Sunday, August 31, 2014

Pope Gregory the Great

St Gregory the Great
From Gregory the Great, Registrum epistularum
c. 1170
Illuminated manuscript
Latin 2287, folio 1v
Département des Manuscrits, Division occidentale, Bibliothèque nationale de France

St Gregory the Great inspired by the Holy Spirit
From Sacramentarium
9th century (c 870)
Illuminated manuscript
Latin 1141, folio 3
Département des Manuscrits, Division occidentale, Bibliothèque nationale de France

St Gregory writing inspired by the Holy Spirit with two copyists acting under the dictation of the Pope
From St Gregory, Epistulae
Early 12th century
Dijon - BM - ms. 0180, folio 001
Abbaye Notre-Dame, Cîteaux

Mass of St Gregory
From Missel de Philippe de Luxembourg
1495 - 1503
Mans (Le) - BM - ms. 0254, folio 057

Mass of St Gregory
From Heures à l'usage de Paris
c. 1490
Moulins - BM - ms. 0079, folio 098

Giacomo Cavedone 1577-1660
St Gregory the Great
about 1640
Oil on canvas
114.3 x 95.3 cm
English Heritage, Chiswick House, Chiswick, London

John Rogers Herbert 1810–1890
Saint Gregory Teaching His Chant
Oil on canvas
83.5 x 119 cm
The Royal Academy of Arts, London 

"Rather than Augustine, the true father of medieval European eschatology was Pope Gregory the Great, the second most-quoted author in Julian’s Prognosticon.  
Gregory set the eschatological tone for the entire period, through his Dialogues, homilies, and biblical exegesis. Presented in an accessible question-and-answer format, enriched with homely anecdotes, his Dialogues were especially popular.  
They were translated into Greek in the eighth century and Old English in the late ninth century, with a personal preface written by King Alfred himself. Book 4 of the Dialogues, which provided a summa on the afterlife and the end times, was particularly influential.  
Its imagery and doctrine permeate the Merovingian Vision of Barontus. When Wetti, a monk at Reichenau in the early ninth century, sensed the approach of death, he asked his fellow monks to read to him from the Dialogues.  
Gregory also guided Byzantine contemplation of the Last Things, especially as the seventh most frequently cited author in the Synagoge of Paul of Evergetis (d. 1054),a widely-influential florilegium on the ascetic life which has shaped the consciousness of many generations of Orthodox Christians. 
Part of the appeal of Gregory’s Dialogues lay in its transmission of “tales useful for the soul.” Such edifying tales originated in ascetic circles, but circulated broadly, and tales in early medieval collections began to reflect the everyday concerns of lay Christians living in the world, as well as those of monastic men and women.  
The stories run the gamut of eschatological anxieties, including the efficacy of almsgiving and prayers for the dead, resuscitation of the dead, the particular judgment of the soul, the struggle for the soul between angels and demons, interim afterlife zones, and the particulars of otherworld punishment and reward. 
Written in simple language, they impressed their teachings on sin, repentance, judgment, and the afterlife on the minds of hearers in concrete, unforgettable terms. 
Like the monk Wetti on his deathbed, Christians throughout the ages have derived both compunction and consolation from these short, homely tales of the death and afterlife fate of both ordinary and extraordinary people." 
Jane Baun, Last Things in The Cambridge History of Christianity; volume 3, Early medieval Christianities, c. 600–c. 1100,  pages 610 - 611

As well as theology the contribution of St Gregory to liturgy especially  the proper celebration of the Eucharist. was also immense

Of Music and Chant he wrote:
"For the voice of melody, whenever it is moved by the intention of the heart, is made thereby to return again to the heart by the agency of Almighty God, so that it pours the mysteries of prophecy or the grace of compunction into the intent mind. Whence it is written:
“The sacrifice of praise shall glorify me: and there is the way by which I will show him the salvation of God” (Ps 49:23). 
As in the Latin salutare, so in Hebrew Jesus is meant. 
Furthermore, the way of revelation of Christ is in the sacrifice of praise, because while compunction is poured out through the melody, a way is opened in our hearts whereby we can finally approach Christ, as He speaks of the revelation of Himself." (In Ez. hom. I, 15)

Saturday, August 30, 2014

The wisdom of Saint Gregory the Great

St Gregory in the Initial "U"
From The Letters of St Gregory the Great
Avranches - BM - ms. 0102, f. 001
Abbey Mont-Saint-Michel, Normandy

St Gregory writing while inspired by the Holy Spirit
From St Gregory the Great Homiliae in Evangelia
Before 1072
Avranches - BM - ms. 0103, f. 004v
Abbey Mont-Saint-Michel, Normandy

Gregory the Great in Initial "A" of Gregory`s Homily on "Luke 15"
From Lectionary F of the Chapter of Reims
Before 1096
Reims - BM - ms. 0294, f 252
Manassès de Châtillon, Reims

In these illustrations St Gregory the Great is shown blessed by the Hand of God and inspired by the Holy Spirit

Gregory (540-604) was the 64th Pope of the Latin Church, the first to take the title "servus servorum Dei" 

During the Middle Ages he was one of the most read and copied authors

It was during this time he was one of the four Doctors of the Latin Church

Pope Gregory the Great inspired by the Holy Spirit dictating to his secretary, the deacon Peter
From the Hartker-Antiphonar
Cod. Sang. 390, f 13
Stiftsbibliothek, St. Gallen

Saint Gregory the Great and his Deacon Peter
From Jean Mansel Fleur des histoires
c 1470
Illuminated manuscript
Paris - Bibl. Mazarine - ms. 1560, f. 219

"When we attend to the needs of those in want, we give them what is theirs, not ours. More than performing works of mercy, we are paying a debt of justice" (Saint Gregory the Great, Pastoral Rule, 3:21)

 "Holy Church has two lives: one that she lives in time, the other that she receives eternally; one with which she struggles on earth, the other that is rewarded in heaven; one with which she accumulates merits, the other that henceforth enjoys the merits earned. And in both these lives she offers a sacrifice: here below, the sacrifice of compunction, and in heaven above, the sacrifice of praise. Of the former sacrifice it is said: "The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit' (Ps 51[50]: 19); of the latter it is written:  "Then will you delight in right sacrifices, in burnt offerings and in whole burnt offerings' (Ps 51[50]: 21).... In both, flesh is offered, since the sacrifice of the flesh is the mortification of the body, up above; the sacrifice of the flesh is the glory of the resurrection in praise to God. In heaven, flesh will be offered as a burnt holocaust when it is transformed into eternal incorruptibility, and there will be no more conflict for us and nothing that is mortal, for our flesh will endure in everlasting praise, all on fire with love for him" 
(Saint Gregory the Great, Homilies on Ezechiel, 2, Rome 1993, p. 271)

“The supreme art is the direction of souls” (Saint Gregory the Great, Regula Pastoralis, I, 1: PL 77, 14)

"[T]he faithlessness of Thomas was far more useful to us, as regards faith, than the faith of the other disciples. While, in fact, Thomas is brought back to faith through touch, our mind is consolidated in faith with the overcoming of all doubt, Thus the disciple, who doubted and touched, became a witness to the reality of the Resurrection" (Saint Gregory the Great, XL Homiliarum in Evangelia lib. III, Homil. 26, 7: P.L. 76, 1201)

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Arbor augustiniana

Oliviero Gatti of Bologna (1579-ca. 1648)
Mysticae Augustinensis Eremi sacrum gloriae decorisq. Theatrum , or otherwise known as Arbor augustiniana
145 x 160 cm
Wellcome Library, London

The Wellcome Library blog in its article Hermitage and heritage: Augustinians in history displays a gigantic etching (approx 145 x 160 cm.) produced on twelve plates in 1614 by the Italian engraver Oliviero Gatti

It is entitled Mysticae Augustinensis Eremi sacrum gloriae decorisq. Theatrum (“Sacred display of the mystic glory and distinction of the Augustinian hermitage”). It is also called Arbor augustiniana (“The Augustinian tree”).

It was commissioned by two Augustinian friars, P. Abbate Marc'Antonio Viani (from Bologna) and Paulus Vois Wadowita (from Wadowice in Poland) (d. 1616), historian and theologian

In the work Saint of Augustine of Hippo sits holding the Rule of his Order. Around him are representatives of the sacred and knightly orders associated with him, saints and martyrs, and eminent Augustinian friars and nuns, as well as  his mother, Saint Monica

Shortly after this time in 1624 Schelte Adamsz. Bolswert produced his  series of 28 engravings entitled Iconographia magni patris Aurelli Augustini : Hipponensis episcopi, et ecclesiae doctoris excellenti... 

They depicted scenes of the life of St Augustine.  Each plate  had verses below the image

Bolswert was among the second generation of engravers working for the painter Peter Paul Rubens in Antwerp. He received his first artistic training in the workshop of his brother Boetius (1580–1633).

Some of the Baroque iconography depicted below set a standard and was used as a template in future lives of the saint

Monday, August 25, 2014

The Cure of Innocentius of Carthage

Schelte Adamsz Bolswert (1586-1659)
The Cure of Innocentius of Carthage
c. 1624
Oil on copper 
69 x 85.7 cm
Wellcome Library, London

This is a depiction of a scene and discussion of a lengthy passage of St Augustine De Civitate Dei, Book XXII, Chapter 8, where he discusses the continuation of miracles into his own age.

The sick man is Innocentius of Carthage, ex-advocate of the deputy prefecture of Carthage.

He was being treated for several anal fistulas, an extremely painful and debilitating condition

Augustine and his brother Alypius were witnesses to the events in Carthage

Innocentius was to undergo a very serious and dangerous operation. The prognosis was not good and it was feared that he would die under the knife. Prayers were said. On the day of the operation it was discovered that the fistulae were healed and no operation was required

Augustine then goes on to list and describe similar examples of healing through prayer and requests for intercessions through the Martyrs and saints in Carthage and beyond and in particular through the intervention of  St Stephen, martyr

In subsequent chapters, Augustine goes on to discuss Miracles

In Chapter 9, he writes:
"To what do these miracles witness, but to this faith which preaches Christ risen in the flesh, and ascended with the same into heaven? For the martyrs themselves were martyrs, that is to say, witnesses of this faith, drawing upon themselves by their testimony the hatred of the world, and conquering the world not by resisting it, but by dying. For this faith they died, and can now ask these benefits from the Lord in whose name they were slain. For this faith their marvellous constancy was exercised, so that in these miracles great power was manifested as the result. 
For if the resurrection of the flesh to eternal life had not taken place in Christ, and were not to be accomplished in His people, as predicted by Christ, or by the prophets who foretold that Christ was to come, why do the martyrs who were slain for this faith which proclaims the resurrection possess such power? 
For whether God Himself wrought these miracles by that wonderful manner of working by which, though Himself eternal, He produces effects in time; or whether He wrought them by servants, and if so, whether He made use of the spirits of martyrs as He uses men who are still in the body, or effects all these marvels by means of angels, over whom He exerts an invisible, immutable, incorporeal sway, so that what is said to be done by the martyrs is done not by their operation, but only by their prayer and request; or whether, finally, some things are done in one way, others in another, and so that man cannot at all comprehend them—nevertheless these miracles attest this faith which preaches the resurrection of the flesh to eternal life."

But this is not Augustine`s definition

But Hume suppressed his chapter On Miracles for some time His attack on miracles and especially the literal interpretation of Scripture might have met with criminal prosecution in Scotland

Although he does not refer to Augustine, one does wonder if it was St Augustine who was the main object of the critique by Hume

Unlike Hume, Augustine was also of the view that one need not believe in Miracles to have Faith, and that Faith and Reason do not contradict each other

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Pala di Santa Monica

Antonio Vivarini (c.1415-m.1476/84)
The Marriage of St Monica
Tempera on panel
47 x 32 cm
Gallerie dell'Accademia, Venice

Antonio Vivarini (c.1415-m.1476/84)
Birth of Saint Augustine
Tempera on panel
32.7 cm  x 25.3 cm
The Courtauld Gallery, London

Antonio Vivarini (c.1415-m.1476/84)
St Ambrose baptising St Augustine
Tempera on panel
40.3 x 26.5 cm
Accademia Carrara, Bergamo

Vivarini is known to have painted an altarpiece ("Pala di Santa Monica") dedicated to Saint Monica for the Venetian church of San Stefano, the Church of the Augustinians

It depicted scenes from the lives of St Monica and her son, St Augustine

Book 9 of St Augustine`s Confessions describes how he received baptism and discusses the life and virtues of his mother, St Monica

Monica was never a religious, even after the death of her husband Patrick

It contains with the following encomium:
"22. Finally, her own husband, now towards the end of his earthly existence, did she gain over unto You; and she had not to complain of that in him, as one of the faithful, which, before he became so, she had endured. She was also the servant of Your servants. Whosoever of them knew her, did in her much magnify, honour, and love You; for that through the testimony of the fruits of a holy conversation, they perceived You to be present in her heart. For she had been the wife of one man, had requited her parents, had guided her house piously, was well-reported of for good works, had brought up children, as often travailing in birth of them as she saw them swerving from You. Lastly, to all of us, O Lord (since of Your favour Thou sufferest Your servants to speak), who, before her sleeping in You, lived associated together, having received the grace of Your baptism, did she devote, care such as she might if she had been mother of us all; served us as if she had been child of all. ...
37. May she therefore rest in peace with her husband, before or after whom she married none; whom she obeyed, with patience bringing forth fruit unto You, that she might gain him also for You. And inspire, O my Lord my God, inspire Your servants my brethren, Your sons my masters, who with voice and heart and writings I serve, that so many of them as shall read these confessions may at Your altar remember Monica, Your handmaid, together with Patricius, her sometime husband, by whose flesh You introduced me into this life, in what manner I know not. May they with pious affection be mindful of my parents in this transitory light, of my brethren that are under You our Father in our Catholic mother, and of my fellow citizens in the eternal Jerusalem, which the wandering of Your people sighs for from their departure until their return. That so my mother's last entreaty to me may, through my confessions more than through my prayers, be more abundantly fulfilled to her through the prayers of many."

Pope Francis in August of last year described the relationship of Monica with Augustine in these terms:

"3. And let us come to the last kind of restlessness, the anxiety of love. Here I cannot but look at the mother: this Monica! How many tears did that holy woman shed for her son’s conversion! And today too how many mothers shed tears so that their children will return to Christ! Do not lose hope in God’s grace! In the Confessions we read this sentence that a bishop said to St Monica who was asking him to help her son find the road to faith: “it is not possible that the son of so many tears should perish” (III, 12, 21). After his conversion Augustine himself, addressing God, wrote: “my mother, your faithful one, wept before you on my behalf more than mothers are wont to weep the bodily death of their children” (ibid., III, 11, 19). 
A restless woman, this woman who at the end of her life said these beautiful words: “cumulatius hoc mihi Deus praestitit!” [my God has exceeded my expectations abundantly] (ibid., IX, 10, 26). God lavishly rewarded her tearful request! And Augustine was Monica’s heir, from her he received the seed of restlessness. This, then, is the restlessness of love: ceaselessly seeking the good of the other, of the beloved, without ever stopping and with the intensity that leads even to tears. "

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Centenary of the Death of St Pope Pius X

Félix Sébastopol Rasumny 1869 - 1940
Medallion of Saint Pope Pius X
Bronze sculpture
0.067 m x  0.05 m
Musée d'Orsay, Paris

Rasumny was a Ukranian  engraver, born in Sebastopol, who emigrated to France. 

He regularly exhibited, including at the Salon 

He executed a number of religious commissions some of which are exhibited at the Musée d'Orsay

The portrait of Pius X was commissioned shortly after the Pope`s election in 1903. It is in the tradition of Art Nouveau ("New Art"), the metaphor for the freedom and release sought by its practitioners and admirers from the weight of artistic tradition and critical expectations.

In France it was also known as Style Jules Verne, Le Style Métro, Art belle époque, and Art fin de siècle

Art Nouveau was a short-lived movement whose brief incandescence was a precursor of Modernism, which emphasised amongst other things  function over form and the elimination of superfluous ornament.

The Pope was to die a mere 11 years after his election in 1914 and we commemorate the 100th anniversary of his death on 20 August 1914, the liturgical feast coming after

During his pontificate he railed against forces in Western Society which were too febrile and insubstantial to withstand those other forces which hurled Europe into two lengthy and savage holocausts in the bloodiest century in the history of Western Europe

It was an era which hailed Francesca da Rimini and her lover, Paolo, as heroes and it reaped the whirlwind

Perhaps it is not insignificant that the Pope`s star rose again in the 1950s when he was canonised and that in the 1960s and 1970s  his reputation and influence declined to nothing

The D`Alessandri photograph of the same year shows perhaps a less youthful figure than the flattering hand of Rasumny. See below

Fratelli D'Alessandri
Pope Pius X (Giuseppe Melchiorre Sarto: 1835-1914)
Bromide print
150 mm x 103 mm
The National Portrait Gallery, London

His election was quite extraordinary and out of place. He had literally came from nowhere and nothing.

When a deputation of nobles came from Palermo to Rome to beg the Pope to preserve their tradition of having as Archbishop an aristocrat and a Doctor of Theology, Pius replied:
"I know a curate who was neither a noble nor a Doctor of Theology who was appointed parish priest; that parish priest was made a Canon and then a Bishop; that Bishop who was neither a Doctor of Theology nor an aristocrat was created Cardinal and then elected Pope, and it is the Pope who is now speaking with you."
The web site of the birthplace and the Museum of St. Pius X (The Pius X Foundation) has done itself proud for the centenary

Pictures and photographs abound about the town`s favourite son

Some are below

There is an updated biography of the saint in three parts: Pio X , Un Papa Veneto

There is also a detailed schedule of the ceremonies to mark the centenary

See also:

On Saturday, August 23, His Eminence Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican Secretary of State, will celebrate Mass at the Shrine of Cendrole near the parish Church of Riese. It was this shrine which was founded by the saint

The Pope`s sister married a "Parolin" and a number of her ibecame members of the clergy. One wonders if Cardinal Parolin is a distant relative of the Saint ?

There will be a diocesan pilgrimage to Rome on 8th - 10th September where there will be an audience with Pope Francis to mark the centenary (Wednesday 10th  September)

Here are the pictures:

Entry in the Baptismal Register of the Parish of the Baptism of Giuseppe Melchiorre Sarto (3rd June 1835)

Chaplain at Tombolo

Parish priest at Salzano

Handwritten page of the Catechism used by Don Sarto at Salzano

The three sisters of the Pope who came to Rome to keep house for him as well as when he was a parish priest and bishop: Anna, Maria and Rosa. Without them he would not have achieved what he did

Patriarch of Venice

Patriarch of Venice in the Corpus Domini procession

Cardinal Sarto in a gondola

Pope in audience with Greek clergy

The Pope and members of his private office

Papal catafalque in the Sistine Chapel

Monday, August 18, 2014

The Honey Tongued Doctor

Vicente Carducho (c. 1576-1638)
San Bernardo de Claraval visita a Guigo I en la cartuja
St Bernard of Clairvaux visits Guigo I in the Chartreuse
Oil on canvas
337 cm x 298 cm
Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid

Carducho was commissioned  by the Order of the Carthusians at the Cartuja de Santa Maria de El Paular in Madrid to paint a cycle of 54 large canvases on the history of the Carthusian order

The Carthusian monk behind the cycle was one of the great Carthusians in Spain: Father Juan de Baeza (died 1641)

The works were for the large Gothic cloister in Madrid

The work records the meeting between St. Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153) and Guigo I (1083-1136), who wrote the Carthusian Rule. Both are located at the entrance of the Chartreuse.  The writing of the rule by Guigo was seen to be  recognized by such a great figure as as Saint Bernard of Clairvaux 

Bernard of Clairvaux may well be the apotheosis of the monastic tradition in the medieval period. 

In his day, he was one of the most powerful figures in Christendom. He was instrumental in securing the election of Innocent II to the papacy in preference to the antipope, Analectus II, and influenced the papacy when one of his disciples became Pope Eugene III in 1145

His sermons and writings still reverberate down the centuries

Here below we see the mystical tradition with which St Bernard is associated

Francisco Ribalta (1565 – 14 January 1628)
Cristo abrazando a San Bernardo
Christ embracing St Bernard of Clairvaux
Oil on canvas
158 cm x  113 cm 
Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid

Christ leaves the cross for a moment to embrace Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, founder of the Cistercian Order. 

The scene is inspired by a mystical vision of the saint, recouted in one of the most popular devotional books of the Baroque period: Flos Sanctorum, or Book of Life of the Saints  by Peter Ribadeneyra and published in 1599.

St Bernard  was the first to formulate the basic principles of mysticism, and laid the foundations of mysticism as a spiritual body of doctrine of the Catholic Church

In "De amore Dei" (De Diligendo Deo) St. Bernard shows that the manner of loving God is to love Him without measure and gives an account of the different degree of this love

""The reason for loving God," he says, "is God; the measure of this love is to love without measure."

"O holy and chaste love! O sweet and soothing affection! . . . It is the more soothing and more sweet, the more the whole of that which is experienced is divine. To have such love, means being made like God."

And also: "It is good for me, O Lord, to embrace Thee all the more in tribulation, to have Thee with me in the furnace of trial rather than to be without Thee even in heaven."

And the vision of Divine Love is a common theme in depictions of St Bernard as seen below

Anastagio Fontebuòni (1571–1626) 
Visione di san Bernardo di Chiaravalle (detail)
Vision of St Bernard (detail)
Oil on canvas
270 x 150 cm
Palazzo degli Alberti, Prato

Workshop of Fra Filippo Lippi 
(ca. 1406–1469)
Saint Bernard of Clairvaux
Tempera and gold on wood
48.3 x 12.7 cm
The Metropolitan Museum, New York

It is thought that the above painting is from Santa Maria delle Carmine  (of the Carmelite Order) in Florence

Below  we see the statue of St Bernard in the  Cathedral of St Vaast  in Arras, Pas-de-Calais, France. It was executed by the French sculptor François Jouffroy 1806 - 1882  as one of eight marble statues originally destined for  l'église Sainte-Geneviève in Paris before it was taken over, secularised  and became the Panthéon

It was moved to Arras in 1934.

Below we see the photograph made of the statue when it was purchased from the Salon in 1877 by the French state

The saint was born in a chateau near Dijon, beside a village now known as Fontaine-lès-Dijon

He was born into a family of saints

His mother Alèthe de Montbard (1070-1107) is considered a saint and in 1250 her remains were translated to lie beside those of her son, St Bernard, in the monastery of Clairvaux

His elder brother Gérard de Clairvaux (d. 1138) and his sister Ombeline de Jully (1092 - 1135) are also saints

In the sixteenth century the Order purchased the site and a church and basilica were built but these were expropriated by the French state at the French Revolution and on the Separation of Church and State at the beginning of the twentieth century 

Here is a .pdf file on what is now the site of the birth place of St Bernard of Clairvaux, which has now become a place of pilgrimage once again

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Mary, Angels and Saints

Master of the Chronique scandaleuse (French, active about 1493 - 1510)
Virgin in Cloud of Angels, with Saints Barbara and Catherine
From The Poncher Hours
about 1500 
Tempera colors, ink, and gold on parchment 
5 1/4 x 3 7/16 in. 
MS. 109, Fol. 64 
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

The manuscript book of hours ("The Ponchet Hours") is known to have been made for the French noblewoman Denise Poncher in Paris around 1500.

Her father served as treasurer of wars for the French crown and her  uncle was bishop of Paris. Stephen Ponchet  was Bishop from 1502 to 1519, and Minister of Justice under Louis XII

The cycle of illuminations begins with a miniature of the Virgin in a mandorla flanked by saints Barbara and Catherine. It is a firm recommendation to the reader of how she should keep these figures at the forefront of her devotions

Saints Barbara and Catherine of Alexandria were popular in the early 16th century and considered the most important of the venerated Fourteen Holy Helpers.

In a 15th-century French biography of St Barbara it was stated that those who venerated her would not die without making confession and receiving extreme unction

She is often depicted in art as standing by a tower with three windows, carrying a palm branch and a chalice

Devotion to St. Catherine increased tremendously in Europe after the Crusades, and received additional veneration in France in the beginning of the fifteenth century, when it was said that she had appeared to Joan of Arc and, together with St. Margaret, had been divinely appointed Joan's adviser.

St. Catherine was  the patroness of young maidens and female students. She was regarded as the holiest and most illustrious of the virgins of Christ. 

The  mandorla is a vesica piscis shaped aureola which surrounds the figures of Christ and the Virgin Mary in traditional Christian art.

In icons of the Eastern Orthodox Church, the mandorla is used to depict sacred moments which transcend time and space, such as the Resurrection, Transfiguration, and the Dormition of the Theotokos. 

Here we see the Virgin surrounded by angels after her Assumption and coronation as Queen of Heaven

In Dante`s Paradiso Cantos 31 and 32, St Bernard of Clairvaux takes over the role of Beatrice in showing Dante the upper reaches of Heaven

In Canto 31, St Bernard directs Dante`s attention to the Virgin, Queen of Heaven. To gaze upon the face of Christ, one should first fix one`s gaze on His mother:

"And he, the holy elder, said: “That you
may consummate your journey perfectly—
for this, both prayer and holy love have sent me
 to help you—let your sight fly round this garden;
by gazing so, your vision will be made
more ready to ascend through God’s own ray.
The Queen of Heaven, for whom I am all
aflame with love, will grant us every grace:
I am her faithful Bernard.” Just as one
 who, from Croatia perhaps, has come
to visit our Veronica—one whose
old hunger is not sated, who, as long
as it is shown, repeats these words in thought:
“O my Lord Jesus Christ, true God, was then
Your image like the image I see now?”—
Such was I as I watched the living love
of him who, in this world, in contemplation,
tasted that peace. And he said: “Son of grace,
you will not come to know this joyous state
if your eyes only look down at the base;
but look upon the circles, look at those
that sit in a position more remote,
until you see upon her seat the Queen
to whom this realm is subject and devoted.”
I lifted up my eyes; and as, at morning,
the eastern side of the horizon shows
more splendour than the side where the sun sets,
so, as if climbing with my eyes from valley
to summit, I saw one part of the farthest
rank of the Rose more bright than all the rest.  
And as, on earth, the point where we await
the shaft that Phaethon had misguided glows
brightest, while, to each side, the light shades off,
so did the peaceful oriflamme appear
brightest at its midpoint, so did its flame,
on each side, taper off at equal pace. 
I saw, around that midpoint, festive angels—
more than a thousand—with their wings outspread;
each was distinct in splendour and in skill.
And there I saw a loveliness that when
it smiled at the angelic songs and games
made glad the eyes of all the other saints.
And even if my speech were rich as my
imagination is, I should not try
to tell the very least of her delights.  
Bernard—when he had seen my eyes intent,
fixed on the object of his burning fervour—
turned his own eyes to her with such affection
that he made mine gaze still more ardently."

Thursday, August 14, 2014

The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Ascribed to: Marco d'Oggiono c.1467 - 1524
Apostles in a circle, some looking upwards, below the Assumption of the Virgin 
Red chalk, over stylus
281 millimetres  x  377 millimetres
The British Museum, London

Francesco Conti 1681–1760
The Assumption of the Virgin
Oil on canvas
 86 x 105 cm
Manchester City Galleries, Manchester, England

Jacob de Wit (1695-1754)
Assumption of the Virgin
Circa 1751
Watercolour on paper
18.5 cm x 23 cm
The Courtauld Gallery, London

 "It was fitting that she, who had kept her virginity intact in childbirth, should keep her own body free from all corruption even after death. It was fitting that she, who had carried the Creator as a child at her breast, should dwell in the divine tabernacles. It was fitting that the spouse, whom the Father had taken to himself, should live in the divine mansions. It was fitting that she, who had seen her Son upon the cross and who had thereby received into her heart the sword of sorrow which she had escaped in the act of giving birth to him, should look upon him as he sits with the Father. It was fitting that God's Mother should possess what belongs to her Son, and that she should be honored by every creature as the Mother and as the handmaid of God."
St. John Damascene, Encomium in Dormitionem Dei Genetricis Semperque Virginis Mariae, Hom. II, n. 14