By MICHAEL GAFFNEY
When the frescoes were painted -- between A.D. 1100 and A.D. 1200 -- an era of unity and devotion reigned in Christendom, Rev. Malcolm Neyland said.
"This was a time of oneness in the societies," Neyland said. "First of all, these were painted before the Protestant Reformation, before the East-West schism (which created the Eastern Orthodox Catholic Church).
"They were painted when Thomas Beckett was archbishop of Canterbury, during the time and lives of Thomas Aquinas and St. Francis of Assisi."
The images on the ancient plaster fragments reflect knowledge of saints and prophets, and represent a historical record of Christendom during a time when the Catholic Church was unified, Neyland said.
For their historic value alone, the frescoes are priceless, he said.
"It was a time of intensity in expression," Neyland said. "The pieces will be very educational.
Because illiteracy was widespread during the time period when the frescoes were painted, the art works really are stories told through imagery rather than words, Neyland said.
Much of what people knew about the early prophets and saints was transmitted through storytelling, and artists used images from those stories to remind people of the morality tales, he said. Thus, art played an important role in the spread of Christianity and Catholicism.
"What appeals to me, and what I hope most people will find in viewing these beautiful pieces of artwork, is putting them into the philosophy, the literature and the history of the time," Neyland said. "During this time, there was a lot of peace and tranquility, more or less, compared to the centuries that followed."
Viewing the frescoes will affect everyone a little differently, depending on their knowledge of archaeology, history, art history and Christianity, Neyland said. "If it is a Catholic exhibit, it's Catholic with a little 'c,' " he said.