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Catholic Culture News

Catholic Activity: Preschool Parent Pedagogy: Christian Use of Pictures



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This parent pedagogy has terrific guidelines on how to introduce religious art to young children in the home.


Since we are continually mentioning pictures, it may be well to consider fully their use.

From the earliest days of Christianity art was used to help teach the Faith. The museums of Europe and all the old churches and cathedrals are full of the works produced from the early days down to the sixteenth century. (After the Protestant revolt, in some places great Catholic art was destroyed; in others it suffered a set-back.) Because paintings on canvas or those frescoed onto the walls of churches did not always retain their original bright colors (often being ruined by dampness), in some places the pictures were made in mosaics, a process in which a design is created by fitting many, many tiny pieces of marble together. The stained-glass windows of the Middle Ages were pictures in glass, set up into the walls to teach religion to the people. And indeed the cathedrals of Europe we might call pictures in stone, carved all over as they were with scenes from the life of Christ and the Old Testament. The greatest artists spent their lives producing paintings, frescoes, mosaics, windows, and buildings which are still so beautiful that modern people are struck dumb with wonder when they see them.

In the superb cathedral of Montréal, near Palermo, Sicily, you can see spread out before you mosaics covering every inch of the wall space, showing the history of religion from Adam and Eve down through the life of Christ.

Popularity of Picture-Teaching

The educational value of the picture is enormous. Of that there can be no doubt. Today the magazine makers and the movie producers know how to teach every sort of lesson by pictures, some good lessons, but often, alas! evil lessons.

Shall we Catholic parents lag behind and fail to make use of such a powerful means of instruction? Shall we not introduce our own beloved children to that world of religion and beauty revealed in the thousands of Catholic masterpieces created through the centuries?

The careful study of even one of the great religious works of art can give a child an impression which it would take many words to produce. And such an impression remains in the memory to be recalled even in later years.

Prints, copies of great pictures, can be obtained from several firms which specialize in these reproductions.

Studying the Picture

Young children, from two years up, enjoy looking at pictures and naming every person and object in sight. Train the little one to pick out the important person first, usually our Lord. Then ask, "What is dear Lord Jesus doing?" The answer will, of course, depend upon the child's age. You can then tell the story of the picture, following the suggestions on story-telling given in the March section. If the child is interested, let him go on to pick out details. Some young children will notice even tiny flowers in the grass.

Let us, then, try to have at least one picture suitable to the month. Use it on the family altar. And let the child paste it in his scrapbook.

Avoid Ordinary and Ugly Pictures

Pay no attention to those who want only pictures of flowers or fruit or sailboats hanging on the wall. The most cultured, the best educated, have in their homes copies of the great religious masterpieces. The wealthy outbid one another to buy the originals, sometimes paying a half million dollars for one picture.

During the nineteenth century there were printed many inartistic religious pictures, some of which are still on sale. Try to avoid them. Have your children get their religious impressions from the great beautiful pictures that generations have loved. It is sad indeed that sometimes children associate religious ideas with ugly or commonplace pictures. Fortunately there is growing up today a new school of artists, who are creating religious pictures in a modern style, which is also very fine art.

Activity Source: Religion in the Home: Monthly Aids for the Parents of Pre-School Children by Katherine Delmonico Byles, Paulist Press, 1938