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McDuffie Museum worth the trip

Whoever coined the phrase "The best things in life are free" must have been thinking of Thomson's Senior Citizens Center and the brand new McDuffie Museum.

As an enthusiastic member of the Senior Citizens Center, I went with them recently to the new museum to view an exhibit of Russian icons from Daniel Bibb Collection. Russian icons are religious paintings. One was often given to newlyweds to begin their collections. A corner of the house was usually reserved to display these collections. I know a physician who is Greek Orthodox. He tells me that he has an icon corner both in his house and his office.

This display has several different "themes." One is of St. George and the Dragon. There are three or four icons devoted to this subject. The legend of St. George and the Dragon arose in Libya, an exotic location where a dragon might exist. The legendary town was called "Silene." This town had a large lake where a plague-bearing dragon might be imagined. To appease the dragon, he was fed a couple of sheep every day. When the sheep ran out he was fed the town's children, chosen by lottery. As luck would have it, the king's daughter was one day chosen. The king was distraught and promised the people his kingdom, if only his daughter were spared. The people refused. The princess was decked out like a bride and sent out to be eaten.

St. George came by the lake by chance. The princess tried to dissuade him but he was persistent. As the dragon approached, St. George gave it a severe wound and called out to the princess to toss him her girdle, which he put around the dragon's neck. They led the dragon into town, which was terrified at its approach. St. George called out that if the town were to be baptized and become Christian, he would slay the dragon. This was quickly agreed upon. Fifteen thousand were baptized and the dragon was slain. In those days dragons were often equated with Satan. Today, on April 23, England celebrates St. George's Day with much feasting, etc.

Another subject was paintings of St. Nicholas, the traditional Saint of Imperial Russia. We all know him as the original Santa Claus, who started the tradition of gift giving at Christmas. A few years ago, I visited a cathedral in Bari, Italy, where he lies entombed in its basement. As we went down the steps, a wedding was in progress. There were beautiful large bouquets of white chrysanthemums. We were told that on a certain day of the year his bones exuded a miraculous liquid that had great curative powers. This was said to be a miracle recognized by the Vatican. As we came back up the steps the Ave Maria was being played. I could not keep the tears from these old eyes. St. Nicholas' bones were stolen from Asia Minor by the early townspeople. They felt the town needed a saint to protect it.

One of the more impressive icons is St. Elijah and the flaming chariot. It was painted circa 1825 and is very impressive. It is not part of a theme as only one icon is present. Still, it has a definite impact.

One other theme is that of the Virgin of Kazan. Kazan is the capital city of the Russian republic of Tatarstan. The original icon was discovered there on July 8, 1579. It is credited wit repelling invasion by, among others, Napoleon.

This entire exhibit is of the highest quality. I have been blessed with visits to some of the world's leading museums, among them the Metropolitan Museum of Art, national galleries in both Washington and London, the Louvre in Paris and the Kunsthistorisches in Vienna. I cannot believe that any of these museums would decline to exhibit any one of these icons. Don't fail to see this exhibit while it is in Thomson.

Web posted on Thursday, April 16, 2009

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