Monday, 13 May 2013

Look at Mary, see Jesus

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Last week I visited the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles1 and it struck me that the statue above its entrance showed something akin to an optical illusion. Already when seen from afar, the statue above the main doors of the cathedral presented a somewhat ambiguous figure - the short hair, bare arms and forward facing palms were more consonant with an adolescent Jesus, prefiguring his later crucifixion wounds, while the context (i.e., it being the Cathedral of Our Lady and “the medium [being] the message” as McLuhan put it), the moon at the figure’s feet and the placement of the belt on the robe pointed to Mary, albeit posed in a highly unusual way.

In fact, if you look at the typical silhouettes of a statue of Mary (left - where her cloak dominates the outline), the LA statue (center) and a statue of Jesus (right - where head and hands are clearly distinct from the torso) you’ll see where my ambiguity came from:


Even up close this ambiguity does not resolve itself:

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The muscular arms as well as the scale of the hands are consistent with a young man, while the dress becomes more clearly female and the face is sufficiently androgynous to allow both for a male and a female reading. In the end I am left with a feeling akin to viewing the rabbit-duck in that I can both resolve the ambiguity in Mary’s and in Jesus’ favor.

What the sculptor Robert Graham has achieved here - at least through my eyes, is to put in bronze the key to Mary being the model Christian. Saint Louis Marie de Montfort put it as follows: “We never give more honor to Jesus than when we honor his Mother, and we honor her simply and solely to honor him all the more perfectly. We go to her only as a way leading to the goal we seek - Jesus, her Son.” And Pope Benedict XVI simply expressed it by saying that we look to Christ by “going towards Mary who shows us Jesus.” Instead of seeking fame and glory for herself, her whole life was one of self-effacing humility, a constant pointing beyond herself - to Jesus - to the point of becoming transparent.

1 For more about the cathedral’s architecture see here.