Monday, 2 June 2008

Lourdes part 5: reflections on the meaning of art

A feature of the 150th anniversary year in Lourdes has been the completion of a number of projects that might be described as works of "art" as well as being works of devotion. I think of the new mosaics on the facade of the Rosary Basilica and of the completion of the new Stations of the Cross on the prairie; also the publication of a book like Alina Reyes La jeune fille et la Vierge.

This prompts a reflection on what it is that constitutes a genuine work or art.

The mosaics of the Mysteries of Light on the Rosary Basilica were designed by a priest of Slovenian origin, Father Marko Ivan Rupnik.

For Father Rupnik a prayerful atmosphere is both a way of life and creativity, which he shares with his team of some fifteen artists and technicians from the Centre Aletti (in Rome): "We pray in eight languages according to seven different Churches. For me, the testimony of prayer is to be found in charity. If I see that the artists get on together, that we help one another, that there is true cohesion, then I am convinced taht God is here in our midst. ... Every day during Mass, we all offer our work through the bread and wine of the Eucharist so that the project and our labour remain united to Christ. We are only poor artists, but we are also perfectly aware that everything we do can contribute to creating a meeting between Man and God. This is the reason why we pay so much attention to the faces and the gaze of our figures. An exchange must be possible."[Lourdes Magazine January-February 2008]

The new Stations of the Cross for the sick were implemented in white Carrera marble by a sculptor called Maria de Faykod, over a five year period stretching from February 2003 to February 2008. The sculptor has also written the meditations published in a booklet, along with striking photographs of each of the new Stations of the Cross. To the traditional fourteen stations, Maria has added three new stations so that the complete work becomes a Way of the Cross and a Way of the Resurrection. These new stations are those of Mary awaiting the Resurrection, the Resurrection of Jesus itself and the Theophany of the Resurrected Christ to the Disciples of Emmaus (Transubstantiation). In his introduction to the booklet of meditations, the Rector of the Shrine at Lourdes writes:

The Church has always liked and encouraged artists. They are the people, in fact, to whom Heaven has given a sixth sense to express that which is deepest in man. Only artists are capable of allowing us to sense the real meaning of the human soul. ... We know that the Ancients used to say that Beauty is the splendour of Truth, and that Beauty, Truth, and Goodness, are in constant dialogue with each other. This can be seen in all its fullness in this Way of the Cross. It is founded on the truth of the Gospel writings and the Tradition of the Church. It is beautiful, and because of this it touches our deepest emotions. Let us not be mistaken however, its beauty is not solely limited to the aesthetics of its perfectly executed forms. This Way of the Cross is mysteriously inhabited by a Presence, traversed by a powerful Breath from one end to the other, which raises us up and carries us very high and very far ...

Alina Reyes book was one of the main books promoted at a book fair held in Lourdes in February 2008. The author's encounter, not so much with Lourdes as with Bernadette, came at a difficult time in her life (I have yet to get hold of and read the novel Foret profonde which describes this), and she attributes to it her return to life. Talking about the event of the apparitions of Lourdes, Alina Reyes says:

I tried to show the literary dimension of this event, and what strikes me is its resemblance to the beginning of Genesis. "God said ... And there was light". The word of God is a light; this is what is happening in Lourdes. The word which Bernadette transmitted to the world testifies to this "light", as she says at the beginning, which appeared to her in the "darkness" of the grotto. [Lourdes Magazine April-May 2008]

Alina Reyes writes of Lourdes as a "whole place that speaks", so that we can see the word spoken through the apparitions is the same as the word spoken by the surrounding mountains. She also speaks of the Lady who appears as expressing the possibility that there is an original purity in creation that can be rediscovered in the Immaculate and that we can rediscover in ourselves.

All of these artists, in quite different ways (and in the case of Alina Reyes, in a way which is less clearly a manifestation of Catholic faith and rather an expression of an encounter with Bernadette), show something of the interiority of human life, the spiritual dimension of creation, the permanent and the essential that live in the physical forms of our lives. Ultimately it should be seen as expressing the life of grace that moves and heals - and that is what makes their works to be works of art.

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