This is the companion blog to my Sacred Art & Antiquities online store. Here I discuss some of the items I'm offering and post information on Christian images, recent archeological finds, and the meaning of religious symbolism in our lives. If you're interested in any specific items, please visit Sacred Art & Antiquities. Thank you.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Carrying the Child: Saint Anthony

Portion of French statue available on Sacred Art website.

Two saints are often depicted carrying the Christ Child, one version rooted in legend and the other in an interesting evolution of Christian imagery.

Of the two saints, Anthony of Padua was a real man, living from 1195 to 1221. He was born in Lisbon into a wealthy family and entered the priesthood. In 1219, only 11 years after Saint Francis found his order, Anthony met five Franciscan friars en route to Morocco to preach. The five became the first Franciscans to be martyred, and this event led to Anthony joining the Franciscan order and working alongside Saint Francis himself.

Saint Anthony became known for his persuasive preaching and deep knowledge of scripture. In the centuries since his death, his image has been associated with a variety of symbols, most notably a fish, a flaming heart, and a lily stalk. He often was portrayed reading a book containing a depiction of the Christ Child, such as in the 1580 portrait by the Spanish artist El Greco (1541-1614) shown here.

Eventually, the image of the child was painted larger and larger, until a new image dominated of Saint Anthony carrying the Christ Child, and often carrying a lily as well. He is often invoked to help with recovery of lost items.

Portrait of Saint Anthony by El Greco in 1580, showing Christ Child in book.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Carrying the Child: Saint Christopher

Saint Christopher by Hieronymus Bosch, circa 1480.

Saint Christopher is the man of legend, first described in 6th century Greece and becoming very popular across Europe by the 9th century. 

He was said to be a veritable giant who sought to serve the mightiest of leaders. When he learned that the king of Canaan feared the devil, he joined a band of bandits led by a man who called himself the devil. But when Christopher learned that this devilish man actually lived in fear of Christ, the huge man was sought the ways of Christianity.

 His mentor was a hermit who told Christopher to fast, but the big man found it too difficult. So his mentor told him to perform the service of carrying travelers across a particularly treacherous river.

One day a child asked to be carried across. Midway through the rapids, the child became unbearably heavy and when Christopher complained upon reaching the other shore, the child told him: "You had on your shoulders not only the whole world, but Him who made it. I am Christ your king, whom you are serving by this work." Then the child vanished.

From the 6th century on, Saint Christopher became known as the protector of travelers. Often portrayed with a child on his shoulder and a staff in his hand, paintings of him became popular in churches throughout Europe, and in England were outnumbered only by paintings of the Virgin Mary.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Why Is Mary Standing on Eden's Snake?

This little French statue of Saint Mary currently available on Sacred Art & Antiquities depicts her serene beauty. But if you look at her feet, she is crushing a snake. The origins of this depiction go back to early translations ~ actually mistranslations ~ of Genesis 3:15.

The original Hebrew and Greek texts of Genesis 3:15 has God telling the serpent responsible for the fall of Adam and Eve that "... he shall crush your head and you shall lie in wait for his heel." However, both the Latin Vulgate and ancient Coptic translations have God's words as: "She shall crush your head."

The Q&A forum discusses Mary standing on the serpent:
Naturally in the Latin tradition, because of the translation “she shall crush,” the passage has had a more vivid Marian meaning. That’s where the tradition of depicting Mary crushing the head of the serpent arose. But it’s a very apt and theologically precise image, nonetheless, since it’s a perfect image of her Immaculate Conception, her lifelong immunity from sin, won for her by Christ’s saving passion and death on the cross (cf. Luke 1:47). This is one reason why the new liturgy of the Roman Rite, promulgated at Vatican II, retains the reading “she will crush your head.” 
This Mary statue currently is available in the Statues & Santos section of Sacred Art & 

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Catacomb Painting Shows Daniel and Lions

Painted on a ceiling near the Crypts of Lucina in the Christian catacombs of Rome, this image likely shows Daniel at the center, with lions on all sides of him. Surrounding the central images are depictions of the Good Shepherd and a woman, possibly the Virgin Mary. Originally believed to have been painted in the second century, more recent scholarship suggests the early third century.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Earliest Illustrated Christian Book is Saved

A page from the Garima Gospels.

A British charity has saved the world's earliest illustrated Christian book, which was found at a remote Ethiopian monestary.

The Garima Gospels are named after a monk named Abba Garima who arrived in Ethiopia from Constantinople in 494 AD. Legend has it that he was able to copy the gospels in a day because God delayed the sun from setting. The relic has been kept ever since in the Garima Monastery near Adwa in the north of the country.

According to the London Mail:
Experts believe it is also the earliest example of book binding still attached to the original pages. The survival of the Gospels is incredible considering the country has been under Muslim invasion, Italian invasion and a fire in the 1930s destroyed the monastery's church. 
They were written on goat skin in the early Ethiopian language of Ge'ez. There are two volumes which date from the same time, but the second is written in a different hand from the first. Both contain illustrations and the four Gospels.
Though occasional travelers have mentioned the texts since the 1950s, it was thought they dated from the 11th century at the earliest. Carbon dating, however, gives a date between 330 and 650, overlapping the date Abba Garima arrived in the country.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Apostles' Images May Be Oldest Icons

Catacomb's images of St. Paul (left) and St. Peter (right).

Fourth-century images of St. Peter and St. Paul were discovered earlier this month on walls of the Catacomb of Santa Tecla beneath Rome. The image of St. Paul is “the oldest icon in history dedicated to the cult of the Apostle,” according to experts of the Vatican’s Pontifical Commission for Sacred Archaeology.

Christians revere Peter and Paul as the greatest early missionaries. The apostle Peter accompanied Jesus during his lifetime, according the New Testament, while Paul converted to the faith following a blinding vision of Jesus on the road to Damascus in about 33 AD. He preached the faith to pagan Greeks and Romans and was martyred in Rome about 65 AD. Peter is presumed to have been martyred at the order of the Emperor Nero at about the same time.

The discovery of the images in the catacomb was made June 19 and announced yesterday.