Monday, May 3, 2010

Featured Work: Oratory of Sorrows by Raul Berzosa

This month, we feature a trio of works by the Spanish painter Raúl Berzosa, completed in 2008 for the Oratory of Sorrows in Málaga, Spain. Installed surrounding a sculpture of Christ on the Cross, the works form an exquisite harmony both visually and iconographically.

Soaring above the Crucifix in the vault above is a mural of The Glorification of the Name of God. In the center appears a glowing triangle (a symbol of the Blessed Trinity) containing the name of God in Hebrew. Layers of the clouds of heaven have parted to reveal this name, which emanates rays of brilliant light. A host of tiny cherubim gather before our eyes in worship, some looking aloft to the Godhead above, one gazing down in wonder and emotion to the sculpture of Christ below.

The two paintings hanging on the side walls and flanking the sculpture of Christ Crucified highlight the body of Christ: His Mystical Body the Church, and His true Body in the Eucharist. To our left is the Triumph of the Church over Sin. The Church, personified as a woman, meets the blind gaze of a sinner at her feet, bound and incapacitated by Sin, represented by a serpent. She wears the stole of priestly authority and the fisherman's ring, a symbol of Saint Peter and the papacy, and receives the papal tiara from an angel above her. As she gazes at the sinner at her feet, she points towards the Crucifix as the source of his freedom from the hold of sin.

At our right is an image showing the Triumph of the Eucharist over Idolatry. The Blessed Sacrament bursts with light and occupies the focal point of the painting. A man who has been enslaved to worldly pursuits turns in response to an angel who directs his attention to the Eucharist as the One worthy of worship. In this moment of conversion, the man lets several gold coins slip from his hand to join the scepter and coins -- symbols of earthly power and love of riches -- already at his feet.

To view more photos of the works in situ, visit the artist's website at

Rachel Ross
Curator of Art

Lessons In Iconography : The Peacock - Resurrection

Based on the ancient belief that the peacock's flesh does not decay - Saint Augustine details a rather odd account of discovering the peacock's "antiseptic qualities" and reputed incorruptibility - the bird acquired an association in Christian art with Christ's Resurrection. An additional belief that the bird loses its feathers in autumn and re-grows them in the spring augmented its value as a symbol of the Resurrection.

Images of the peacock adorn all manner of Christian art, from catacomb painting to mosaic church decoration to liturgical objects, and the bird appears occasionally in scenes of Christ's Nativity. Take for example the image above, a detail of The Adoration of the Magi by Fra Angelico and Fra Filippo Lippi, housed at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. A peacock perched atop the stable where Christ has been born calls to mind His Resurrection, through which Christ opens for us the way to life everlasting.

Rachel Ross

Curator of Art

Sources: Saint Augustine of Hippo, City of God, Book XXI, Ch 4; Impelluso, Lucia, Nature and Its Symbols, Los Angeles: Getty Museum, 2003; Hall, James, Dictionary of Subjects and Symbols in Art, Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1974.

Beauty as an Agent of Salvation

Neilson Carlin, Caritas, Oil on Linen, 2009

In his April 26th article entitled On Beauty: A Message to Its Religious Despisers, Deal W. Hudson responds to those who claim that beauty is the "road to ruin," that it is illusory, materialistic or even unnecessary. Instead, he gives credence to the idea that "beauty can be an agent of salvation" with a cogent argument punctuated with compelling words from Hans urs von Balthasar and Alexander Solzhenitsyn. He explains that there is a metaphysical unity of beauty and truth, and that "God had to make His beauty visible to the material eye in order to draw that eye back to the spiritual." Not only does "God's revelation to us [have] an aesthetic character that cannot be ignored," but "if you deny a person beauty...he may reject Him, He who is beauty itself." To read the full article, please click here.

Artist's Blog Explores Sacred Art and Beauty

In response to our Holy Father's call to "rediscover the way of beauty, " Thomas More College's artist-in-residence, David Clayton, has created a blog dedicated to this end, with articles that explore the principles behind art and beauty. To visit the blog, please click here.

Mesage from the Executive Director

In honor of the fifth anniversary of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI's election to the chair of St. Peter, it seems fitting to reiterate our HolyFather's own words regarding art and beauty, as recorded in the Ratzinger Report. "The only really effective apologia for Christianity comes down to two arguments, namely, the saints the Church has produced, and the art which has grown in her womb. Better witness is borne to the Lord by the splendor of holiness and art which have arisen in the community of believers than by the clever excuses which apologetics has come up with to justify the dark sides which, sadly, are so frequent in the Church's human history. If the Church is to continue to transform and humanize the world, how can she dispense with beauty in her liturgies, that beauty which is so closely linked with love and with the radiance of the Resurrection? No. Christians must not be too easily satisfied. They must make their Church into a place where beauty --- and hence truth --- is at home." Let us demonstrate solidarity with our Holy Father and also champion beauty in the Christian sacred arts.

Ann Marra
Executive Director

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Featured Work: Saints Peter and Paul Chapel by Thomas Gordon Smith

On March 3, 2010, the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter dedicated its new chapel at Our Lady of Guadalupe Seminary in Denton, Nebraska. The chapel was consecrated by Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz, local ordinary of the Diocese of Lincoln. Five other bishops and abbots, and Fr. John Berg, Superior General of the Fraternity, were present at the dedication and at the Solemn Pontifical Mass following at which William Cardinal Levada, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, preached.

The chapel was designed in a simplified yet dignified Romanesque style by architect Thomas Gordon Smith, current professor (and former director of) the Notre Dame Architecture School. At 10,000 square feet, the chapel has stalls for 92 priests and seminarians in the nave, with separated seating for laity and visitors. The Fraternity is dedicated to the renewal of the Traditional Latin Mass, also known as the Tridentine Rite, and the chapel is designed for the exclusive celebration of this Rite. Featuring a 31 foot tall marble baldachino over the altar and classical columns and detailing, the chapel represents a growing rebirth of classical architecture in the Church.

Erik Bootsma
Curator of Architecture

Lessons In Iconography : The Chi Rho - Christ

The Chi Rho may well be one of the most recognized of Christian symbols, and it represents Christ himself. This simple symbol is made up of a superimposed "X" (chi) and a "P" (rho), the first two letters of Christ's name in Greek.

Used from the earliest days of Christianity on lamps, liturgical objects, sarcophagi, and in catacomb painting, and still in wide use today, the Chi Rho is linked to the conversion of the Roman empire in the fourth century. In 312 AD, on the eve of his battle against Maxentius at the Milvian Bridge, Constantine received a vision of this very sign blazing in the sky accompanied by a voice which assured him, "In this sign you will conquer." Constantine had this symbol put on his imperial standard and was, in fact, victorious.

While there are certainly many other symbols that represent the Resurrection, none embodies it as completely as this symbol of Christ himself. Our Lord told Saint Martha, "I AM the Resurrection and the life." Christ is the guarantor of the Christian hope in the resurrection of the body and life everlasting. As was promised to Constantine, it is in the name of Christ that we achieve victory. May we live confident in the Victor, the Risen Christ, this Easter season and always.

Rachel Ross
Curator of Art

Upcoming Lecture: Shadow, Image & Reality: The Church as Sacramental Building

While many are inclined to think of a church building as a merely neutral setting for liturgical rites, Dr. Denis R. McNamara, author of Catholic Church Architecture and the Spirit of the Liturgy, will introduce the concept of "architectural theology" to the study of church design. His research reveals that liturgical art and architecture can play an active role in a worshipper's full and conscious participation in the liturgy by embodying the notions of fulfilled typologies of the Old Testament as well as the anticipated glory of Heaven. Join us Saturday, May 1st at 7:30pm at St. Thomas a Becket Parish in Reston, VA and learn how the classical tradition can be inculturated to blend with scriptural precedent to make church buildings which please the eye, engage with tradition, aid in liturgical participation, and delight the soul. For more information, please click here.

EWTN Travel Program Features Catholic Church Art & Architecture

Now airing their first season through June 3rd, EWTN's new show The Faithful Traveler, hosted by Diana von Glahn, presents the history, architecture and religious significance of notable churches, shrines, and places of pilgrimage throughout the United States. "Discovering the treasures of the city at a time." For more information, please click here.

Message from the Executive Director

The Foundation for Sacred Arts is pleased to announce our first Seminarian Arts Formation Conference, to be held on The Feast of the Guardian Angels on Saturday, October 2, 2010. We trust that this conference will reinforce the "profound connection between beauty and the liturgy" and compel seminarians to be "attentive to every work of art placed at the service of the celebration" since "everything related to the Eucharist should be marked by beauty." (Pope Benedict XVI, Sacramentum Caritatis, 41, 2007). We also expect that this vital arts formation will reach up to 175 seminarians from at least eight Catholic seminaries local to Washington, D.C.

According to Russell Shaw, respected Catholic author and journalist, and former communications director for the US Bishops, "...when many of these men are priests, they will be called upon to make...important decisions about the building, renovation, and decoration of churches. Beauty is not just an add-on in worship. Beauty has its source in God, it points to and leads to God, and the beauty of our places of worship is crucial in fostering worship itself. I offer thanks and congratulations to the Foundation for Sacred Arts for this important and creative initiative." More information can be found on our

May you have a Blessed Triduum and Easter.

Ann Marra
Executive Director