterns. Some modern ketubah are even created with a variety of art media—photographs, watercolors, and lace! [Caira Spenrath, edited by Kathryn S. (Barr) McCloud]

Additional Resources:

Davidovitch, David. The Ketuba: Jewish Marriage Contracts Through the Ages. New York, N.Y.: Adama Books, 1985.

Eis, Ruth. Ketubah: An Exhibition of Illuminated Jewish Marriage Contracts, Rings, Amulets & Bridal Gifts from Oriental and European Communities. Berkeley, Calif: Judah L. Magnes Memorial Museum, 1969.

Hamline University. The Ketuba. An Exhibition of Jewish Marriage Contracts. St. Paul, Minnesota: Hamline University, 1975.

Monger, George. Marriage Customs of the World An Encyclopedia of Dating Customs and Wedding Traditions. Santa Barbara, Calif: ABC-CLIO, 2013.

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