Thursday, February 28, 2008

St. John of the Cross


Francisco Antonio Gijón, St John of The Cross, 17th Century

"Painted in lifelike tones and gilded with extensive decoration, the statue corresponds closely to a work described in a document found in the Seville archives of a now-disbanded Carmelite convent, Nuestra Señora de los Remedios. According to the document, the Spanish convent commissioned the sculptor Francisco Antonio Gijón (1653-c. 1720) to make a life-size painted-wood statue of Saint John of the Cross on the occasion of his beatification in 1675. Though little-known today, Gijón was one of the leading sculptors of the Spanish Baroque working in Seville.

The statue, which is five feet five inches tall, is a superb example of the technique of estofado decoration, where one layer of paint is scratched to reveal another of contrasting color. The robes of Saint John of the Cross feature colored paint laid over gold leaf, then scratched away to show the gilding underneath, creating rich patterns. The saint stands with outstretched hands, holding in his left an open book from which a small mountain rises. The mountain is both a symbol of the Carmelite order, which traces its origins to twelfth-century Christians who lived in caves on Mount Carmel in the Holy Land, and a reference to Saint John's poem, The Ascent of Mount Carmel, the book the saint holds. The right hand of the statue once held a feather-quill pen, now missing; also missing is a cross on top of the mountain.

Saint John of the Cross

Called by Thomas Merton "one of the greatest and most hidden of the saints," Saint John of the Cross (1542-1591) was a cofounder, with Saint Teresa of Avila, of the "discalced," or shoeless, a branch of the order of The Carmelites of the Roman Catholic Church. In this reform movement, which advocated a more severe form of monasticism, the monks wore the sandals of the poor rather than the shoes of the upper classes; some of the more radical friars went barefoot to indicate their commitment to poverty.

Because of his ardor in pursuing these reforms, John was imprisoned in Toledo in 1576. In his prison cell he began his famous Spiritual Canticle and Songs of the Soul. After an escape in 1578 considered by many to be miraculous, he went to Andalusia, where he wrote the remarkable mystical poems, The Ascent of Mount Carmel, and The Dark Night of the Soul. John of the Cross was beatified in 1675 and canonized in 1726. He is today considered one of Spain's finest lyric poets." (NGA Website).

St. John of the Cross, pray for us. Kindle our hearts anew with the flame of devotion to Christ.

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