The mystery of the birth of Christ is relived through the Belen (Nativity Scene) exhibition at the Miguel de Benavides Library inside the University of Santo Tomas campus.
The exhibit “Misteryo: Ikaw at ang Pasko” opened Nov. 13 and runs until Feb. 2, 2013.
A collection of over 50 Belen displays, some of which came from as far as Guatemala, Spain and Italy, are highlighted in the exhibit. Most of the Nativity scenes come from the collection of Gloria Ocampo Reyes.
Fr. Angel Aparicio, OP, prefect of libraries of UST and the main curator, said it was the first time that the Pontifical University was holding an exhibit on the unique Catholic practice of the Belen.
“This exhibit is a story we wanted to tell for Christmas, our own vision of the story,” the Spanish Dominican biblical scholar said.
Patron saint of artists
The exhibit is at the far end of the first floor of the library, with collections of small ornamental Belen displays stretching before the entrance.
Representations of the works of Italian Renaissance painter Fra Angelico (beatified by Pope John Paul II, now Beato Angelico, patron saint of artists) decorate the glass walls of the exhibit, complemented by a short history and description of the paintings.
What seem like the hymns of angels fill the entire exhibit, giving the whole room a calm ambiance. Belen displays range from life-size sculptures to Matryoshka doll-inspired figurines, with the materials ranging from resin to porcelain, metal bamboo, and wood.
An interesting Belen, which was bought from Japan, depicts the Holy Family with the shepherds in kimono outfits.
A wood carving that comes from Alva de Tormes, Spain, shows Mary and Joseph rejoicing over the birth of Jesus, as two angels flank the Holy Family.
‘Book of Hours’
One of the highlights of the exhibit is the centuries-old “Book of Hours,’ believed to have been done around the 1500s. It was made from paper vellum, a mammal skin used for writing in olden times.
Egg tempera, a medium which uses egg yolk mixed with powdered color, was used for the artwork and scriptures of the book. Real gold was also used to put highlights. Each page of the book, if sold, is estimated at $1,000.
A medieval bestseller, the “Book of Hours” is an illuminated devotional book used by Christians in Europe. It contains the liturgical calendar; excerpts from the Gospels, the Little Office of the Blessed Vigin Mary, the Litany of the Saints, the Office of the Dead and other prayers.
It is not known how the “Book of Hours” got to UST, but it was UST archivist Ricky Trota-Jose, also a commissioner of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, who discovered its existence in the archives.
But UST’s holdings of rare books and ancient records are quite extensive. It has an incunabula (printed before the 1500s)—Josefo Flavio’s “La Guerra Judaica,” printed in 1492.
UST also has a first-edition 16th-century copy of Nicholas Copernicus’ groundbreaking book on the heliocentric theory; and the very rare and beautiful Plantin polyglot Bible, printed between 1569 and 1573 under the support of King Philip II of Spain.
UST also holds the largest extant collection in the world of Baybayin scripts, the pre-Hispanic Philippine syllabary.
According to Aparicio, an exhibit is far different from the experience one gets from the virtual world.
“I want to make our students realize there are more than just books, more than just classrooms. That’s the idea of exhibit. Narrating a story, from which you gain experience,” he said. “The massage I want to get across is for people to meditate and reflect on the mystery of Christmas. That’s my main objective.”