“Three months later, when I asked my students what they remembered about the Bible exhibition, they were very enthusiastic, giving detailed examples about what had struck them: the French expressions based on the Bible, the fact that it has been translated into many languages (especially French Sign Language and Braille), and that it’s available in a wide range of formats.”
Marie-Bénédicte Mallard, who teaches a combined class of two year groups of nine- and 10-year-olds at Saint-Aldric school in Le Mans, took her students to visit the French Bible Society’s exhibition The Bible, Heritage of Humanity when it visited Le Mans in March 2012.
Mrs Mallard went by herself to visit the exhibition two days earlier.
“You would never take students on a visit like that without having prepared in any way,” she emphasises. “I had looked through the teachers’ materials and I had identified the elements that would interest my students. I took them to see five or six of the things shown on the display panels, especially those that looked at symbols and the role of the Bible. And then I let them spend an hour exploring the exhibition with a questionnaire.
“It is certainly impressive that, three months later, they remembered the exhibition well and had very good memories of visiting it.”
11, 15 and 18 years old
Edith Gautier, who undertakes chaplaincy work among students in Le Mans, visited the exhibition with her daughters Rose and Irène, who are 15 and 18. Her son Raphaël, who is 11, visited it with his school. He is in the first year of secondary education and the Bible is on the curriculum for French and History/Geography.
“He was full of enthusiasm when he returned,” Edith says. “What struck him most was the story of Mary Jones, the little Welsh girl who, at the end of the 18th century, saved up for six years and walked 40 km to go and buy a Bible. Children remember stories well, especially if they are about children or young people who are close to them in age.”
Edith spent a long time at the exhibition with her daughters.
“They felt as if they were discovering a new world,” she says. “They were very interested to find out that the Bible is actually a collection of books. They were also struck by the challenges of translating it, such as how to render particular terms. For example, how do you refer to God in China, where the concept of God doesn’t exist?”
Before returning to the exhibition with her daughters, Edith visited it with students from the chaplaincy for which she is responsible. Among them was Alexandre Tabot, who is studying economics and business management.
“I was struck by the universal aspect of the exhibition,” he says. “How the Bible has been transmitted down the centuries, the number of languages into which it has been translated, the growth in the production of Bibles that arose from the invention of printing, the Bible on iPhone… I was astonished to see an audio Bible designed for extreme conditions with a solar panel!”
Alexandre is passionate about voice technology and since his visit to the exhibition has been researching this unusual piece of equipment, MegaVoice, and everything being undertaken in this field to transmit the Bible.
Not enough time
“Two hours was not long enough to see everything in the exhibition, to watch the videos, to listen to the recorded texts and the commentaries on the paintings. I’d have liked to make a second visit, but it’s not easy with my wheelchair because it was a bit narrow in some places and there were steps.”
Alexandre hopes that the exhibition will be put online one day, making it possible to visit as often as you want.
Myriam Ratel, who attends an Assemblies of God church, would have liked to spend more time at the exhibition, too.
‘It was hard to transmit the Bible’
“I was most struck by the men and women who felt called to translate and distribute the Bible,” she says. “There were times when it was hard to transmit the Bible and they had to be very determined! What they did was remarkable. Things are much easier today. The Bible is available in several different [French] translations and you only need to place an order to get one delivered to your house. Very different from that little girl who had to walk I don’t know how many kilometres to go and buy one!”
Thinking about what the exhibition contributed to her faith and that of her husband, Myriam adds with a smile, “It did us good. It nourished us.”
19 events linked with the Bible exhibition
Sarah Maurice, who is also a member of an Assemblies of God church, warmly welcomed the fact that many different events were organised in connection with the Bible exhibition. There were 19 altogether, spread over the three weeks during which the exhibition ran.
“I went to several,” she says. “The Gospel concert in the cathedral was amazing! The conference called Is God Green? was very interesting and challenging, too. It’s something I think about a lot and I’d already read a book written by one of the presenters. I have to confess that some of the points that were made went over my head, as it’s a complicated subject! But it’s good to be encouraged to think.
“My favourite event was the show Freedom, Equality, Couscous. Pastor Said Oujibou appeared alone on stage to give his testimony and then everybody shared a big couscous. It was a powerful moment!”
A high quality outing
Dominique Paumier heads the respite care unit of the charity Secours Catholique (Caritas/CAFOD) in Le Mans. He took a group of clients to the Bible exhibition.
“None of us had imagined that the exhibition would make such a big impression and be so attractive,” he says. “It’s hard to know what each individual client gained from it, as they are very modest and don’t show their emotions very much. But you could see that they were happy to be there and that they enjoyed the guided tour. And for Secours Catholique, it was good that we could offer them a high quality outing.”
Régis Pluchet, a journalist who belongs to the French Reformed Church, visited the exhibition twice.
A good introduction to the Bible
“I was really impressed by the quality of the panels and by the fact that there were also small objects, videos and recordings. That it was ‘interactive’, as people call it now,” he says. “It’s a good introduction to the Bible.”
He explains that he reads the Bible more than most people do and that he also consults many commentaries and exegetical works. For this reason, he does not feel that the exhibition particularly increased his knowledge.
“But I was really pleased to see knowledge being made available to the general public,” he emphasises.
Claire and Matthias Ziminski are very active in their Catholic church. Claire was one of the volunteers who welcomed visitors to the exhibition.
‘You’ll remember it for the rest of your life’
Claire and Matthias invited their neighbours – a Jew married to a Catholic and a couple who no longer have links with their religion – to the exhibition.
“They came once to please us and then, having become interested, they returned for a guided tour. They realised that they were missing a lot by going around by themselves,” says Claire.
“Personally, what impressed me was that the Bible is not just one book but books. Thanks to the panel in the exhibition which presents all the books of the Bible as if they were in a library, you’ll remember it for the rest of your life! I’d never have imagined that a visual presentation like that would have such an impact.”
Sense of community
Claire mentions that some visitors expressed regret that the exhibition is not more religious. Personally, she greatly enjoyed its cultural dimension and the ecumenism which guided its organisation. Whenever she could, she took part in one of the guided tours, always choosing a Protestant guide so that she could benefit from an alternative view of the Bible. She was struck by the great diversity of those involved in staging the exhibition and by the sincerity each one showed.
“It was clear that there was a sense of community around something that we genuinely have in common. The Bible, and Christ as well. Even if some people talk about ‘religions of the Book’, it’s Christ who is at the centre of our faith, it’s Christ we love,” she concludes.