Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The Feast of the Stigmata of St. Francis of Assisi.


Today is the traditional date of the Feast of the Stigmata of St. Francis of Assisi. I've never felt drawn to the figure of St. Francis (as I quipped a few years ago, this fact is "one reason . . . why I became a Jesuit and not a Franciscan") but I am respectful of the role that narratives about Francis' life have played in the history of Western religious art. The image of St. Francis receiving the stigmata has been of particular interest to artists over the centuries; for an early example of the genre, take a look at the above depiction of St. Francis receiving the stigmata, produced around the year 1250 - scarcely twenty-five years after Francis' death - by an artist known as the Master of San Francesco Bardi. I like this image because it comes from a time when the conventions of Eastern and Western iconography were not as far apart as they would later become, and this seems an appropriate time to share it on this blog.



The Feast of the Stigmata of St. Francis of Assisi also provides me with a welcome excuse to share some music by Olivier Messiaen, whose space-age compositions have been featured here before. The only opera written by the fervently Catholic Messiaen - an opera that has also been featured here before - was devoted to the life of St. Francis of Assisi. Messiaen's Saint Fran├žois d'Assise is a long work that places considerable demands on audiences as well as performers, and as a result the opera is infrequently performed. One reason that Saint Fran├žois d'Assise can be difficult for audiences is that it eschews conventional narrative in favor of a series of essentially self-contained vignettes from the life of the title character, including the above scene of the reception of the stigmata. I may not be an admirer of St. Francis of Assisi, but I appreciate the fact that his life has inspired many others, including Olivier Messiaen. Moreover, I hope that the remembrance of the Stigmata of St. Francis may lead others to reflect more deeply on how they have also been marked, albeit less visibly, by the wounds of Christ. May our father among the saints Francis of Assisi pray to God for us. AMDG.

2 Comments:

At 2/12/2014 9:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

he died way earlier than that! 1226 is more like it not 1250

 
At 2/13/2014 9:26 PM, Blogger Joseph Koczera, S.J. said...

Anon,

I'm not sure that you read the text very carefully; note that I wrote "for an early example of the genre, take a look at the above depiction of St. Francis receiving the stigmata, produced around the year 1250 - scarcely twenty-five years after Francis' death..." I accurately indicated the rough time of Francis' death; 1250 was the date of the illustration, not the date being posited for Francis' receipt of the stigmata or the saint's death.

 

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