Art can entertain, soothe, offer a new perspective on issues of the day or cause the viewer to look inward.
Art also can illuminate faith. Today, as Christians celebrating Christmas experience the aesthetic power of stained glass windows and other art pieces they’ll see in church, it’s worth remembering that art can be found in other religious traditions, too.
We offer a gallery of art from just a few of Southern Nevada’s houses of worship, from traditional religious sculptures and icons to rocks that form a labyrinth, and the artful design of a garden that recalls one of World War II’s many tragedies.
Christ the King Catholic Community, 4925 S. Torrey Pines Drive
The courtyard sculpture of three limestone panels with hand-sculpted designs was inspired by the New Testament passage of Matthew 25: 31-46 (“I was hungry and you gave me food, thirsty and you gave me drink …” ).
The parish’s online history explains that the triptych, created by Joseph O’Connell over afive-year period, was dedicated in September 1995. The piece, commissioned by the parish, includes elements such as Jesus riding into Jerusalem, a man in prison, and hollowed, starving faces representing the poor, homeless, hungry, forgotten and imprisoned.
At the time, O’Connell was an artist in residence at the College of St. Benedict in Minnesota. Bernadette Reardon of Waverly, Minnesota, who was an art student there back then and recently visited the piece here, recalls that O’Connell was inspired by newspaper and magazine photographs depicting the real-world horrors that he was trying to represent artistically.
New Song Church, 1291 Cornet St., Henderson
Labyrinths have assisted people in meditation for centuries. Slowly walking the curved, circular path helps focus worshippers’ attention.
New Song Church offers an outdoor variation with a pathway marked by large rocks, giving the labyrinth a rough-hewn, natural vibe against a mountain backdrop. The Rev. Paul Block, the church’s pastor, says “It’s been kind of a healing practice in our church.
It really helps you leave the world behind, just for a moment, and connect with God.”
Hindu Temple and Jain Center of Las Vegas, 1701 Sageberry Drive
The temple contains statues of several Hindu deities — Ganesh and Krishna among them — before which worshippers may pray, offer thanks and leave offerings.
Panditji Brijesh Raval of the temple says such representations of deities are called murti, and they can help to focus one’s attention during prayer and recall the stories associated with each deity.
Such icons tend to be fashioned with similar features and little variation. So, Raval says, even in different temples, “Ganesh will be Ganesh like this.”
St. John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church, 5300 South El Camino Road
Icons — two-dimensional paintings that represent Jesus, the Virgin Mary, the apostles and saints — are primary to worship in the Greek Orthodox church, says the Rev. Seraphim Ramos of St. John the Baptist. Icons of Jesus, Mary, the apostles, angels and other saints, as well as such Biblical events as Jesus’ Nativity, grace the church.
It’s not unusual for worshippers to kiss icons or make the sign of the cross before them in displays of veneration, and icons often can be interpreted on levels that lie beyond the person or event they’re depicting, Ramos says.
Our Lady of La Vang Shrine, Catholic Church, 4835 S. Pearl St.
The Roman Catholic church features several outdoor sculptures, including a Stations of the Cross array. But the parish’s centerpiece sculpture is a shrine to Our Lady of La Vang, which recalls what Vietnamese Roman Catholics believe to be an appearance by the Virgin Mary in Vietnam in 1798.
Vietnamese Catholics were being persecuted at the time and fled to the jungle, where many became sick, says Gia Nguyen, parish council representative. Mary appeared to them, telling them to boil leaves and drink a potion, which cured them.
The shrine depicts Mary and the infant Jesus amid three mushroom-like stalks, an artistic device that, Nguyen says, represents the Holy Trinity.
Warsaw Ghetto Remembrance Garden at Temple Beth Sholom, 10700 Havenwood Lane
The outdoor garden remembers the more than 350,000 Jews who in 1940 were imprisoned by German soldiers in a small, walled area within Warsaw, Poland. Tens of thousands eventually died in what became known as the Warsaw Ghetto.
The memorial includes more than 200 stones that once made up Chlodna Street, which led into the ghetto, that now are displayed on panels and highlighted by torches and wall fountains.
(To arrange a visit, call Temple Beth Sholom at 702-804-1333, ext. 100.)
Masjid Ibrahim Islamic Center, 3788 N. Jones Blvd.
In Islamic tradition, God is known by 99 qualities or attributes, according to Shamsuddin Waheed, imam and director of Masjid Ibrahim Islamic Center. And, around the mosque’s main entrance, some of those attributes are expressed in a series of panels containing ornate calligraphy.
In Islamic tradition — unlike in many other faith traditions — pictorial representations of God are prohibited, lest they promote idolatry, Waheed says. So, religious art in a mosque, even in its prayer room, might instead take the form of quotations from the Quran as expressed through the art of calligraphy.