An anonymous Dutch master of the 1500s included two Down syndrome people in his magnificent Nativity scene.- See more at: http://www.mercatornet.com/above/view/forgotten-portraits/17596#sthash.Vim7leFE.dpuf
In the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York there is an unusual painting: “The Adoration of the Christ Child” by a follower of Jan Joest of Kalkar. For this Nativity scene includes two figures which suggest their models had Down’s syndrome. To anyone who recognises the distinctive physiognomy caused by Down’s the likeness is unmistakable.
These figures, a small angel next to Mary and a shepherd standing behind, seem startling because their presence is so rare. We don’t know if the artist used them simply because they resembled members of his own family or because his artistic vision encompassed a richly inclusive understanding of humanity. For me the rapt and humble adoration scene is suffused with an extra dimension of kindliness and pity.
Yet how natural and appropriate the inclusion seems! The small angel and the adult shepherd bring their own touching simplicity of worship to the tableau. “Unless ye become as little children ye cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven” Jesus reminds us. And we need reminding. In Western society today, increasingly sophisticated tests are employed to detect preborn babies who have Down’s syndrome; over 90 percent are then aborted.
They are brutally denied the chance to live and to experience the joy and sadness of life – or to participate in the greatest act human beings can make: to worship the Christ Child in his crib. Indeed, perhaps his fragility and vulnerability speaks more eloquently to the hearts of the two individuals in the painting because their own stigmata are inscribed so indelibly on their faces?
Why do I particularly embrace the tender vision of this painting? Because I too have a child with Down’s syndrome.
Catherine Morrogh writes from the UK.
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The Adoration of the Christ Child. Artist: Follower of Jan Joest of Kalkar (Netherlandish, active ca. 1515)
Today, all three of our stories come from our new blog, Above, which deals with religion and spirituality in the public square. We hope to use it as a template for sprucing up the other blogs. We'd love to get your comments and suggestions about its design and functionality -- and, of course, the content.
Today's selection, serendipitously, will give you an idea of the range of topics we hope to cover. There is a very thorough explanation of the situation of the Copts in Egypt, who face great challenges in adapting to the rise of Islamic fundamentalism as well as dissension within their own ranks. Odd as it may seem, there is even a tiny splinter group of Copts who favour the introduction of Sharia law -- so that they can get quick and easy divorces.
Carolyn Moynihan reviews Soul Mates, a new book about how religion helps African-Americans and Latinos have more stable family life and employment. It contains some fascinating statistics. And Catherine Morrogh has written a charming piece about a Nativity scene painted in the early 1500s which includes two people with Down syndrome features.
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|Egypt’s Copts at the crossroads|
Christian Cannuyer | ABOVE | 11 February 2016
Will they be able to exorcise their ancient demons and adapt to the new regime?
|Soul Mates: How religion helps African American and Latino families|
Carolyn Moynihan | ABOVE | 11 February 2016
A new book has encouraging – and challenging – news for the Church.
Catherine Morrogh | ABOVE | 11 February 2016
An anonymous Dutch master of the 1500s included two Down syndrome people in his magnificent Nativity scene.
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