Postcard from Toulouse, France: Church-hopping, so genuflect quickly

Above, Altar for the Privileged in the Basilica of Notre Dame de la Daurade. Is the skull an invitation to enter or a dire warning not to dare trespass within? I elected not to test it.

Time for a final round of visits to churches in Toulouse. First stop is the Basilica of Notre Dame de la Daurade. The Virgin Mary’s “golden” designation came from shimmering mosaics in the original 5th-century church adjacent to this site. The church’s prized statue of the Virgin was stolen during the 15th century and replaced. Particularly revered by pregnant women, the figures of the Virgin and Child became so blackened by the smoke of votive candles lit by supplicants that the Virgin became known as the Black Madonna, or La Vierge Noire, by the 16th century.

Riverside, the Black Madonna’s original home was demolished in 1761 for the construction of wharves. Rebuilt, a new church served as the Virgin’s temple for only a short time before the 1789 outbreak of the French Revolution. Revolutionaries repurposed the church as a tobacco factory and set the icon ablaze in the Place du Capitole, reducing the treasured statue into a pile of ashes.

Continue reading “Postcard from Toulouse, France: Church-hopping, so genuflect quickly”

Postcard from Bologna, Italy: The ornate resting place of Saint Dominic

Saint Dominic (1170-1221) was born and educated in Spain, with extensive studies in theology and the arts. During a famine in 1191, he sold all of his belongings to purchase food for the poor.

The Dominican Order he founded was based on strict discipline and prayer and embraced an austere lifestyle, contrasting with the opulence favored by many priests of his day. The bald pate in the tonsure haircut Saint Dominic favored demonstrated his humility, and he removed his sandals to enter towns where he was preaching barefoot. Some believe he originated the saying of the Rosary following a vision of the Virgin Mary to aid in the conversion of heretics.

Even when exhausted and dying in Bologna, Saint Dominic refused a bed, insisting as always in sleeping on the floor. He was buried in the floor of the convent, but, following his canonization in 1234, there were those who dreamed of a more grandiose resting place appropriate for a saint.

Saint Dominic’s new sarcophagus is ringed with sculptural depictions of his life carved by Nicola Pisano in 1267. Two centuries later this arc was crowned by a new tier of sculpture crafted by Niccolo da Bari, attaining such notoriety for the artist he became known as Niccolo dell Arca. Among other artists later adding additional ornamentation to the saint’s final resting place was Michelangelo.

The Basilica of San Domenico is no humble resting place but an exuberant celebration of the religious arts.

Postcard from Puebla, Mexico: Talavera tiles accent glittering gold

Gilded to the hilt, the Capilla del Rosario provides a Cinderella-like setting for destination weddings in downtown Puebla. The chapel is dedicated to Our Lady of the Rosary, who appeared to Saint Dominic (1170-1221) and presented him with a rosary to aid his efforts to combat heresy and recruit converts to Catholicism.

The chapel is “new,” added in the second half of the 17th century to the much older Templo de Santo Domingo, dating from the late 16th century. Templo de Santo Domingo boldly combines ornate gilded Baroque embellishment with seemingly incongruous folk-art-like, colorful talavera tile.

Most of these images are from the interior of the temple Santo Domingo, but the same is true in many of the city’s churches. Somehow the contrasting styles work together, the tiles conveying a comforting hominess preventing the opulence from overwhelming the faithful flocking to kneel in the pews.

But back to the rosary. Among the many things nuns never taught me was what to do with the beads of a rosary. About the only thing I understood about the rosary given to me by my godmother on the occasion of my first communion at age 6 was that I was not to wear it as a necklace when playing dress-up.

Even in the late 1950s, rosaries seemed to be used only by white-haired widows, mysteriously muttering over each bead for long periods of time. Now I know why; it’s complicated. According to one website:

A rosary is a string of beads with a crucifix. A short string of five beads is attached to the crucifix which leads to a large circular strip of beads made of five sets of one large bead and ten smaller beads, called decades. You begin on the crucifix with a Sign of the Cross and an Apostles’ Creed. Say an Our Father on the large bead and one Hail Mary for each of the next three smaller beads. On the next large bead, say a Glory Be to the Father, announce and meditate on the first mystery and say an Our Father. Say a Hail Mary for each of the following smaller beads, and end the decade with the Glory Be. Begin the cycle again with an Our Father, meditate the second mystery according to the same schema and so on for the third, fourth and fifth mysteries. You end with the Prayer After the Rosary and a Sign of the Cross.

Phew! But those are only part of the instructions, omitted from gift boxes containing rosaries. The five mysteries to be contemplated on each decade change according to the days of the week, meaning there are a lot more than five with which one must be familiar. The Joyful Mysteries are recited on Mondays and Saturdays and are counter-balanced by the Sorrowful Mysteries on Tuesdays and Fridays. The redeeming Glorious Mysteries are the focus on Wednesdays and Sundays, and then, there are my favorites, the Luminous Mysteries celebrated on Thursdays. Thursday rosaries probably are most popular with those footing the bills for the destination weddings as well; for the second Luminous Mystery relates to the miraculous conversion of water into wine for the guests attending the wedding feast at Cana.

For exterior views of some of Puebla’s churches, visit an earlier post, Almost a church on every corner in the “City of Angels,” and to see saintly shrines housed within, visit Saints to answer any prayer.