St Agatha of Sicily
Artwork created 26–29 May 2023.
If there has been something that has intensified over the past year, it has been this gentle but firm pressure from above to represent particular saints. With St Agatha this pressure has been of unusual strength.
Way back at the end of April I had collected a series of reference images, which I left on my drawing desk day in and day out, but strangely couldn’t get much further with.
The impasse only changed after a deeper dive into the story of her life, and of how she has been represented in Rome and in Sicily. In doing so she went from being an important saint mentioned in Eucharistic Prayer 1 of the Church to being formidable and unforgettable.
A brief re-cap of her life would be useful. St Agatha was a native of Sicily, and a beautiful and rich young woman of a noble family who had given her life to Jesus as a consecrated virgin. To signify this consecration she wore a veil.
When the early tortures failed to move her determination, he then ordered that her breasts be torn off with the special type of tongs you see depicted and then rolled in hot coals. Neither managed to kill her, and she was returned to her prison cell where St Peter visited her. Next Quintianus decided to burn her at the stake, but an earthquake happened to prevent that happening. So she was returned to her prison cell where she died of her injuries.
The lictor sliced off my breasts with doubled blows,
Due to the details of her martyrdom, St Agatha became the patron saint of breast cancer sufferers, of rape victims, of nurses, of bell-founders, of Sicily, and other patronages.
One of the images that helped was the statue of St Agatha above the colonnade at St Peter’s basilica in Rome. It told the story of her life without being unchaste. The other image that helped was the reliquary of St Agatha’s head kept in the Cathedral of Catania in Sicily.
This reliquary is a master-work of silver and enamel. An online article about the relics of St Agatha can be viewed here.
If you are patient (depending on the device you are using), it is worth using the Google translate option if you (like me) are not fluent in Italian.
On either side of the bust representing St Agatha are two angels. She is crowned, and in one hand holds a crucifix and in the other she holds an inscription. The whole thing is covered with votive offerings, pectoral crosses from bishops, episcopal rings, jewels etc. According to tradition, the crown upon her head was put there by King Richard the Lionheart.
Also this reliquary is the origin of the decision for blonde hair rather than the black or brunette hair found more widely in popular culture imagery of St Agatha.
Below is the inscription, and a translation of it, that found all over the Cathedral of Catania where her reliquary–bust is kept, and that I have included underneath my depiction of St Agatha:
Mentem Sanctam Spontaneam Honorem Deo Et Patriae Liberationem
These are no idle words. Her veil, kept in a separate reliquary, has been successfully used several times to invoke God’s help when natural disasters threatened Sicily.
When invaders came to Sicily and rounded up the native inhabitants, the conqueror permitted them to have a last Mass at the shrine of St Agatha before being executed. When it came time for everyone to open up the hymn books, each and every page held the initials of a promise that St Agatha would always protect Sicily with her intercession. Needless to say, the inhabitants were saved, and the invaders exited in a hurry.
St Agatha, this holy martyr, has been given mighty intercessory power by God.
St Agatha, pray for us. Amen.
Catherine Cavanagh, (based on notes and with minor edits by Vincent Cavanagh).
~31 May 2023
Image Process 2023-05-27
First Holy Martyrs of Rome
Artwork created 19–27 April 2023.
A divinely-inspired, Roman mosaic–styled depiction of a few of the many different ways in which the early Christians were martyred in Rome, under the persecution of emperor Nero in AD 64.
The top panel has much inspiration from the painting Nero’s Torches, by Henry Siemiradzki in 1876, showing both men and women being burnt alive after the Great Fire of Rome before the gaze of gathered the Roman elite.
The memorial of the First Martyrs of the Church of Rome is held on June 30th, the day after the celebration of the Feast of St Peter and St Paul.
~ 27 Apr 2023
Image Process 2023-04-26
Oh, what a grisly pair these are.
Thankfully the "art style" used in Roman mosaics allows some leeway when it comes to depictions of various beasts and predators.
Image Process 2023-04-19
Trying to do a Roman Mosaic pattern without going cross-eyed only increases my appreciation for those artists who do this on a “regular” basis. Compared to the vast intricacies of Celtic knots by the likes of @creativeartlette, my lowly attempt at an entwined border pales in significance.
My hats off to all of you, my fellow artists.
Sketched 30 Mar 2023.
Coloured and completed 5 Apr 2023.
[UPDATED — 9 APRIL 2023]
The following text was written after the original post because I was too tired that night to write anything, and then I was caught up in the Paschal Triduum which further drained me of any capacity to string words together. Happy Easter.
I think that I can safely pin-point the inspiration for this image of St Peregrine to mention of the Latin word “peregrinus” by our bishop in his homily during the mass after the first WYD formation day/session back in March. Peregrinus, meaning “foreigner” or “one from abroad”, is the route word for Pilgrim.
Painted 2–4 March 2023.
Rather than fail admirably at trying to condense the epic life of Mrs Chisholm into a few measly paragraphs, I will direct you instead to the Friends of Caroline Chisholm website for a greater insight to her and her works than I could ever attempt to do justice within the confines of this blog.
Link to the Mrs Chisholm website.
St Peter Chanel, S.M.
Painted 23–24, 26 Feb 2023.
St Peter Chanel is the Protomartyr of Oceania, and Patron of Wallis and Futuna.
He was a French Marist father and religious superior of seven fellow Marist missionaries sent out to the region, having left France on the 24th of December 1836.
Painted 21–22 Feb 2023.
St Pius X was the 259th Pope and successor to St Peter. He was a vehement opponent of what he called "Modernism" inside the theological circles of the Roman Catholic Church.
Something that the church is still fighting with today, what may be bluntly explained as: trying to convert the church to appease the (fickle) world, rather than converting the world to appease (and please) God the Father.
Artwork created 17–19 Feb 2023.
The Servite Founders were seven rich men (possibly cloth merchants) of Florence, Italy, who all experienced the same vision of the Blessed Virgin Mary on the feast of the Assumption in 1233 and gave them this message:
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