Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Dr. Caroline Farey

Dr. Caroline Farey
One of the highlights of the National Religious Art Show of the Contemporary Religious Artists Association (CRAA) in Kansas City was the opportunity to hear the renown Dr. Caroline Farey speak about the meaning behind the religious art we enjoy.  Dr. Farey is the Director of Studies at the School of the Annunciation Centre for the New Evangelization at Buckfast Abbey in Devon, England.  She is one of only three lay women experts who participated in the Synod of Bishops in Rome dedicated to the New Evangelization and the Transmission of the Faith, and  she also represented catechists of the world when she received the "message for catechists" for the Year of Faith from Pope Benedict XVI.  She had been in Kansas City to present Sacred Art and the New Evangelization and was also the featured keynote speaker for the opening reception for the show.  Listening to her speak in her English accent was quite soothing and enjoyable, but more important than the way in which she spoke was what she spoke about.  During her keynote address Dr. Farey shared several images of religious art and then systematically explained the significance of the pieces to our faith.

In her introduction Dr. Farey said that the Contemporary Religious Artists Association(CRAA) is extremely important and of great value to the Church.  "We need to do all that we can to be a center of Catholic culture so that the fullness of our heritage can really inspire people," she said.  Then she dived right into her presentation and I found a deeper understanding of our faith with every word she spoke and I am greatly inspired to continue to learn more.

Virgin and Child by Quentin Matsys (1465-1530) from the Royal National Gallery in Brussels, Belgium

Regarding the Virgin and Child by Quentin Matsys (1465-1530), Dr. Farey pointed out that many people criticize religious artists for their portrayal of Our Lady in rich clothing.  They feel that it contradicts everything we know about her as a poor woman caring for her family.  Dr. Farey explained that paintings such as this are actually very scriptural.  St. Paul tells us that "He became poor so that we might become rich."  The infant Jesus' chemise is a foreshadowing of His burial shroud.  The Word of God is being read by Christ.  The background of this painting is clearly a church, and Our Lady's dress which fills the majority of the painting with lush red velvet, is meant to be the altar.  The color red that extends to the very bottom of the painting signifies His blood pouring out and down to all of us.  In the background the world outside can be seen which signifies that we are meant to take all of the grace that we obtain at Mass out into the world around us.  All is held by Our Lady as the grace of the Church and Christ through the priesthood.  As an Oblate of the Precious Blood, offering all of my daily joys and sacrifices for the sanctity and well-being of priests, I found this description of Dr. Farey's to be extremely moving and deeply meaningful.

Raphael's Crucifixion (1483-1520)

Raphael's Crucifixion, painted as an altarpiece, includes everything for the Mass.  The cross is the escape route that takes us to the heights of heaven.  Mary and John are looking out at us, inviting us into the scene, into the Mass.  St. Jerome with his hand extended below the cross is pleading for the Blood of Christ to heal him.  It's the penitential rite asking for the Mercy of God.  Mary Magdalene is in adoration. Her red dress, shot with gold, represents the moment after receiving Holy Communion, and she is adoring Christ in thanksgiving for all that she has received.  The waters in the back of the picture represent the waters of baptism through which we come to receive the Eucharist.  The angels are closest to the sacrifice.  They are still figures in contemplation.  They catch the Lord's Blood in chalices for the Mass.  We see the flesh and blood of Christ as the Host which suddenly enters the scene during the Mass as the priest elevates the Host during the consecration for all of the people to see, redeeming us from our sin.  Raphael's Crucifixion is alive with meaning.

For another deep and  fascinating explanation from Dr. Farey regarding this painting, visit David Clayton's website, The Way of Beauty.  Once reading this article, you'll want to visit David Clayton's site again and again to dive ever more deeply into the theology of religious art.  Like Dr. Farey, David Clayton is an internationally respected artist who gives so much to the Church through teaching and mentoring artists and those who appreciate religious art.


  1. So good that you enjoyed this - she is an amazing speaker. (Though we can't really speak of an Englishwoman speaking English having an English accent!)

  2. The sun and moon at the top of the painting represented other religions despite it being forbidden by the Council

  3. SUN AND MOON: The sun is symbolic of Christ, this interpretation being based on the prophecy of Malachi 4:2: 'But unto you that fear myname shall the Sun of Justice arise and health in his wings.' The sun and moon are used as attributes of the Virgin Mary, referring to the 'woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet' [Apoc. 12:1]. The sun and moon are often represented in scenes of the Crucifixion to indicate the sorrow of all creation at the death of Christ. St. Thomas Aquinas is sometimes depicted with a sun on his breast.

  4. Sun and moon. The sun and moon, one on each side of the cross, are a regular feature of medieval crucifixions. They survived into the early Renaissance but are seldom seen after the 15th cent. Their origin is very ancient. It was the custom to represent the sun and moon in images of the pagan sun gods of Persia and Greece, a practice that was carried over into Roman times on coins depicting the emperors. It seems to have found its way into primitive Christian art through the festival of Christmas which took over an existing pagan feast celebrating the rebirth of the sun. Long before the first representations of the crucifixion the sun and moon appeared in other Christian themes: the Baptism, the Good Shepherd, Christ in Majesty. When art began to depict Christ on the cross their appropriateness to the theme was seen to be already established in the Bible and by theologians. The synoptic gospels relate that from midday a darkness fell over the whole land, which lasted until three in the afternoon. The eclipse might be simply a sign that the heavens went into mourning at the death of the Savior; but more specifically, according to Augustine, the sun and moon symbolized the prefigurative relationship of the two Testaments: the Old (the moon) was only to be understood by the light shed upon it by the New (the sun): The typology of the Old Testament.) In medieval examples the sun and moon may be represented in their classical forms: the sun as a male figure driving a quadriga, the moon as a female driving a team of oxen, each within a circular disk. (Cf. Apollo: The Sun god.) Or the sun is simply a man's bust with a radiant halo, the moon a woman's with the crescent of Diana. Later they are reduced to two plain disks, the moon having a crescent within the circle, and may be borne by angels. The sun appears on Christ's right, the moon on his left.