Saturday, May 13, 2017

100th Anniversary of the Appearance of Our Lady of Fatima

Title: The Immaculate Conception
Artist: Francisco de Zurbaran
Medium: Oil on Canvas
Size: 136.5 x 102.5cm
Date: 1661
Location: Szépmûvészeti Múzeum, Budapest.

May 13, 2017, marks the one-hundredth anniversary of the first apparition of the Virgin Mary to three shepherd children near Fatima, Portugal.

Mary’s oldest mention by name in the Biblical canon is in Gospel of Mark (6:1-6), when Jesus returns to his hometown to teach in the synagogue: When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed. “Where did this man get these things?” they asked. “What’s this wisdom that has been given him? What are these remarkable miracles he is performing? Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they took offence at him. Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honour except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.” He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. He was amazed at their lack of faith.

Since that first account, much more has been written about Mary. In the 2nd century, St. Irenaeus of Lyons called Mary the "second Eve", because through her, and her willing acceptance of God's choice, God undid the harm that was done through Eve's choice to eat the forbidden fruit. A few centuries later, the theological treatises of Ambrose of Milan (e.g. ‘De institutione virginis et sanctae Mariae virginitate perpetua ad Eusebium) would come to influence several Popes. Central to Ambrose is the virginity of Mary, and her role as Mother of God. In the 5th century, the Third Ecumenical Council debated this question, whether Mary should be referred to as Theotokos or Christotokos. Theotokos means "God-bearer" or "Mother of God"; its use implies that Jesus, to whom Mary gave birth, is truly God and man in one person. Ultimately, the council affirmed the use of the title Theotokos, and by doing so affirmed Jesus' undivided divinity and humanity. Thus, while the debate was over regarding the proper title for Mary, it was primarily a Christological question about the nature of Jesus (a question which would return at the Fourth Ecumenical Council).

Most recently, on May 13, 1981, on the 64th anniversary of the first Fatima apparition, Pope John Paul II survived an assassination attempt. By John Paul II's own assessment, "It was a mother's hand that guided the bullet's path," and permitted that "the dying Pope stopped on the threshold of death." As the assassination attempt had taken place on the feast of Our Lady of Fatima, the pope had no doubt that his survival was due to the intervention of the Blessed Virgin. In gratitude, the Pope gave one of the bullets that struck him to the bishop in charge of the Fatima shrine and, to this day, that bullet remains in the crown of the statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary housed there.

Francisco de Zurbarán (1598 – 1664), was a Spanish painter born of Basque ancestry in Fuente de Cantos, Badajoz Province. His use of sharply defined colours, minute detail in simple compositions, and the strongly three-dimensional modelling of figures all give his paintings a solidity and dignity. His work at its best fuses two dominant tendencies in Spanish art, realism and mysticism. This painting is a late work of Zurbarán. The Virgin is a slender, delicate young girl with an exquisite oval face and golden hair falling to her shoulders, a vision in white and ultramarine seen against a golden sky peopled with cherubs. Though lacking in vigour, this late work has all the painterly qualities and expressive beauty of the great monumental paintings of Zurbarán's early period.

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