"Unmissable... a fascinating journey through the art of religions from India to Ireland" – Mary Beard


Why do we think of Jesus Christ with a beard? Or Buddha as cross-legged? Today, the pictures people conjure when they think of the world’s major religions – Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam and Judaism – are distinctive and immediately recognisable. But two thousand years ago that was not the case.

Between 1–1000 AD, systems of belief developed across Europe and Asia. The images associated with them were forged not in isolation but in a vibrant exchange of ideas and in the contact between different societies and local traditions. One of the earliest known depictions of Christ shows a young man bearing a striking resemblance to a classical god, not the bearded holy-man we know today. Before the invention of the cross-legged figure in meditation, the Buddhist faithful were inspired to worship merely by an impression of the Buddha’s footprints. 

This unprecedented exhibition showcased some of the world’s oldest religious art from India to Ireland, and revealed how the exchange of ideas and objects in the first millennium influence our thinking about the Divine today. On display was the first known depiction of Christ north of the Alps, as well as some of the first surviving Qurans.



The Leverhulme Trust has generously funded the Empires of Faith research project.

Exhibition supported by: The Ruddock Foundation for the Arts, The Patrons of the Ashmolean.

Additional support from: The British Museum, The Oxford Centre for Byzantine Research, Wolfson College Oxford, Corpus Christi College Oxford, the Soudavar Memorial Fund, Richard and Jacqueline Worswick.