My An Arkie's Faith column from the March 30, 2022, issue of The Polk County Pulse.
The old woman sat quietly in her kitchen as she ate her breakfast. Thoughts and memories from ninety years of life pressed in on her as she looked around the room. There were so many memories in this house. The pretty young French girl who had seen firsthand the horrors of war gave way to a strong resilient woman. But now her body was failing her, and she would no longer be able to stay alone in the house that she loved. How would she be able to let it go?
La tartine, a quarter baguette sliced horizontally and toasted, was on the small table in front of her. She spread butter on the tartine absent-mindedly and reached for the sour orange marmalade. She would spread marmalade on one piece of tartine, but she would save the other piece to "dunk" into her café au lait. This was her breakfast almost every morning.
As she sat there, deep in thought, her eyes rested on the miniature painting hanging above the hotplate in her kitchen. For many years, she had looked at the tiny eight by ten painting depicting a scene from Christ's passion and crucifixion every day as she prepared her meals. She thought it was an old knockoff of a medieval painting, but she liked it, and it gave her comfort. It reminded her of her faith and what Jesus had suffered for her.
Today the appraiser from the auction house will be meeting with her. She knew that she would have to sell her house and many of her belongings, but tears welled up in her eyes as her emotions wrapped around her. The thought of leaving her home of so many years was devastating. How could she leave so many memories? Why did life have to be so complicated?
When the appraiser from the auction house arrived, she walked through the house, making notes. When she saw the miniature painting hanging in the kitchen above the hotplate, she was intrigued. Art wasn't her area of expertise, but she suggested bringing the painting to experts and performing a series of tests using infrared light to determine its age and worth. She told the old woman, "If it is as old as I think, your painting may be worth more than 100,000 dollars.
Specialists at the Turquin gallery in Paris initially examined the painting and concluded it was around 700 years old. Further tests indicated that the painting was by the famous pre-Renaissance Italian painter Cimabue. The piece is part of a series of paintings created in 1280, depicting Christ's crucifixion. Cimabue is widely considered the forefather of the Italian Renaissance. He broke from the Byzantine style popular in the Middle Ages and began to incorporate elements of movement and perspective that came to characterize Western painting.
The painting's discovery sent ripples of excitement through the art world. Philomène Wolf, the auctioneer who discovered the painting, recounted, "I had a week to give an expert view on the house contents and empty it. You rarely see something of such quality." She continued, "I immediately thought it was a work of Italian primitivism. But I didn't imagine it was a Cimabue."
The auction house estimated the sale price of the painting to be 4 million to 6 million dollars. But when the hammer came down and the painting was sold, the final price was over 26 million dollars. Dominique Le Coent of Acteon Auction House, who sold the masterpiece to an anonymous buyer, said the sale represented a "world record for a primitive, or a pre-1500 work. It's a painting that was unique, splendid, and monumental. Cimabue was the father of the Renaissance. But this sale goes beyond all our dreams." Experts were off the mark because it was the first time a Cimabue had ever gone under the hammer. "There's never been a Cimabue painting on sale, so there was no reference previously on how much it could make," Le Coent explained. "When a unique work of a painter as rare as Cimabue comes to market, you have to be ready for surprises."
I'm sure that the morning the old woman reminisced as she ate her breakfast and waited for the appraiser to arrive, she had no idea what was in store. She was completely unaware of the value of the simple painting hanging above her hotplate. For many years, millions of dollars were hanging on her kitchen wall. I can't imagine the emotions that ran through her when she discovered the value of the painting.
In Psalms 119:162 (NCB), David wrote, "I rejoice in your word like one who discovers a great treasure." Movies, books, and television programs about pirate treasure excite us. Pirates amassed fortunes of gold, silver, and jewels, and some of those riches still have not been found. My wife is intrigued by the mystery of Oak Island. Treasure hunters have been digging on this small Canadian island for over two hundred years, looking for pirate treasure. Many tantalizing clues have been found, but no actual treasure.
But there are far more valuable treasures than anything you can find in a buried treasure chest, sunken pirate ship, or unknowingly hanging on your wall. Those treasures are in the Bible. "Your teachings are worth more to me than thousands of pieces of gold and silver." Psalms 119:72 (NCV) If you are like most English-speaking people, you probably already own at least one Bible. A 2015 survey commissioned by the American Bible Society found that 88 percent of Americans own at least one Bible, and 79 percent consider the Bible sacred or holy. About 36 percent of those surveyed said they read the Bible at least once per week.
However, merely owning a Bible is not enough. Even though most Americans own one or more Bibles, their knowledge of Scripture is sadly lacking. A 2010 survey by the Pew Research Center demonstrated that only 45 percent of Americans knew the names of the four Gospels.
Gentle Reader, you have a priceless work of art in your home. It is the Bible, and what it contains is very literally the difference between eternal life and eternal death. Don't fail to recognize the value of that one ordinary book. It's the most valuable thing you own. "My goal is that your hearts may be encouraged and strengthened. I want you to be joined together in love. Then your understanding will be rich and complete. You know the mystery of God. That mystery is Christ. All the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden in him." Colossians 2:2,3 (NIRV) paraphrased. You have a treasure in the Bible "worth more than thousands of pieces of gold and silver." Psalms 119:72 (NCV) Don't let it remain an unknown treasure.