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The exhibition opens with a fragment of red silk, dating to around A. 800 and lent from the Vatican, whose floral rosettes enclose the enthroned Mary, sitting stiffly as the archangel Gabriel delivers some big news.
More attention is paid to the early modern era, which saw a Christian bourgeoisie arise in Baghdad, Damascus and other Arab metropolises between the 16th and 18th centuries.“Eastern Christians” thus confirms that, contrary to the clash-of-civilization palaver spouted by both the Islamic State and the European far right, Christians lived peacefully as a minority in the Middle East for nearly 1,000 years.
The accelerated violence of the 20th century has political roots, above all in the collapse of the Ottoman Empire after World War I and the nationalist movements that arose in its wake.
Manuscripts in Greek, Arabic, Coptic or Syriac are presented in a magnificent circular gallery equipped with speakers that play hymns from across the region.
An Arabic canticle to the Virgin Mary gives way to a woman singing a plangent hymn in Armenian; an ululating chant of repentance comes from the Syriac Orthodox Church.