Miracles may seem like they are in short supply right now but a museum in Utrecht is aiming to put that right with a telephone hotline that claims to offer the chance to experience them. The Museum Catharijneconvent houses a large collection of religious are but like all galleries in the province, it has been forced to shut its doors to in-person visits as a result of the global coronavirus emergency. However, that does not mean that the public can no longer get a taste of its most recently curated exhibition devoted to the subject of miracles in art. The powers-that-be at the museum have decided to set up a phone line that allows virtual visitors to experience as much of the show as possible – but it doesn’t end there.
Like most support lines that are dedicated to helping people through the social lockdown measures that are in place in many parts of the world, the one at Museum Catharijneconvent offers callers a range of options. The first is the most straightforward. By selecting the first option on their phone, callers can hear all about one of the miracles depicted in the exhibition by listening to one of the gallery’s most knowledgable members of staff.
Another option means that callers can enjoy a bit of interaction and record their own experience of a miraculous happening, perhaps something they have come across in life or as a result of the art being showcased in the exhibition. However, the third option is of a different kind altogether. This allows callers to request their own miracle. The phoneline asks callers whether they would like to experience a miracle and, if so, prompts them to make a request.
In these psychologically troubling times, it could well be that the chance to ask for a miracle will end up being the most popular. Even in a secular age, reaching out for a supernatural happening may be something that people feel the need to do. Only time will tell, of course.
Rosa van der Wielen, a spokeswoman at the museum said that the idea of allowing people to request miracles was just a bit of a joke prior to the coronavirus outbreak affecting people’s lives in so many ways. She went on to add that she thought it could be very therapeutic for people to put their ideas for miracles forward.
The temporary exhibition into miracles, known as ‘All Wonders’, had been due to be open to the public at the end of March. That date has now been put back until June – and may be postponed further – because of the measures currently in place in Utrecht that are trying to arrest the spread of the Covid-19 virus.
The exhibition, which is due to be staged in the museum’s former convent site, appears to make it clear that the existence of true miracles has yet to be fully established. However, it points out that because many artists through history have chosen to paint them, this seems to show us that miracles – or our belief in them – are needed somehow.
Two of the major pieces included in the show are an etching of Lazarus rising from the dead by Rembrandt and a life-size depiction of the same Biblical miracle by the 17th-century Dutch artist Carel Fabritius. Not all of the subject matter is as old as that, however. When the exhibition opens, visitors will be able to view a music video by the recording artist David Bowie for a track he made called ‘Lazarus’.
Clothes worn Gilberte Degeimbre will also be on show. She claimed to have seen the Virgin Mary as a child in the 1930s. Aged just nine, the veracity of her story was tested as she prayed. A lit match was said to have been placed in hand as she entered ecstatic prayer which she, apparently, did not sense. This led to at least one bishop declaring the miracle to be valid.
Callers can listen to the hotline to find out more about the subject matter while they are stuck at home, or use the exhibition to think about what sort of miracle they might seek as they see fit.
About the author – Manuel Charr
Manuel Charr is a journalist working in the arts and cultural sectors. With a background in marketing, Manuel is drawn to arts organizations which are prepared to try inventive ways to reach new audiences.