Sunday, 4 November 2012

Things on my blog 2 - Altar of St. Francis, Malaga

Time for an explanation of the background wallpaper of my blog. I know that Mac on Mulier Fortis has already made a reference to it when introducing my efforts.

This is a depiction of the chapel of St. Francis in Malaga Cathedral, Spain. I am particularly fond of the reredos, having had a lot of influence from Franciscan spirituality over the years. Here is a clearer image (thanks to Zenobiarouse for allowing me to use it here).

I would like to draw your attention to the two principal statues: I am rather fond of Spanish religious art, as it tends towards realism rather than sentimentality (Spanish Cruxifixes, in particular, are often depications of real agony). This is the case here, and helps to bring home the meaning of one or two things about the Saints depicted.
First, the lower statue of St. Francis himself, who is, it must be said, a rather unprepossessing figure, the little poor man of Assisi. There is, however, a real sense of his concentration on the Crucifix he holds, being, as he was inextricably bound up in the death of Our Lord, even to the point of bearing his holy wounds, which are also quite graphically portrayed.
The upper statue, of St. Clare, is perhaps even more significant, as when I saw it, it immediately made real sense of perhaps the most famous story about her. The story in question tells of her convent being attacked by brigands, and of her effectively 'seeing them off' by coming out, carrying the Blessed Sacrament in a monstrance. She is usually depicted in this act.
Unfortuanately, prior to visiting Malaga Cathedral, all the images I had seen scarcely did justice to the event, showing, as they did a rather simpering figure of St. Clare, holding the monstrance very formally and gently, and having a rather rosy and sentimental air about them.
This image changed that impression. For a start the niche in which the statue stands looks rather like a doorway, and you can imagine her bursting through; she carries the monstrance slightly askew, indicating the sponteneity of the action; and her face bears an expression, not of sentimental piety, but of determination and real Faith, that Our Lord will protect her.
Those wishing to attack a convent would have been motivated by a desire for one or more of three things: the valuables contained in the chapel, the bodies of the sisters themselves, or the descration of a sacred place (our enemies the world, the flesh and the devil in action as usual). What St.Clare does is to present them with all three - she carries probably the most financially valuable single vessel the convent possesses, she is vulnerable and comparatively defenceless, and she holds the most sacred thing, Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament - and challenges them to attack. Quite understandably they lose their nerve and flee.
So there is the story of the wallpaper. If you are visiting this part of Spain, I urge you to go to Malaga Cathedral and have a look for yourself. It is a splendid church and contains many other beautiful works of art and objects of devotion.

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