Wednesday, July 29, 2020

7 historic images with Catholic back stories IV

Following is the 4th installment of images with Catholic back stories. (See volume 1, volume 2, and volume 3.)

1. JOHNSTOWN FLOOD (1889) 

Sisters of Charity stereoscopic image in aftermath of Johnstown Flood.
Public domain image by George Barker.

 On May 31, 1889, the South Fork Dam failed in what resulted in the Johnstown Flood of 1889. The dam released 14.55 million cubic meters of water onto the town, resulting in over 2,200 deaths, and $17 million in damages (nearly half a billion modern dollars). Later that year, George Titus Ferris published The Complete History of the Johnstown and Conemaugh Valley Flood, in which he described various groups of people who responded to help with recovery. Among them, he cited the critical work of the nuns and priests: 
The Sisters of Mercy were also active in the good work in the ruined city, though the majority of the Catholic women and children had been removed to Pittsburgh, and were being cared for there. There were about thirty Catholic priests and nuns at work, the sisters devoting themselves to the care of the sick and injured in the hospitals, while the priests did anything and everything, and made themselves generally useful. Bishop Phelan, who reached Johnstown on Sunday evening after the flood, returned to Pittsburgh the next day. He organized the Catholic forces in that neighborhood, and all devoted themselves to hard work assiduously. What the hospitals would have done at first without the sisters is a difficult question. There were nine charity, seven Franciscan, and seven Benedictine sisters. Among the priests were: Rev. Fathers Guido, Goebel, Cosgrave, Gallagher, Trotwein, Rosensteet, Doren, Corcoran, Derlin, Boyle, Smith, O’Connell, and Lamb. 
Famous 19th century landscape photographer George Barker captured much of the Johnstown Flood. Among his techniques was the stereoscopic pair, a method of creating three-dimensional photographs by aligning two photos side by side, taken a few inches apart. When observed either cross-eyed, or looking “through” the pair, the image takes on three dimensions. Pictured above is Barker’s stereoscopic photo of the the Sisters of Charity house after the Johnstown Flood. 

2. POPE PIUS IX RAILROAD CARS (1859)

Altobelli & Molins (Italian, active until 1865), [Pope Pius IX's Private Train at Velletri], 1863, Albumen silver print, 26.4 × 35.2 cm (10 3/8 × 13 7/8 in.), 84.XP.373.2, The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles 

In 1859, Pope Pius IX was gifted three railroad cars for use in traveling to the papal states. The cars served different purposes that contained a chapel, meeting area, and even an open car from which the public could be addressed. The first trip was from Porta Maggiore to Albano, near Castel Gandolfo. The life of the papal railcars was short-lived, however, as Italy ended the authority of the papal states in 1870. The cars were not seen again until 1911 during a unification anniversary. 

Watch Rome Report’s 2-minute documentary on Pius IX’s train and see more images at Centrale Montemartini

3. MONKS, CAR, AND ST. BERNARD (1905)

Monks and workers pose with their first car and a St. Bernard at the Great St. Bernard Hospice in Switzerland. Photo by Dufour & Tissot S.A., Nyon.

To help weary travelers in the Swiss Alps, St. Bernard de Menthon founded a hospice and monastery in the late tenth century. St. Bernard is perhaps most well-known for the dogs that bear his namesake. For the monks availed the use of dogs in finding and helping weary travelers in the frigid Alps. The Catholic Encyclopedia states: 
Since the most ancient times there was a path across the Pennine Alps leading from the valley of Aosta to the Swiss canton of Valais, over what is now the pass of the Great St. Bernard. This pass is covered with perpetual snow from seven to eight feet deep, and drifts sometimes accumulate to the height of forty feet. Though the pass was extremely dangerous, especially in the springtime on account of avalanches, yet it was often used by French and German pilgrims on their way to Rome. For the convenience and protection of travelers St. Bernard founded a monastery and hospice at the highest point of the pass, 8,000 feet above sea-level, in the year 962. A few years later he established another hospice on the Little St. Bernard, a mountain of the Graian Alps, 7,076 feet above sea-level. Both were placed in charge of Augustinian monks after pontifical approval had been obtained by him during a visit to Rome. … At all seasons of the year, but especially during heavy snow-storms, the heroic monks accompanied by their well-trained dogs, go out in search of victims who may have succumbed to the severity of the weather. 
"The St. Bernards were never just a symbol," said Father Hilaire, a hospice monk, in 2006. "Before the 1900s, there were no skis, so the dogs made paths even if there were one or two meters of fresh snow. They helped us save lives." 

Pictured above is one of the dogs along with the monks and workers aboard the first motor vehicle owned by the hospice. The Wikimedia photo caption reads in part: 
This is the first motor vehicle owned by the Augustinian fathers of the Great St Bernard Hospice, Valais, Switzerland, identified as a 1904 Dufour...built in very limited numbers by Dufour &Tissot, engine makers, of Nyon, Vaud, Switzerland. This picture was taken 11 September, 1905 in Martigny, Valais, prior of what became the first climb of a motor vehicle to the summit of the Great St Bernard pass. The journey took about two hours. 
In today's rescue efforts, the monks also use helicopters.

4. FLYING AIRSHIP (1670) 

Francesco Lana de Terzi's design of a "flying ship" from 1670. Public domain image

In what could be called a forerunner of steampunk design is this sketch of a “flying ship” from 1670. Although this isn’t a “photograph” per se, the image is a famous one in aeronautics, which also happens to have a Catholic backstory. The sketch is by Italian Jesuit priest Francesco Lana de Terzi, who published the image in his book Prodromo

Lana speculated that such a design could create a lighter-than-air balloon, thus able to levitate a ship. His theory was inspired by the experiments of Otto von Guericke known as Magdeburg hemispheres—two hemispheres pressed together and evacuated of air. Although the materials he suggested would collapse under pressure, some speculate the vehicle could have worked with graphene or other materials

A model of Lana’s invention can be seen at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. Incidentally, in his same book, Prodromo, Lana also proposed the invention of a raised alphabet for blind readers that was a distant forerunner of Braille (who is also covered later in this article). 

Of note here is how frequently historic scientific advancements or theories involve a Catholic and often clergy. This is an unspoken reality among those who have accepted the false narrative that Church and science are at historic odds. 

5. FORTY MARTYRS OF BRAZIL (2000/1570)

Underwater memorial for the Forty Martyrs of Brazil near the island La Palma. Public domain image.

They are known as the Forty Martyrs of Brazil La Palma. Ignacio de Acevedo was rector of the Jesuit college of Lisbon and at Broja. St. Francis Borgia appointed him as a leader in missions to Brazil, where Ignacio worked for three years. Many years later, he asked to return to Brazil, but in July, 15-16, 1570, he, along with thirty-nine Portuguese and Castilian companions were martyred by Huguenot pirates near the island of Palma. The Huguenots were French Protestants following the tradition of John Calvin. 

The voyage led by Ignacio was reportedly the “largest number of Jesuits leaving Lisbon for overseas missions and the most numerous collective martyrdom in all of the Modern Period.” A great number of galleries of Jesuit martyrs consist in depicting these Forty Martyrs of Brazil. Ignacio is said to have had in his hands when martyred the image of the Madonna di San Luca. Pictured here are memorial crosses dedicated to those Forty Martyrs whose earthly lives ended at sea. Installed in 2000, the memorial is located about twenty meters deep by the island of La Palma. 

For a lengthy account of the 40 martyrs, see 2010 article in the publication Cultura.

6. FIRST BRAILLE TYPEWRITER (1892)

The Hall Braillewriter invented in 1892 utilized Catholic Louis Braille's alphabet for the blind. Source: History of Blindness in Iowa.

Pictured here is the first Braille typewriter, the Hall Braillewriter. The invention builds upon another invention by Louis Braille, a French Catholic. 

Blinded since age five, a twelve-year-old Braille attended a lecture by a military captain, Charles Barbier—who was himself once a classmate of Napoleon. Barbier had created multiple communication systems including a complex raised-letter system for reading in the dark. It was this latter invention that inspired the young Braille to develop his simpler reading system for the blind.

A priest, Father Jacques Palluy recognized great aptitude in the young blind boy and took to teaching the youth himself and entrusting his schooling to a new schoolmaster. So skilled was Braille despite his blindness, that he served as the organist at the Church of Saint-Nicolas-des-Champs and at the Church of Saint-Vincent-de-Paul. Between the ages of 15 and 19, Braille had developed his system of writing for the blind. He published his Braille system in 1829. 

7. FIRST SELF-PORTRAIT (ca 1450)
Catholic artist Jean Fouquet's pioneering self-portrait miniature. Public domain image.

The Louvre
describes this enamel-painted copper medallion as "the first self-portrait by a painter which was not composed as part of a scene." Wikipedia calls the work "the earliest sole self-portrait surviving in Western art" (There is some debate whether an earlier work by Jan van Eyck is actually a self-portrait.) A separate Wikipedia article describes the medallion as "the oldest self-signed self-portrait."


In any case, it is a work of pioneership in the arenas of self-portraits and art miniatures. The artist, Jean Fouquet, was also a Catholic. The Catholic Encyclopedia calls the 6cm medallion Fouquet's "best portrait."

The technique of portrait miniatures arose in the 15th century from artists, such as Fouquet, whom were skilled in book illustrations and manuscript painting. He is said to be the first French artist to have traveled to Italy. During his time there, he also painted a famous portrait of Pope Eugene IV, which now survives only in reproductions.

Thursday, July 9, 2020

The importance of epic church art & architecture

St. John Cantius, Chicago (photo by author)
Origins
The early ecumenical council at Nicea explicitly condemned those opposed to venerating sacred iconography:
All those childish baubles and bacchic rantings, the false writings composed against the venerable icons, should be given in at the episcopal building in Constantinople, so that they can be put away along with other heretical books.
Second Council of Nicea, Canon 9, 787 A.D.
And the council exhorted that holy images be exposed in the churches in keeping with tradition:
We defend, free from any innovations, all the written and unwritten ecclesiastical traditions that have been entrusted to us. One of these is the production of representational art; this is quite in harmony with the history of the spread of the gospel, as it provides confirmation that the becoming man of the Word of God was real and not just imaginary, and as it brings us a similar benefit. For, things that mutually illustrate one another undoubtedly possess one another’s message. Given this state of affairs and stepping out as though on the royal highway, following as we are: the God-spoken teaching of our holy fathers and the tradition of the catholic church — for we recognize that this tradition comes from the holy Spirit who dwells in her– we decree with full precision and care that, like the figure of the honoured and life-giving cross, the revered and holy images, whether painted or made of mosaic or of other suitable material, are to be exposed in the holy churches of God, on sacred instruments and vestments, on walls and panels, in houses and by public ways, these are the images of our Lord, God and saviour, Jesus Christ, and of our Lady without blemish, the holy God-bearer, and of the revered angels and of any of the saintly holy men.
You see how the writings of those opposed to icons were filed under heresy. From the earliest centuries, "tradition" included visual depictions of the gospels and the saints as vital to the spread of the gospel and ecclesial sanctuaries. The art serves the faithful.

A beautiful environment for divine reality is prefigured in the Old Testament. When God instructed Moses to build the ark in Exodus 25, He mandated use of gold, precious gems, and statues of cherubim. The ark was the dwelling place of God. The beautiful imagery corresponded to the divine invisible reality. 

The importance of holy images in churches remains in order unto today:
[I]n sacred buildings images of the Lord, of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and of the Saints, in accordance with most ancient tradition of the Church, should be displayed for veneration by the faithful and should be so arranged so as to lead the faithful toward the mysteries of faith celebrated there. (General Instruction of the Roman Missal, #318)
Pope Benedict XVI explained the necessity of "beauty" in conjunction with the Eucharistic celebration:
Everything related to the Eucharist should be marked by beauty. Special respect and care must also be given to the vestments, the furnishings and the sacred vessels, so that by their harmonious and orderly arrangement they will foster awe for the mystery of God, manifest the unity of the faith and strengthen devotion.Pope Benedict XVI, Sacramentum Caritatis, #41, 2007
Duomo di Milano (Milan Cathedral) ca 1870s (public domain photo by Giacomo Brogi)
In the 1947 encyclical Mediator Dei, Pope Pius XII explained how sacred images should tend "neither to extreme realism nor to excessive 'symbolism.'" It's easy to understand excessive symbolism, for an overly abstract or vague image detaches from sacred tradition and wouldn't contribute to catechesis if the viewer can't tell what it is. Extreme realism is, perhaps, trickier to understand why it should be avoided. However, consider a statue of St. Peter holding the keys and pontificating with his finger to the sky and a halo over his head. Would this depiction be "realistic" in that there could have existed a photograph of Peter in that exact pose holding a giant key? No, however, the key and halo and pose are representative symbols that reveal truths about the saint. If one considers a photograph and sacred art in this way, the art is the more "real" of the two. 

This brings us to a final consideration.


Old St. Mary's Church, Cincinnati (photo by author)
Christ Uses Visual to Depict Mystery
This notion of fostering awe for the mystery of God calls to mind a particular Scriptural passage combining the visibly glorious with an invisible mystery. The passage is the healing of the paralytic. The crowd doubted Christ's ability to forgive sins. Christ replied:
"Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Rise, take up your pallet and walk'? But that you may know that the Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins" — he said to the paralytic — "I say to you, rise, take up your pallet and go home." And he rose, and immediately took up the pallet and went out before them all; so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, "We never saw anything like this!" (Mark 2:9-12)
Jesus used a visibly striking image to correspond to the unseen miracle of the forgiveness of sin. Christ used the visual medium to represent the unseen mystery. The healing of paralysis served as the icon of the forgiveness of the man's sin. St. John Paul II wrote to artists, "in a sense, the icon is a sacrament." The incarnate Christ is both God and man, the visible and invisible. Art that gives due regard to the incarnation principle stays true to tradition.


Ss. Peter and Paul Catholic Church, Naperville, IL (photo by author)
It's also important to recognize the manner of physical representation Christ chose to model a sacred reality. Did He perform some act of mundanity or plainness? No. The act was awe-striking. Nothing less would befit the unseen mystery. Mundane art and architecture is a contradiction against what transpires on the Eucharistic altar. 

This is why Church art, iconography and architecture must be epic, awe-inspiring, and befitting of divine mysteries. Even a small church can incorporate things like striking stained glass windows; an ornate crucifix, tabernacle, and altar; or small statues and icons to the extent possible. The goal "should be marked by beauty," as Pope Benedict said. Plain or abstract decor in a church fail to correspond to the Eucharistic mystery in the way Christ's healing of the paralytic delivered shouts of glory to God because it was so visually amazing.