Nestled in the heart of Ohio just west of Columbus, the University of Dayton has amassed one of the largest collections of Marian art in the world. The vast archives include more than 100,000 books from as far back as the 15th century, about 3,600 Nativity sets, and countless other artistic depictions of the Blessed Mother in the media of paintings, sculptures, etchings, calligraphy.
Sarah Cahalan, director of the University of Dayton Marian Library, told Spectrum News1 that while many of their piece can be found elsewhere, “we’re special because we have it all in one place, so that can be very useful for researchers who visit from all around the world.”
The Marian Library at UD is housed in the university’s Roesch Library building, and while it is used by the students who live on campus, it also draws scholars from around the world. The public is welcome to explore the library’s resources, both in person and online. The Marian Library is open from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on weekdays, and guided tours are offered.
Last year, the Marian Library celebrated its 75th anniversary, during which time they exhibited items with significance to their own history and held a concert of Marian themed music from the Renaissance and Baroque periods. While they have been working to build their collection for three-quarters of a century, their greatest expansion has taken place over the last 20 years, as they’ve received thousands of artifacts as gifts or donations.
Cahalan said that the Christmas season is the Marian Library’s busiest time, as many people come to see their extensive display of Nativity scenes that have been gathered from all over the world. The director said she worries about the longevity of some pieces, which are made of wax and hard to preserve. These pieces, however, are significant in that they show religious devotion and a deep desire to honor Mary with whatever materials they could find.
She said that the Virgin Mary is an important figure who is respected nearly universally throughout the world:
“It’s a story that bonds people together. And I should say that Mary — we’re a Catholic Institution obviously she’s of significant importance to the Catholic Church — but she does cross cultural and international and religious boundaries.”
Cahalan said one of the Marin Library’s most popular exhibits is a working train set that makes stops along a timeline track at various moments in Mary’s life. At each stop, an automated narrator explains the scene. The train is especially appreciated by the students of UD, whose engineering department helped construct it.
The operators of the Marian Library take great joy in showcasing their pieces and explaining how different cultures depict the Mother of Christ. As they explain on their website:
By showcasing the work of visiting artists, as well as displaying items from our own collections, our exhibits document contemporary trends in Marian art. Which styles are being imitated? What mediums are being used? Are there new iconographical themes and features expressing contemporary developments in theology and culture? These questions foster the joy of discovering Mary’s person and beauty.