Monday, June 11, 2012

What is the message here?

The Queen of Heaven
Madonna and child images are common in Malta, it being a (very) Catholic country. It was charming to see her referred to, in one seaside church, as Sultana tal Paci ("Queen of Peace" in Maltese). The local shrines often had touching quality, such as the one below. (The connection to preceding earth and sea goddesses is fairly clear.)
Divine personage of the sea
The first image above, however, which I photographed in Mdina--the walled medieval city which was the old capital of Malta (before the Knights of St John turned up; a 1693 earthquake led to a Baroque makeover of the public buildings)--has a very different impact.  It is a (social) world away from the carpenter's wife who gave birth in a manger.

The appropriation of religious imagery to serve social hierarchy is an old story. But both the statue itself--with the heads of Mary and Christ Child dominated by their large stone crowns--and its placement--very much looming over any person looking at it--seemed to be designed to separate and subordinate the viewer from the Personages being invoked and displayed it such a Royal way and to do so more strikingly than any other of the many Madonna and child images I saw in Malta, Catania, Syracusa, Padova and Venezia. Images most commonly seen in shrines on the sides of buildings, as here. Though, again, this was by far the largest and most unapproachable.

It was if the wish to send a message of social hierarchy and subordination had overwhelmed any but the barest trace of the Gospel story.

[Cross-posted at Skepticlawyer.]

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