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About the Cover

October

The retablo image of Our Lady of Sorrows by New Mexico native Ellen Chávez de Leitner is a fine example of this style of devotional art (sites.google.com/site/ellenleitner). While their roots can be traced to Spanish influence, retablos have a long and beloved tradition in Mexico, New Mexico, and to a lesser extent, throughout Latin America. Retablos most often are painted on tin or wood, though artists use leather, paper, or just about any other material that may be readily available. The images present Christ, the Blessed Mother, saints, angels, or events. Another similar (and sometimes synonymous) art form is the ex-voto, which depicts an event or the story of a healing or some other “close call” from which the artist was saved by the intercession of the saint depicted. The image of Nuestra Señora de Dolores (Our Lady of Sorrows) has long been a favorite subject in these devotional art forms.

Devotion to Our Lady of Sorrows dates back many centuries, though the devotion was really solidified by the Seven Holy Founders of the Friar Servants of Mary, commonly known as the Servites, in the mid-13th century in Florence. This small group of young nobles left their families and businesses, retiring to a nearby mountainside to devote themselves to the Blessed Virgin Mary under her title of Mother of Sorrows. This title refers to Our Lady’s trials as Christ’s mother: the prophecy of Simeon, the flight into Egypt, the loss of the Child Jesus in the temple, her witnessing Jesus carry his Cross, her presence at his Crucifixion, death, and burial. The seven sorrows are often represented by seven swords piercing Mary’s heart, though our cover retablo has simplified the image, showing but a single sword as Simeon had foretold.

—Br. Ælred Senna

Ælred Senna, OSB, is a monk of Saint John’s Abbey in Collegeville, Minnesota, and associate editor of Give Us This Day.

Art Credit:
Our Lady of Sorrows by Ellen Chávez de Leitner. Retablo: natural pigments in water base on gessoed pine.
© 2011 Ellen Chávez de Leitner. sites.google.com/site/ellenleitner. Used with permission.

The icon writer Karen Lee Bruskewicz considers her Tree of Life icon to be a work of faith rather than a work of art. She wrote the Tree of Life icon for the occasion of her first profession in the Secular Institute of Missionaries of the Kingship of Christ (www.simkc.org), whose mission, in the spirit of St. Francis of Assisi, is giving witness to Christ and collaborating in spreading the reign of God. The icon reminds us of salvation history, from the fall of original sin to the raising up of a new tree of life, with Christ at its center, where on the cross he conquers sin and death for all time.

The cross itself is part of the Tree of Life, as can be seen by the grain of the wood that runs through both. The hand of the Son sends out the Spirit, whose virtues are represented by the fruits on the tree and exemplified by the lives of the apostles. In the background are two mountains representing the Old Covenant (Mount Sinai, on the left) and the New Covenant (the Mount of Olives, on the right). The entire tree glows with the Light of Christ, the Light of the World that lightens our darkness—note the darkness surrounding the two mounts. In the foreground, where water flows from the three large roots of the tree (the Trinity), the fish represent all the baptized sent forth into the world to reflect the Light of the Son. And so we must go out, swimming always in the cleansing waters of our baptism, reflecting Christ’s light to the world.

Visit facebook.com/KarenLeeBruskewicz to learn more about Ms. Bruskewicz’s work.

—Br. Ælred Senna

Ælred Senna, OSB, is a monk of Saint John’s Abbey in Collegeville, Minnesota, and associate editor of Give Us This Day.

Art Credit:
Tree of Life by the hand of Karen Lee Bruskewicz.
© Karen Bruskewicz, 2001. www.facebook.com/KarenLeeBruskewicz. Used with permission.

As we remember the saints, we look to their example, seeking to emulate their love for Christ in our own lives. We know much about the lives of some saints. Most everyone remembers St. John Paul II (seen in Neilson Carlin’s Communion of Saints on the front cover) and St. Teresa of Calcutta, who lived during our own time. Yet there are many saints whose names we know but whose stories are unfamiliar—St. Charles Lwanga (back cover) or St. Kateri Tekakwitha (front cover), for example. Our rich artistic and iconographic tradition gives us clues about their lives, or sometimes their deaths.

Saints are often depicted holding something that was dear to them in life, or perhaps things recognized as symbols of their virtue. The lily, for example, the traditional symbol of purity, is often seen in images of St. Joseph and other saints known for their purity or virginity. We often associate the palm branch with martyrs, though it is, in fact, a symbol of victory. Alas, many martyrs achieved their victory in the faith by sacrificing their earthly lives rather than their virtue. The symbol of martyrdom is the red rose, seen in the roses at the feet of the child representing the Holy Innocents on the back cover. Pink roses represent heavenly joy, thus that innocent child wears a wreath of pink roses, as does St. Thérèse. By paying attention to the artistic tradition, we can pattern our lived faith after the model of the saints, even when we don’t know much about the details of their lives.

Visit www.neilsoncarlin.com to learn more about Neilson Carlin’s art. For more on the lives of the saints, we recommend Robert Ellsberg’s Blessed Among Us: Day by Day with Saintly Witnesses (www.gutd.net/BAU).

—Br. Ælred Senna

Ælred Senna, OSB, is a monk of Saint John’s Abbey in Collegeville, Minnesota, and associate editor of Give Us This Day.

Art Credit:
Communion of Saints (detail) by Neilson Carlin.
© Neilson Carlin. www.neilsoncarlin.com. Used with permission.