Sunday, April 2, 2017

Our Mission Together

Some of the students with whom I was studying 
I have just completed a month of studying French in Lyon, France (thank you to my Congregation for funding the studying).  While studying I lived with a community of Sisters of St Joseph of Lyon.  It was a total immersion for me in the French language and culture.  As I have reflected on what it meant to me to live in a different culture and try to communicate in a different language
Learning to make crepes in French
(emphasis on try), I realized something that is pretty significant to me.  Every evening I engaged in three activities with the sisters, we prayed together, we ate together and we watched the news together.

Together when we prayed the office I struggled mightily to understand what page we were on- numbers are very hard for me to comprehend once you get past 99.  During my time to read, I slaughtered the pronunciation.  Sometimes when we were offering prayers, I could understand what the sisters were sharing but often not.  I might have wondered what the purpose was of attending these prayers when I could understand so little and I really wondered why they didn’t just say I didn’t need to read since what I read was so poor that it really disrupted the flow.  However, I found I both looked forward to and dreaded (my pronunciation was really, really bad) this time together.

In the middle of my studies, my community was invited to join with a Lyon community of the Sisters of the Institut (part of the congregation in Le Puy.  We had a time to visit, had an afternoon tea and then prayer together.  I could follow about 1/3 of the conversation.  However, there came a time when
Visiting with the Sisters
we were talking about mission and the importance of the many things that were happening in the world and how we were responding.  At that time, I think I understood the essence of everything that was being said.  It was quite profound because I knew that they were not talking more slowly or using words that my 4 year old vocabulary could understand…but I knew that we were sharing the essence of who we were together…and I could even say a few simple things to add to the conversation.
After that I think I understood why the praying together in a way that is so different from what I usually do in the US was so meaningful.  It is where our togetherness is deeply felt and shared and our commitment to mission is nurtured.

That leads me to think about my life with the sisters in St Louis.  For several years now, the sisters at the mother house (about 20 of us) gather monthly for sharing of the heart and the order of the house.  Over time the sharing has become deeper and I honestly believe that the atmosphere of the house has deepened too.  Now I would articulate what I have been sensing for a while, it is when we are together in prayer or in conversation, whether we understand what is being said or not, it is when we recognize in each other the vital connections that we have, that we more fully understand our mission together.
My local community in France

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Women’s Day Celebration
I received this account of the Women's Day celebrations at a non-profit that empowers women and girls through education and vocational training which our Sisters of St Joseph of Lyon work at in India.
Sr. Sherly the Chief Coordinator of this non-profit had this to share with those present for the
International Women’s Day is celebrated every year on March 8, recognizing and appreciating women’s political, economic and social achievements over the decades.
 This year’s theme is Be Bold for Change. Planet 50/50 by 2030. 
On this occasion, we should endeavour building a better world where men and women live harmoniously, free of violence and discrimination.”
There was a farmer who found a warm egg in an eagle’s nest, about to hatch.  He took it and put it among his hen’s eggs for hatching.  Pretty soon the eggs hatched and the tiny chicks came out and followed the mother, imitated her and tried to be like her. The baby eagle also believed that she was a chick and behaved like one. The mother hen saw and knew that one of her chicks was different, but was afraid to acknowledge it.  The baby eagle, all her life, believed she was a hen and behaved like one. Then one day she saw a beautiful, powerful eagle soaring high up into the sky with her powerful wings. The hen eagle looked up and wistfully
said, I wish I could soar into the sky so high like the eagle.” In my next birth I would like to be born an eagle”; not realizing her own, strength, power and abilities as an eagle.
Many of us women also believe we are hens, when in reality we are eagles. Only, we never believe we are capable of doing so much more.
During the past 20 years, we have witnessed remarkable advances in promoting the human rights and dignity of women and girls and their full and equal participation in society. Let us continue with more zeal and enthusiasm to build a society where the women and girls share equal opportunity in all the levels.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Nazareth CSJs Well-Represented at Women’s Marches

This blog was written by Olga Bonfiglio, an Associate with the Congregation of St Joseph

Several Nazareth sisters and associates attended Women’s Marches, including the march in Washington, D.C. where 120 CSJs were present from across the Federation as well as in Lansing, Kalamazoo and Albuquerque, NM.

Sisters Rita Ann Teichman and Sarah Simmons went to DC
from Kalamazoo by bus which left on Friday at 8 p.m. and arrived in Washington at 7:30 a.m.

“It was a mixed group of women: young, middle aged, older—a few even in their 80s!” said Sister Rita Ann. “One librarian from Notre Dame gathered a group to ride with us, and there were three husbands, too.”

Sister Rita Ann said she could feel the energy of the march the minute she stepped off the bus at JFK Stadium, 2.5 miles from the gathering point in front of the Capitol.

“Immediately, I realized we were involved and participating in something so much bigger than ourselves,” said Sister Rita Ann, who with Sarah donned a pink hat that her sister-in-law had crocheted for them both.

Part of the walk was through a residential neighborhood where homeowners placed signs on their front lawns that displayed quotes from Martin Luther King, Jr. and John F. Kennedy.
People were selling pink hats and t-shirts and march participants carried signs as they made their way to the Capitol.

“You were immersed in an environment of justice, relationship and love,” said Sister Rita Ann who added that the negative and vulgar signs were very few—and Madonna’s inflammatory speech rare.

For security reasons, participants were allowed to carry only a purse no bigger than a fanny pack, so the sisters stuffed peanut butter sandwiches in their coat pockets, brought their cell phones and a little money.

Once they reached their destination at the Capitol, Sister Rita Ann said that she felt swept up in a mass of humanity where people were converging from all four directions.

“We tried to find the CSJ Federation, but couldn’t,” she said.

Although 200,000 people were expected for the march, about one million people showed up. As a result, it was sometimes even difficult for the Nazareth duo to stick together in the crowd.

The speeches were likewise incredible as they addressed the issues of women, health care, the Earth, equality and others, said Sister Rita Ann. She especially appreciated Michael Moore, Gloria Steinem and singer, songwriter, pianist and actress Alicia Keys.

“They were all about justice, peace, women, men, unity, immigration—what America is supposed to be about and what we were about that day.”

The bus ride back home was more subdued since people were exhausted. Sister Sarah recorded 23,000 steps on her Fitbit. The driver congratulated the women and said they “did a great job today.”

Upon their return to Nazareth, the elderly sisters greeted Sisters Rita Ann and Sarah with wishes of solidarity, prayer and curiosity about their experiences.

In reflecting on the experience, Sister Rita Ann said that she now realizes in a more expansive way that the participants were standing up, standing for, standing with those who this administration and Congress might stand against. 

“The march was a moment and now we must continue to choose and act on ways to move forward together,” said Sister Rita Ann Teichman. “I think that’s why the people were there on all these marches not only in Washington, DC, but the various sister marches.”

According to the Women’s March on Washington website ( there were about 700 sister marches across the USA and in 81 countries totaling nearly 5 million participants.

“The new president’s inaugural speech focused on ‘America first’ agenda
for our economy, prosperity, borders, etc.,” said Sister Rita Ann. “But that’s not the America that I know. What we’re about is solving the problems of poverty, unemployment, immigration together. What this means for our congregation is that we’ll be called upon to speak to the new president and the Congress and we must continue to be there for others whenever there is a need for our voice to be heard.”

In Lansing, 8,000 participants (according to the Lansing State Journal) showed up and the mood was reportedly similar to the DC march. People wore the march’s signature pink hats and they carried signs that promoted women’s rights, health care rights, ending racism and care for the Earth. Participants were orderly, smiling and without anger. There were a lot of children there, too. One of the speakers was former Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer, who is running for governor of Michigan in 2018 along with a music group also played for the crowd.

At the end of the demonstration, a group of 300-400 Michigan State University students walked around the Capitol building three or four times.

“There was a lot of positive energy,” said Sister Marie Hogan. “People were there for the issues that mattered to them and as different speakers spoke, people cheered.”

Sister Marie was inspired to see so many marches going on during the day.

“Being with so many people who wanted people to be taken care of gave me hope that people will stand up for these rights should the current administration try to take them away,” she said.

Sister Mary Ellen Gondeck also attended the Lansing march and served on the Peace Team, a group of 40 volunteers who wore yellow shirts to identify themselves as peacekeepers during the demonstration.

There were only two incidents that were quickly quelled by police without further trouble, said Sister Mary Ellen. They were white men waving anti-Trump signs.

“To be on the Peace Team was inspiring,” she said. “We received training and knew what to do. We were confident being out among the crowd. Participants knew who we were and seemed to feel safe seeing us there, too.”

On the night of the Inauguration, Sister Mary Ellen attended the Candlelight Vigil sponsored by Peace House, a local intentional community based on the Catholic worker house model. Between 400-500 people attended the vigil, which was 60 minutes long where people stood together in Bronson Park, the city’s central public space, with lighted candles. They talked quietly together and stood with signs.

Sister Kit Kaiser attended and carried the sign that said: “Stand for Love.” Other signs read: “Be peace.”

“This was not an anti-Trump rally,” said Sister Mary Ellen. “It was all about solidarity for peace and love.

“It was really encouraging for me to know that there were so many other people who attended the vigil and not just Peace House people and friends that you’d expect to be there,” she said. “We also talked about how we could go forward and what we could do to build a positive environment.”

While Sister Mary Ellen was disappointed that there were not more African Americans and Hispanics at the Kalamazoo vigil or the Lansing women’s march, such was not the case in Albuquerque, NM, where Sister Brigetta Slinger attended a march of 10,000 people and white people were a minority.

“There were all genders, all races, all religions, all sexual orientations present,” said Sister Brigetta. “It was a first time for me where I was a minority.”

Native Americans performed dances and Hispanics offered prayers in Spanish.

Hispanics in that region are especially vulnerable because of the immigration issue and the city’s proximity to the US-Mexico border.

“We all came from different places,” she said, “and we do not want to close our doors or build walls.”

In truth, Albuquerque is filled with illegal residents. Sister Brigetta found this an issue when she worked with the schools. Children were afraid to go home and find their parents missing because of deportation. The Dreamers, now, are especially vulnerable since they are identified.

“The issue of the march was that we, the people, will not tolerate inequality, or prejudice,” she said. “No one can come into office and take our freedoms away. This is what we as Americans stand for as a democracy.”

Sister Brigetta said the Albuquerque march was very peaceful as was the march in Santa Fe and several little cities in the state. There were no arrests or incidents of violence.

“What I took away from this march was the wonderful feeling of powerfulness in the sense that we are strong when we stand together,” said Sister Brigetta. “We can do this so that all humanity can be free if only we stand up and use our voices to say ‘we the people, are all important and accepting of all.”

In fact, many signs reflected that sentiment with “Estamos juntos” (we are all one together) and “Sí, se puede” (yes we can make a difference).

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Felipe Stole My Heart

During my short stay of two weeks in El Paso, literally hundreds of migrants came to Casa Nazareth for hospitality. Nazareth is one of four sites in the area where Immigration and Border Patrol personnel drop off migrants for 24 to 48 hours while arrangements are made for them to travel to their family or friends who have agreed to receive them. Only adults with children are released there. They come tired, hungry, timid and fearful with babes in arms or toddlers clinging to a mother or father. They usually have their belongings stuffed in a flimsy garbage bag or a worn-out tote bag. They left their homeland weeks ago fleeing danger, drugs, and dire poverty. They desperately hope for a better future here.
Migrant mothers and children pray at the nativity
 scene at the Casa Nazareth shelter in El Paso

Casa Nazareth is scheduled to receive migrants on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, but both weeks I was there they came on Thursday as well, numbering anywhere from 80 to 120 persons. When the migrants arrive, we gather them in a common area and give them a warm welcome. We assure them we are not connected with immigration, and they are safe with us and will be treated with respect and dignity as our guests. We provide them with a bed, clean sheets and blankets, a set of clean, although used, clothing, toiletries, a shower and nutritious meals. We phone their families and help them arrange for their travel in the states. We get them to the airport or bus station with a care package that contains food for the journey, which sometimes lasts two or three days on the Greyhound. In times of abundant donations, we might have a fleece travel blanket to give them and perhaps a stuffed animal for the child.

Families fleeing violence and poverty pray that they
 will find safety and welcome in the United States
It is unlikely we can remember their names after we send them on their way since there are so many of them and their stay is so short. However, I got to know Mauricio and his 7-year old son, Felipe, quite well since they were with us from Wednesday until Monday morning. During those days, Felipe, smiling all the while, trailed me wherever I went in the building, asking me if he could help and delighting in any little bit of attention. At times he was a nuisance and when he noticed I was preoccupied, he would dart away with an impish grin and slide gleefully down the long corridor. Felipe stole my heart those days.

I left El Paso for home on Monday and who did I see in the airport security line across from me but Mauricio and Felipe, all cleaned up and ready for their reunion with a relative in Chicago. Even with Mauricio’s ankle bracelet monitoring his every location and their complicated immigration papers, they got through security before I did. Felipe had noticed me two lanes over and kept waving and giving me that impish grin. After the final wave and grin, off they went to a different gate while I still waited in line for security to check my back pack. I wonder what will happen to them. I know that Mauricio is due in Immigration Court in Chicago in a few weeks. I understand that a high percentage of those we serve at the shelters in El Paso will eventually be deported. I am grateful for having encountered Mauricio and Felipe. I want their memory to stay alive for a long time and remind me of all migrants as children of God seeking a safe place to be.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Grand Opening of the Center of Living History of the Sisters of St Joseph by Sr. Michele Beiter

The  Centre of the Sisters of St. Joseph Living History is set up as a scenography, in
which different methods are used such as: artifacts, pictures that when touched show a script,
The Global Coordinating Group got a preview before the grand opening
earphones, printed scripts on wall, etc.  I could chose among five languages to use: English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian.  I used my senses of touch, sight, feel and hearing.  It was an experience I never had before. I felt like I had been transposed back before when we were founded in 1650.

Screens told what was going on in the

It was especially helpful that the beginnings and growth of the Sisters of St. Joseph were always set within the context of what was going on in France politically, the Church and otherwise.  I was surprised that there seemed to be so many wars/conflicts.
Early Constitution
A multimedia experience of our history
After we were founded in 1650, there were 16 more communities by 1661.  There was a wave of sometimes growth and other times fewer vocations. 

I enjoyed experiencing the years not only of our founding, but the history of the LePuy Congregation up to recently when It became part of the Institute. 
Touch screens reveal our story

Monday, September 19, 2016

The Louvre Museum

Usually I use this blog to tell you about places I go that are connected with my work at the US Federation of the Sisters of St Joseph.  Today’s entry is a little bit of a stretch since I am here in Paris on vacation- 4 days.  However, I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for the fact that I am heading to Le Puy for the International Center Board Meeting and the Global Coordinating Group.  While here in Paris, Sr. Michele Beiter and I went to the Louvre Museum. 
They have these fun self-guided theme tours.  We chose to go to the Da Vinci Code tour which visits many works of art and places referenced in the novel and the movie.  This ended up being a very fun way to tour the Louvre without feeling overwhelmed by the volume of paintings and artifacts that are on display there.  So, we will share the information from the guided tour and our impressions.

From the Tour: Visit the Louvre in the footsteps of the heroes of the novel and the movie The Da Vinci Code, exploring the places, works, and themes at the heart of the story.  The excerpts from the tour are taken from the website at  All the pictures you see here are from my following the Museum Tour. 

Forty years after the French television series Belphégor, the Musée du Louvre and its collections have once again become the setting for, and the protagonists in, a rich work of fiction following the publication in 2003 of the novel The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown and the release in 2006 of the movie, filmed in part in the museum’s galleries by the director Ron Howard. The trail that we have created for you provides an amusing tour of the museum in the footsteps of the “symbologist” Robert Langdon and the cryptologist Sophie Neveu, the main characters of The Da Vinci Code. Without taking sides either for or against The Da Vinci Code, we will evaluate some of the key themes and rectify some of the exaggerations. Although the selection of things to see in the trail will no doubt be obvious to those who have read the book or seen the movie, it should enable everyone to see the Louvre in a new and amusing light, providing both a historical and literary perspective.

The trail begins in the Hall Napoléon, which is located under the Pyramid. At the beginning of The Da Vinci Code, Robert Langdon, like the museum’s seven million visitors each year, enters the Louvre through the Pyramid, which was inaugurated in 1989. The figure of 666 panes of glass given for the Pyramid is incorrect: it is the repetition of a rumor that was spread in the mid-1980s by people opposed to its construction, 666 being the number of the beast in the Book of Revelation. In reality, the Pyramid is made up of 673 diamond-shaped and triangular panes of glass, excluding the doors.

Patty:  The pyramid dome is amazing.  In some ways it is out of place in that its architecture is so different from the buildings of the Louvre.  However, it does allow for easy single point access to the museum and is easy to find.

Michele:  I was excited to start this self- guided tour related to the Da Vinci Code in the Pyramid.  For a change it was more open to enter through the panes of glass instead of solid walls of most other buildings.

 From the Tour: Kore from the Cheramyes group, known as the "Hera of Samos"

The highly novelistic theme of The Da Vinci Code is linked to the principle of the sacred feminine, or in other words, goddess worship. This was a key part of ancient religions which, according to the novel, Christianity during the early centuries of its existence set out to suppress by erasing the memory of Mary Magdalene. A brief visit to the Department of Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities will reveal where the novelist’s idea came from. This statue carved by Cheramyes, whose dedication to the goddess Hera is engraved on the vertical edge of the cloak, is a famous example of a kore, a feminine votive statue. Sister and wife of Zeus and mother of, among other children, their son Ares, Hera exemplifies the concept of the sacred feminine which, as this statue demonstrates, was worshipped by the ancient religions. The large sanctuary on the island of Samos, where the work was situated, was claimed to be the site of the wedding between Zeus and Hera. Indeed, the ancients were not short on details when it came to the conjugal or amorous adventures of their gods and goddesses. Even though they were goddesses, Ishtar in Mesopotamia, Isis in Egypt, and Aphrodite in Greece nonetheless had private lives. The Da Vinci Code uses this idea as its starting point, audaciously transposing it to Christianity, making Mary Magdalene the secret companion of Jesus.

Patty:  I was intrigued by this statue.  In looking at the picture, it was not as obvious to me as when I saw it in person.  It is a headless statue of a woman, beautifully detailed.  I could not find the engraving on her cloak mentioned above.

Michele: I was enlightened to see this statue and understand its connectedness to the sacred feminine, even though headless!!

From the Tour:  The staircase of the Winged Victory of Samothrace and the Arago medallion

The views of the staircase of the Winged Victory of Samothrace are no doubt the most famous in the Louvre. Try and imagine what it is like here once all the rooms have been emptied of visitors and the doors have been closed for the night. In the half-light and the silence, the museum enters a kind of slumber that has for long haunted the lovers of mystery. The author of The Da Vinci Code, who makes extensive use of the nighttime setting of the Louvre, understood this very well. Mentioned at the end of the novel, the bronze medallions 12 centimeters in diameter are supposed to mark the inconspicuous “Rose Line,” which enables Langdon to intuit the presence of the grave of Mary Magdalene near the Louvre. This fictional interpretation transforms a geographical marker (the Paris meridian) into an esoteric symbol (the “Rose Line”). In reality, the Arago medallions, of which there are fifteen in and around the museum, are part of a contemporary work of art created in 1995 by the Dutch artist Jan Dibbets. In all, there are 135 Arago medallions in Paris, forming a north-south line that crosses the capital from the Porte de Montmartre to the Cité Universitaire, passing through the Observatoire on the exact path of the old universal meridian of Paris, which they commemorate. Embedded in the ground or in buildings, they are named after the astronomer and politician François Arago (1786–1853), who redefined the position of the Paris meridian in 1806, before it was replaced by the Greenwich meridian in 1884.

Patty:  I had to go back to the stairway to find the Argo medallion which I passed right by on my way to the Winged Victory.  A real big part of the enjoyment of this tour was the hunt for what was described.  The
Winged Victory is an impressive statue that is commanding at the top of the stairs.  I felt drawn to it.

Michele:  Like Patty, I was drawn to this statue, especially because of its placement at the top of the stairs that caught my attention.  I just wanted to sit and contemplate what it was saying to me.

From the Tour:  The Salon Carré

In the 18th century, the Salon Carré, one of the most prestigious rooms in the museum, was used for temporary exhibitions of contemporary painting. It lent its name to the generic term of “Salon,” which has since become the word in France for a temporary exhibition or trade fair, such as the Salon du Livre, Salon de l’Agriculture, and Salon du Tourisme. It was also the first room in the Muséum Central des Arts (the first name of the Musée du Louvre) when it opened to the public in 1793. It was here that the paintings regarded at the time to be the most admirable works in its collections were displayed. In the novel and the movie The Da Vinci Code, the curator Jacques Saunière dies in the nearby Grande Galerie, yet the black star-
Grand Gallery
shaped motifs that can be seen on the parquet around his body are only present at the Louvre in the Salon Carré, which was also where the killer, Silas, was standing. Between the two is a metal gate that Saunière had activated by tearing a painting by Caravaggio from the wall. If you look up at the doorframe separating the Salon Carré from the Grande Galerie, you can see that there is no gate at this precise spot (although there are some at other locations in the Louvre). Furthermore, Caravaggio’s paintings in the Louvre are actually located three quarters of the way down the Grande Galerie and not, as in the novel, 15 feet from this door. The author of The Da Vinci Code has, as so often in his book, altered the real topography for the purposes of his narrative.

Patty:  I really enjoyed finding each of these items.  The floor patterns probably would not have even caught my attention, as with the Argo Medallion, if I were not looking for them.

Michele: These rooms were very intriguing and filled with paintings, making it hard to find the designated ones.    Eventually, I found them. 

 From the Tour:  The Virgin of the Rocks

The spectacular Grande Galerie in the Louvre plays an important role in the novel The Da Vinci Code, providing the setting for the beginning of the story. Far more remarkable than the parquet flooring with its chevron patterns mentioned in the book is the collection of Italian paintings. Four of the five paintings by Leonardo da Vinci in the Louvre are on display here. The Da Vinci Code analyzes The Virgin of the Rocks (which Sophie Neveu removes from the wall) in a new and subversive way. It suggests that Mary holds in her
left hand the invisible head of Mary Magdalene, whose neck is being symbolically sliced by the gesture of the Archangel Uriel on the right. Leonardo was thus supposedly showing the Church’s conspiracy against Christ’s companion during the early centuries. This far-fetched interpretation of the painting might have been inspired by the work of Bernardino Luini just to the left: Salome Receiving the Head of Saint John the Baptist. In reality, Mary’s mysterious gesture relates to traditional religious iconography: Mary is the mother of Jesus, but she is also the incarnation of the Church, the “house.” In the painting, therefore, she seems to be covering the head of her Son with her left hand, as if with a roof. The Da Vinci Code thus transformed a gesture of protection into a metaphorical representation of murder. This powerful literary effect is a travesty of art history.

Patty:  The Grand Gallery is filled with religious art that really doesn’t grab me. However, when I was in Mexico last year for the Meeting of the Latin American Sisters of St Joseph I had the opportunity to go to the Basilica of Our Lady of Gaudalupe.  While touring Sr. Griselda Martinez-Morales pointed out to me that the paintings that tell the story of the appearance of Our Lady of Guadalupe were done to assist those to whom she had appeared, the native people who did not read, to have a way to remember and keep her story alive for future generations.  So as much as this religious art at the Louvre did not speak to me, I appreciate the fact that it was illustrative of many religious stories and the interpretation of how God and Jesus were seen in this period of history.  Many of the faithful could not read the bible so this was a way of transmitting the faith.

Michele:  I had a hard time with these paintings and making the connections

Virgin and Child with Saint Anne

This painting by Leonardo da Vinci is included in our trail because in 1910 it was the subject
of an astonishing study by Sigmund Freud (“Leonardo da Vinci and a Memory of His Childhood”), who dared to discern in it motifs hidden from ordinary mortals. Freud saw in the Virgin Mary’s garment a bird of prey (a vulture) and interpreted it as an unconscious rediscovery by Leonardo of the myth of Mut, the vulture goddess of Egypt. This analysis, which has been controversial since the day it was published, opened up a new avenue in the history of pictures: that of their over-interpretation, something The Da Vinci Code makes unbridled use of. To see the famous “vulture,” you need to tilt your head 90 degrees to the left. You will then be able to make out, in the outline of Mary’s blue-green garment, the head and beak of a bird (on the left of the picture), its triangular body, and its two inert wings. In addition, the perfect composition of the Virgin and Child with Saint Anne is based in part on the use of an element described in The Da Vinci Code: the ratio of proportion “phi” (equal to 1.618), known to the Mesopotamians, the Roman architect Vitruvius, who called it the “golden number,” and the artists of antiquity. This “divine proportion,” although it is not the “fundamental building block in nature” as The Da Vinci Code proclaims, creates in the realm of the fine arts an unparalleled effect of balance and harmony.

Patty:  No matter how I tilted my head, I never saw a bird.

Michele: I also did not have any luck finding the bird.

From the Tour:  Noli Me Tangere

In The Da Vinci Code, Mary Magdalene is described as being the victim of a conspiracy hatched by the Church at the Council of Nicaea in 325. In an attempt to denigrate her, she was supposedly stripped of her status as Jesus’ wife and reduced to the role of repentant prostitute, taking with her in her fall the concept of the sacred feminine. Bronzino’s painting shows that The Da Vinci Code, in its way, tapped into the ambiguous feelings that Mary Magdalene had produced in a number of artists down the centuries. Here, the painter represents the moment when Jesus Christ reveals his Resurrection to Mary Magdalene. The body triumphant of Christ and the ample forms of Mary create an erotic charge typical of Mannerism. As this painting suggests, with its choreography worthy of a nuptial parade, the scandalous impact of The Da Vinci Code, whose plot is based on the idea of the secret union between Jesus and Mary Magdalene, might have had precedents in the imaginings of artists. Furthermore, theologians have demonstrated that Mary Magdalene, who is never named in the New Testament, is an amalgam of three different women: Mary of Bethany (sister of Lazarus), Mary of Magdala (Magdalene), and an anonymous sinner who appears three times in the Gospel of Saint Luke. Mary Magdalene has always been a figure shrouded in mystery, the subject of innumerable fantasies.

Patty:  This picture was the hardest to find.  Its name, Noli Me Tangere, is at the bottom of about 5 other descriptors.  I have to say that part of the fun of the tour was engaging in the hunt.  The picture is rather interesting…the facial descriptions are rather odd and you could read a lot into them.

 From the Tour:  The Death of the Virgin

This is the Caravaggio painting that Saunière tears from the wall at the beginning of The Da Vinci Code. The Louvre possesses three of his paintings: this one, the Portrait of Alof de Wignacourt, and The Fortune Teller. The Death of the Virgin appears to contain a visual element that The Da Vinci Code mentions in connection
with Leonardo’s Last Supper in Milan, namely a scotoma. This is an ophthalmological term for a blind spot in the visual field. When applied to images, a scotoma refers to a detail the meaning of which cannot be seen but which becomes obvious when you are able to decipher it. According to The Da Vinci Code, a scotoma in The Last Supper is the figure of Mary Magdalene, whom Leonardo had placed to the right of Jesus, although for more than five centuries historians have in fact seen here the image of Saint John. More seriously, a probable scotoma in The Death of the Virgin is the large red drape in the top right of the canvas. This red drape is the same color as the dress of the dead Virgin. The two left-hand strips of the drape fall vertically toward her feet and the untied cord echoes that of her bodice. Drawn out of the picture frame, it could symbolize the disembodied body of Mary rising toward her Son during the Assumption. The convent that commissioned this painting from Caravaggio did not approve of this iconographic tour de force and rejected the work. They adjudged it to be irreverent on the grounds that it was vulgar and neglected the Assumption.

Patty:  I was intrigued by this idea that the drape floating could symbolize the Assumption.  I don’t think I would see any symbolism in it.

From the Tour:  The Wedding Feast at Cana

This work by Veronese is the largest painting in the Louvre. Visitors sometimes confuse its subject with that of Leonardo’s Last Supper, painted on the wall of the refectory of the convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan and which The Da Vinci Code deciphers after a fashion. The two works represent the two most famous meals of the New Testament: a wedding banquet marked by Jesus’ first miracle, in which he changes water
into wine; and the last meal of Jesus and the Apostles. The Wedding Feast at Cana, which mixes the Gospel with Venetian high society of the 1560s, contains some surprising details. Why has the artist painted simplified motifs of wedding rings on the silvery tunic of the cupbearer on the right? Why was the head of the figure in black looking up near the middle of the right-hand table stuck to the canvas and not painted directly onto it? And why does the Virgin Mary, seated to the right of her son, seem to be holding an invisible glass in her right hand? Each of these questions could be answered in different ways, some true (the stuck on head is that of the successor of the person who was there before and who had just died) and others imaginary (Mary symbolically keeps the unattainable Holy Grail). There are as many possible avenues of interpretation as there are pictures. The author of The Da Vinci Code has chosen, as a novelist, to adopt imaginary interpretations in his descriptions of works of art.

Patty:  I was not drawn to this painting.  It truly is huge.  It looks like a very crowded party and is overly detailed.  However, the fun of the hunt and looking for the symbolic details made for great entertainment.

Michele:  For some reason I was fascinated by this painting.  It was bigger than life.  My first reaction was to think it was the Last Supper. I have never seen the Wedding Feast with so many people and so much action.  I stayed reflecting on it for a while.

 From the Tour:  Mona Lisa

The renown of the most famous painting in the world has no doubt increased since the publication of The Da Vinci Code and the release of the film adaptation. Every day, thousands of visitors come to the Louvre to see Mona Lisa (Monna Lisa) in the flesh and to try and penetrate her disturbing mystery. Ever since the work was painted in 1504 by Leonardo da Vinci, kings and artists, historians and tourists, poets and thieves have
projected their fantasies onto the supposed portrait of Madonna Elisabetta Gherardini, wife of Francesco del Giocondo. All sorts of things have, are, and will be said about her. Ever since she was stolen on August 21, 1911 (she was found again in 1913), this icon of Renaissance art has come to embody the very idea of a museum work intended for universal contemplation. Do people come only to appreciate the sfumato? The Da Vinci Code, by attributing to her anagrams, oddities of composition, and knowing smiles, merely restates in its own way all the myths attached to it. The Mona Lisa traveled three times during the last century: in 1911, as mentioned, in 1963 (New York and Washington D.C.), and in 1974 (Tokyo and Moscow). Now forever Parisian, protected behind glass from the air, from flash photography, and from attacks, she smiles to remind us that she was once alive.

Patty:  I was most disappointed by this painting.  Due to its popularity, you are struggling among crowds to get to the front.  I took my photo but the people are kept so far back, that it really is not much different from seeing it in a book.  You can’t notice brush work and you can’t stay for long to really enjoy the painting.

Michele: With all the people, it was very hard to get near it and thus appreciate it.  So, I was very disappointed too.

From the Tour:  The salles rouges (red rooms) and the Inverted Pyramid

The three rooms in the Louvre where the works of the great French painters between 1780 and 1840 (David, Ingres, Géricault, Delacroix) are displayed were created by Napoleon III. Their décor, with its red walls, forms a striking contrast with the paintings in their gilt frames. The setting created for these works results in a spectacular explosion of color. The opening of the movie The Da Vinci Code is set here, with the curator Saunière running through the rooms, mortally wounded. At the end of the room there is a staircase with a landing occupied by a café. This is the part of the museum that is nearest to the place where The Da Vinci Code ends: the Inverted Pyramid, whose glass belly can be seen through the windows, in the middle of the 
Rond-Point. The Inverted Pyramid is located in the Carrousel du Louvre, an underground shopping mall inaugurated in 1993 that adjoins the Hall Napoléon of the Louvre. At the end of The Da Vinci Code, Langdon understands that the pyramidion of stone placed under the point of the Inverted Pyramid houses the grave of Mary Magdalene. This entirely fictional revelation has nevertheless ensured that the little monument has entered local legend and tourist folklore. But 1.2 kilometers from the Inverted Pyramid, in the church of Sainte-Marie-Madeleine (the Madeleine), there is a reliquary containing the left thighbone of a woman aged around fifty, who died nearly twenty centuries ago. Of Mediterranean type, she was around 1 meter 58 centimeters tall . . .

Patty:  The red rooms are beautifully decorated.  I was attracted to the architecture and detail of the ceilings.  The red really does set off the paintings in an appealing way.  Michele and I had lunch in the café described here…by then we were ready to sit for a while.  We were never quite sure that we would find the inverted pyramid.  As we were walking over to the “Carrousel” to buy some tourist stuff, we walked right up to it.  So happily, we found everything on the tour.  It really was a fun way to explore the Louvre and I would recommend it or one of the other tours as a great way to enjoy this overwhelming museum.

Michele:  The red and decorations in these rooms really stood out.  I enjoyed walking through them.  Overall I enjoyed this “self-guide” tour led by Patty.  I had read and seen the DaVinci code and now could see up close the paintings that were referred too. I could also visualize what was filmed in the Museum.

Friday, September 2, 2016

When visiting different places

The Constitutional
When visiting different places, I like to share some of the unique things that you might not hear about through normal channels.  Today begins a weekend of celebration for the 150th anniversary of the arrival of the Sisters of St. Joseph of St. Augustine in the United States. That will be featured on the US Federation Facebook page and next week’s website article.
However, in 2015 the sisters participated in a unique community project to highlight the declaration of the City of St. Augustine as a compassionate city. It is one of 20 cities worldwide to claim the title of Compassionate City.  St. Augustine is both a historical city and one that highly values public works of art.  So it chose a unique project to showcase both. 

Mother House of the Sisters of St Joseph of Augustine

In developing this project, Compassionate St. Augustine, a group formed to focus on their role as a compassionate city, decided to highlight a historic monument in St. Augustine, the 30 foot obelisk, “Monument to the Constitution” on St. Augustine’s public square.  
Description of the Constitutional Obelisk

This monument was erected in 1813 to commemorate the first constitutional government in Spain.  St. Augustine was part of Spain at that time.  The obelisk, placed in the town plaza, was to represent the four foundational values of the Spanish Constitution: freedom, democracy, human rights, and compassion. In 1814 when the constitutional government in Spain was overthrown and the monarchy restored, the order to destroy the obelisks throughout the realm was given.  However, St. Augustine refused to comply.  Their obelisk is thought to be the only one unaltered one remaining.

Compassionate St. Augustine commissioned obelisks to be created and displayed around the city.  The goal of the art display was to visually symbolize the yearning for a legacy of compassion, healing, and hope for future generations as expressed by people both locally and globally.  In 2015, the Compassionate St Augustine Oblelisk Art project was unveiled.  One was to be placed in the garden at the Mother House.

Lace signifying
the origins in Le Puy
The Compassion Obelisk
Wendy Mandel McDaniel, the creator of the Sisters of St. Joseph obelisk offered this explanation of her work, “Because my obelisk will be displayed in the serene gardens of the Sisters of St Joseph Mother House, I have incorporated some of their story as well.  The Sisters came from Le Puy, France in 1866, to teach the children of recently freed African American slaves (see photo of their first class of students).  Since arriving in the U.S., their main mission has been one of education.  Thirty-six years ago, Sister Diane Couture began the Art of Dreams, dedicated to providing a nurturing environment where children can experience self-expression, self-awareness and self-discipline through arts and culture.  The Sisters also formed the SSJ Architectural Stained Glass Studio, where they teach stained glass techniques and create beautiful works of art.  I find their story and continuing work to be inspirational.  I strongly support their belief that the spirit of the arts, co-exist with the spirit of the soul.” 

Wendy’s obelisk also speaks to the other values suggested by the project, highlighting quotes from various religious and civil rights leaders, philosophers and artists.  She hopes to emphasize the oneness of humankind, our interconnections, empathy for the other, and the importance of being kind and forgiving.