Category Archives: Museums and exhibits

12th International Holocaust Remembrance Day in the Podkarpackie Province, Poland

By sr Katarzyna Kowalska NDS (PhD Candidate, Religious Studies)

Thanks to the efforts of Prof. Waclaw Wierzbieniec and the Jewish History and Culture Department of University of Rzeszów’s Institute of History, with the support of local authorities and institutions, over 30 towns of the Podkarpackie Province honoured the 12th International Holocaust Remembrance Day with commemoration ceremonies that took place between 2nd January and 22 Feburary 2020. These days are unique and unmatched by any other region, as they are often organised by grass-root level organisations and initiatives in various institutions such as schools, town halls, cultural centres, parishes, village administrators etc, which get involved in the annual ceremonies’ organization.

Sr Anna Bodzinska NDS and Sr Katarzyna Kowalska NDS (born in the region) participated in commemorating events in various towns and villages: Rzeszów, Przemyśl, Leżańsk, Gniewczyna Leżańska, Dynów, Tyczyn, Kraczkowa, Jasionka,  Pruchnik, Jarosław, and others. You can read the complete program of the 10th International Holocaust Remembrance Day (#HDR2020) here. This blog looks at a few examples of what such commemorations look like.

The 27th January ceremony commemorating the Holocaust victims in Rzeszów began with prayers at the Jewish Cemetery, including prayers recited by Rabbi Shalom Ben Stambler of Chabad-Lubavitch. There were also lectures, meetings and a concert of cymbals (a Jewish Polish instrument). Students had an opportunity to listen to and meet with Jewish Polish Holocaust Survivors, with the presence of Lucia Retman (now living in Haifa, Israel), who lived in this region before and during WWII. The commemoration in Rzeszów ended with a prayer in Fara Church, where names of those who were killed – Polish Jews and Christians – were read by Polish and Jewish representatives.

A commemoration at the Jewish Cemetery in Rzeszow

On the 29th of January, commemorations took place in in the primary school in Jasionka. Sr Katarzyna spoke to  young students (13-18) about why it is important today to come and be part of Holocaust Memorial Days. A talk concerning the Kahane brothers followed.  

In Jasionka: Students with sr Katarzyna NDS, learning about Sr Marie Francia NDS and other Righteous among the Nations

Tyczyn prepared a full day’s programme (30th of January), which students and locals were invited to take part in. Twelve candles were lit at the Jewish Cemetery by students to remember 1200 Jews from Tyczyn who were deported and killed. Tyczyn had counted 3000 inhabitants before WWII. The cemetary commemoration was followed by a visit to a church and cemetery where several Righteous Among the Nations are buried. Students heard stories of courage and the difficult choices that locals had to face during the Nazi occupation. The cultural centre prepared a programme of meetings with Jewish visitors and guests of HRD, as well as music performance and exhibitions.

Tyczyn – lighting the candles at the Jewish Cemetery

HRD in Przemyśl lasted two days (29-30 January). It began with a commemoration event to remember those who perished in Przemyśl ghetto. Students and locals had meetings with Holocaust survivors and several presentations concerning the Holocaust and Jewish and Polish history and culture.

The 12th Holocaust Remembrance Days in Podkarpacie went unnoticed in wider world media. However, it is an initiative that deserves attention as shows that grass root work is taking place in Poland concerning the Holocaust, history, memory and dialogue, and that there are many places in Podkarpacie where the Jewish past is not forgotten but, rather, is seen as integral to Polish history and Holocaust education.





Graham Harvey, Hugh Beattie & Suzanne Newcombe are talking at the Understanding Religion Through Objects study day at the British Museum, Sat 29 Jan. They use Museum objects to explore the rituals and everyday lives of religious practitioners.

Talks focus on themes such as initiation, pilgrimage, sacrifice and worship, and Venetia Porter, curator of the Albukhary Foundation Gallery of the Islamic world, will also discuss the re-presenting of objects and art from the cultures of Islam.

Booking and full details at

Religion at the British Museum

By Graham Harvey

Religious objects almost fill the British Museum. In galleries dedicated to Islamic and Asian cultures as well as those related to health and healing there are many artefacts made for religious use. There are large portions of temples from ancient Sumeria, Egypt and Greece. There are deity statues from the Pacific, ancestor masks from Africa and icons from Greece and Russia. A full list would be a long one! And if you search for religious terms in the museum’s website — or in the Google Arts and Culture site related to the BM — the objects displayed are abundant. “Faith”, for instance, appears to be a popular theme for curators and website organisers. This fact indicates more than the presence of objects that originated in religious contexts. It points to the employment of religion as interpretative lens in this putatively secular institution. Two recent additions to the British Museum increase not only the presence of religious objects but also of religious interpretations.

The “Lion Man” Sculpture

In collaboration with BBC Radio 4 and with a book publisher, the British Museum currently has a temporary exhibition “Living with gods” in its premier gallery, Room 35 beneath the imposing central rotunda. This brings together the 40,000 year old “Lion Man” sculpture from the Stadel Cave, Germany, with recently collected objects such as Jewish kippot (skull caps — one displaying affiliation with a football club), and examples of souvenirs brought home by pilgrims. In between the ancient figure and the contemporary souvenirs are items drawn from across the museum’s collections: e.g. Coptic processional crosses, Hopi kachinas, Islamic prayer rugs, Buddhist icons, a Hindu juggernaut, Zoroastrian and Protestant prayer costumes. Any one of these could generate lengthy discussion — just as they have generated considerable devotion.

For those of us interested in religion as a bodily and material practice, there is something odd about the exhibition. Despite the prevalence of materiality that make ritual acts central to religion, the exhibition is framed and structured by words which insist that religion is defined by believing. Most curiously, the final display board before the exit from Room 35 uses words like “indeterminate”, “ineffable”, “never seen” and “not accessible”. Admittedly, these are said of an (indeterminate) “it” but the presumption must be that they refer to religion, faith, gods and other putatively transcendent realities. Conversations with other visitors to the gallery suggested that I was not alone in finding this an odd conclusion to draw about rich material cultures. Indeed, overheard comments on particular items in the exhibition strongly suggest that at least some objects continue to engage people quite viscerally and directly. Thus, the “Living with gods” exhibition deserves wider attention.

Commemoration of the bicentennial of the birth of Baha’u’llah

The second addition to the British Museum’s displays is a case commemorating  the bicentennial of the birth of Baha’u’llah, the founder of the Baha’i Faith. Along with information about Baha’u’llah, the case contains objects owned by him, such as his glasses and pens, as well as examples of writings considered revelatory by Baha’is. It is placed at the rear of the museum’s Gallery of the Islamic World, devoted to “the cultures of peoples living in lands where the dominant religion is Islam”. The Baha’i Faith has spread worldwide and promotes a vision of global unity. The display case was the focus of considerable attention at a reception hosted in the gallery by the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of the United Kingdom. A series of speeches emphasised key themes in Baha’i teachings and celebrated the perception that being able to handle the founder’s pens and correspondence provides an authenticity greater than that of other religions.  The positioning, contents and response to this new display provide further encouragements to those of us interested in understanding the presence, practice and politics of religion in the contemporary world.

Material Culture in Saint Mary’s Lancaster and Bath Abbey

By Marion Bowman

I was in Lancaster recently to give a paper in University’s Religion, Politics & Philosophy Seminar series. While I was there, I called in at St Mary’s and enjoyed this striking papercut artwork in a church clearly committed to using material culture creatively.


Cathedrals & churches seem increasingly to be venues for thought-provoking art. Here in Bath Abbey, an installation of butterflies is used to make points about migration.

Witch-hunting at the British Museum

The Four Witches

The Four Witches

Every era has its witches. At least, that’s how it seems from the British Museum’s current exhibition Witches and Wicked Bodies, which is showing in Room 90 until January 11th 2015 (entrance free). Here, ancient sorceresses like Medea and Circe mingle with Eve, Lilith and the Witch of Endor, while the nameless crones of the Early Modern witch-hunts cackle alongside the Weird Sisters of Macbeth.

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