The LION & the CARDINAL by DANIEL MITSUI


The LION & the CARDINAL
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2 June 2010


THIS THING ONLY SCARED ME LIKE a DARK DEVIL



TIME Magazine ~ 23 April 1951:
Bishop Cesbron had heard complaints about the crucifix over the church's main altar. He motored over to Assy, spent half an hour studying the sculpture, decided that it was a caricature representing nothing, and ordered it removed.

What troubled the bishop about the crucifix was that it had no cross, but only a green bronze, faceless figure cast roughly in the shape of a cross. The sculptor, whose fame has not yet spread to the United States, is a woman named Germaine Richier. She explained that: the cross has been taken with the suffering into the flesh, and its outlines can just be made out coming from the undersides of the arms. There is no face because God is the spirit and faceless....

The townspeople of Assy sided with the bishop. They had come to accept their church's Rouault windows, Lurçat tapestry, Léger mosaic and Matisse sketch, but never the Richier crucifix. It was evil, a woodcutter ventured. A young girl agreed: The figure was thin and frightening. The colors of the other art in the church make me feel alive and strong, but this thing only scared me like a dark devil.

Inevitably, such bizarre crucifixes will find defenders, who will praise them for showing Christ's immeasurable suffering, and even invoke St. Gertrude and St. John of the Cross as witnesses for the defense.

Christ indeed suffered beyond measure, and it is to the credit of the occidental religious genius that, in the late middle ages, it developed a sacred art capable of expressing such suffering. This is the art that expresses in sculpture, painting and glass what St. Gertrude and her contemporary mystics expressed in words - an art unlike the unsuffering art of the Florentine Renaissance.

But this is not what is seen at Assy. Christ indeed suffered beyond measure, but He suffered as a man. That is to say, in His sufferings He never ceased to be a man, or to have the flesh and bones of a man. Crucified men bleed and bruise and contort. They do not melt like waxworks in an oven. They do not transform into two pieces of jerky tied at perpendiculars and cast in metal. Waxworks and dried meat feel no pain at all. In this abstract art, it is not Christ's comeliness that disappears, but rather His humanity.

In the case of the crucifix at Assy, the artist could not have been more explicit in her intentions: There is no face because God is the spirit and faceless, she said. This thing, this abominable mockery, was made to deny the Incarnation of Christ.

It was restored to the altar in 1971 and remains there today, protected as an official historical monument.


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