Sacred Conversation between St. Felix de Valois and St. Juan de la Mata
Oil on canvas
55.50 cm x 75.50 cm
The British Embassy, Bogota
The painting is by an unknown Peruvian artist in the 18th century, a mixture of European Baroque and indigenous influences, perhaps part of the Cuzco school (Escuela Cuzqueña), the Roman Catholic artistic tradition based in Cuzco, Peru (the former capital of the Inca Empire)
Its influence extended through Peru, Chile, and northern Argentina and beyond
The painting depicts two saints: St. Felix de Valois (April 16, 1127 – November 4, 1212) and St. Juan de la Mata, (1150 - 1213) both co-founders of the Trinitarian Order, the Order founded for the redemption of captives
The Rule of the Order was approved by Innocent III on December 17, 1198 with the bull Operante Divine Dispositionis.
It is the first official institution in the Church dedicated to the service of redemption and unarmed, with no other weapon beside Divine Mercy, and with the only purpose of returning hope to the brothers in the faith who suffer under the burden of captivity.
Here we see the two saints in the forest or desert of Cerfroid, near Paris where the mother house of the whole order presently is
Margaret of Blois granted the order twenty acres of the wood where Felix had built his first hermitage, and on almost the same spot he erected the famous monastery of Cerfroi, the mother-house of the institute.
Within forty years the order possessed six hundred monasteries in almost every part of the world.
The stag is a symbol for Christ, who tramples and destroys the Devil. The stag is the enemy of the Snake, the symbol of the Evil One. Both are visible in the painting
For more on the symbolism of the stag and the snake see The Medieval Bestiary
[They] are foes of snakes, and when they feel that they are weighed down with weakness they draw snakes out from their holes by the breath of their nostrils and overcoming the deadly poison they refresh themselves by eating them. They made known the plant dittany. For they eat it, and shake out the arrows that have stuck in them.
They give a wondering attention to the whistling sound of the Pan’s pipes. They listen sharply with up-pricked ears, not with hanging ears. If ever they swim across great rivers or seas, they lay the head on the haunch of the one in front, and following one another in turn they feel no weariness from the weight
The name of the hermitage "Cerfroid" has significance. The French for stag is "Cerf". The place is therefore the place of the Cold Stag, or Winter Stag
The arch also has significance in the founding of the Order.
The church of San Tommaso in Formis in Rome is the church which Pope Innocent III gave to the Trinitarian Order. Saint John of Matha, lived there and made it the Order's headquarters
The Church is situated beside a Roman aqueduct and the ruin of the Arch of Dolabella and Silanus on the Caelian Hill
St John of Matha died there on 2 December 1213. His cell can still be seen
From the very beginning of the Order, a life of special dedication to the Most Holy Trinity has been an essential and characteristic element of the Order’s patrimony
The painting is a contemplation on the fons et origo of the Order
Members of the Order consecrate themselves to the Trinity in a further and special way “since God willed that we, among all other religious, be the chosen vessels to bear the wonderful title of the Most Holy Trinity throughout the world"
Last year on the 800th anniversary of the death of St John of Matha, Pope Francis said;
"Work, effort and freely given love are all summed up in the Rule of St John of Matha, in the words Ministro e sine proprio (Trinitarian Rule, n. 1). Indeed, the Trinitarians know, and we should all learn from them, that every responsibility or authority in the Church should be lived out as a service.
Therefore, our action must be divested of any desire for profit or personal promotion and must always aim at sharing any talents we have received from God, in order to direct them, as good stewards, towards the end for which they have been granted to us, so as to give relief to the less fortunate.
This is what interests Christ and that is why the homes of your Family are homes whose “doors are always open” in fraternal welcome (Direttorio primitivo delle Suore Trinitarie, n. 2, cf. Evangelii Gaudium, n. 46)."