I am fascinated by the ubiquity of Catholicism, the way that it seems that all Catholic grandmas have the same household decorations whether my own (Scotch-Irish Dutch) grandma, the numerous Mexican and Salvadoran and Guatemalan women I worked with, all-Irish grandmas, Polish grandmas…all of them. The sacred heart, the copper last supper, the virgenes and the plaster angels that I really kind of hate. I love how faith is so homely, everyday. I have a fondness for this cross-cultural sharing of faith.
It bothers me also. Tat you know, inflicting women with the need to dust for generations. Certain histories of Catholicism also scare the shit out of me. The inquisition, Catholicism’s role in colonial genocide, that sort of thing. But then there is Celtic, and there is Liberation Theology, Romero, Camillo Torres, the option for the poor. I am divided always.
There is also the whole other experience of shrines all over hillsides and beside roads where I grew up. Walking in Nogales or TJ, and seeing the velvet Jesuses, the Virgen de Guadalupe in every size, shape and form–lit up, in water, on silk shirts– in every size shape and form as I said. A plaster saint for every occasion. There is the collection in my friend Maria’s house, Beverley and Jose’s clock where Jesus’s hands mark the time. I rather love all of this.
So while we did not enter Maltese homes, the ubiquity of saints on every street astonished me, along with the museum exhibits of high art down to donations of homemade dioramas and sacred scenes for personal altars. They seem to show that Malta may possibly have raised the stakes a little. Bahia, Brazil might still be the winner for creepiest of all religious art, but some of these came close.
The spurting of the milk (Wignacourt Museum, Rabat)
Camp soliders and a beheading with blood and something unknown spurting — as already pictured:
The present and future shown by the single head on and off:
Sweet 12 pound baby Jesus(es)! (San Xavier where I grew up does this figure-in-a-glass-case pretty good too though)
Saints in a depiction of the plague
Angels’ heads on plates, an unlikely pomegranate
A lovely sacred heart:
There is the whole of St John’s Co-Cathedral, but I’ve already written about that. Caravaggio, of course, does something so powerful, and so very very different than this yet in some ways still in this realm. It is interesting to think what unites them, what makes his work different, but he perhaps owes something to saints emerging from dark grottoes.
Anyway, from the Museum at St Agatha’s Catacombs, Rabat
Those soldiers to the right? They were everywhere, dressed slightly differently and in different colours.
From the Museum at the Inquisitor’s Palace in Valletta:
What’s that George? You saw who doing what where?
I spose we could end with what no one expects…