Thrilling messages from a shared past

Sat, Jan 6, 2007, 00:00

On the Town:Wonders of ancient worlds were on view at the Chester Beatty Library in Dublin this week when the first public tour of the year took place. Curious American, German and Swedish visitors were mesmerised by the delicacy and elegance of a Japanese hand-painted scroll, by the books from the private library of Marie Antoinette and by the antiquity of pieces of papyrus dating back to AD 250, which are among the earliest accounts ever found of the four gospels.

"It's impressive. I love the value that's been put on the written word and the effort that people have gone through to pass on their message," said Erin Shand, a data analyst from Melbourne. The library's exhibition of Sacred Traditions on the second floor "shows how Judaism, Islam and Christianity are intertwined", said her friend, Jennifer Canfield.

"The world religions are all represented. It really captures people's imagination when they come," said Mary Dowling, the library's membership co- ordinator.

"The standard of the work is so high, it's thrilling," said the day's tour guide, Janet Martin, who is one of the library's team of volunteers. "There are a lot of cross-cultural things. The library does important work through reminding people that we have a lot to learn. That, for example, we share a lot with Islamic culture."

The collection of treasures is so vast at the Chester Beatty, which was voted European Museum of the Year in 2002, that only 1 per cent of them are on display at any one time.

"The religious sensitivity to all the different religions was incredible," said John Kelian-Lynch, who was there with his wife, Elizabeth Lynch, and their son, Andrew Lynch. Also taking the tour were their friends, Tom Fenton and Mary Heffron, from Traverse City in Michigan.

Free public tours take place in the Chester Beatty Library, Dublin Castle, Dublin 2, every Wed at 1pm and every Sun at 3pm and 4pm