Santa Clara de Asis
(Saint Clare of Asisi)
Patroness of seamstresses, optometrists, television:
invoked against eye ailments
Feast Day: August 11
During my trip to Albuquerque, I was able to visit Santa Fe, New Mexico on two afternoons. The first afternoon, our convention celebrated the Eucharist with Archbishop Michael J. Sheehan at the Santa Fe Archdiocese’s Cathedral of St. Francis of Aissi. Perhaps I’ll write more about that Mass at another time. The second afternoon, I returned with about 17 other priest conventioneers to do some sightseeing on a free afternoon during the conference. In the Cathedral gift shop I saw a display of hand-mounted reproductions of original saint retablos done by a local artist named Clare Villa of La Villita, NM. I couldn’t resist buying one of them, for their unique southwestern influence but contemporary style of depicting the saints. Retablos are found in all the churches of the southwest and Mexico, some making up parts of elaborate altar reredos (the back part of a high altar that extends up the wall behind the altar table). This particular one of St. Clare called out to me the most. I loved how she holds the monstrance at a jaunty casual angle as opposed to the usual stiff vertical. It’s as if she is waving the Sacrament at the viewer saying, “Look here! Come this way!” The monstrance holding the Blessed Sacrament looks like a flower or sun radiating the beauty and warmth of God’s love out toward the viewer. Clare’s head is also tilted in a kind of nod toward the sacrament inviting the viewer to consider the mystery contained therein. But she averts her gaze from both the monstrance and the viewer, lost in her own meditation, so as to not draw attention to herself but to let the viewer ponder the mystery on his or her own terms. There is something playful about the piece and yet serenely prayerful.
Traditional icons of the Eastern Churches are usually painted on a background of gold to signify the saint is in heaven. This retablo, too, is on a “gold” (more yellow) background, but grounded on earth, as if Clare were in an alcove of her monastery just come out from behind the veil. Perhaps it is the curtain that covers the entrance to the Old Testament holy of holies in the Jerusalem temple, now replaced by the veil of death (and transitus) that keeps us from seeing the glory of the heavenly temple. The saint says to us, “See, heaven is among you, revealed in this most wonderful sacrament. Follow this sign, “The Way” it reveals, and may it enable you to persevere in faith, hope and love until you cross the threshold where the curtain hangs and are with me on the other side of the veil that separates your world from the world that never ends.”
I’m sure there’s a lot more symbolism in the art, but good art and symbol always invites you to come back to enter the experience of it, again and again, to find an even deeper insight. I’ll make sure to hang it somewhere in the rectory where it will have the opportunity to frequently invite those who see it and me into such reflection.