Monday, February 11, 2008

Bernadette and Our Lady of Cambrai

Our Lady of Cambrai
Our Lady of Cambrai, attributed to St. Luke.

This morning before Mass, I had a chance to read the little stories/articles in this month's Magnificat Magazine. One story in particular grabbed my attention. It was a story by Fr. Michael Morris, O.P., on which depictions of art resembled Our Lady as she appeared to Bernadette.

This story appeared in a book Picasso's Mask by Andre Malraux. He told the following story to the famous Spanish painter Picasso. The Blessed Mother appeared to Bernadette a total of 18 times. After which Bernadette entered the convent at Nevers. There she received many pictures and statues of Our Lady. Yet, Bernadette did not display them. Instead, she through them in the closet so she wouldn't have to look at them. The Mother Superior was a little perturbed on why Bernadette would do this. Bernadette replied that "none of those images looked like the Blessed Virgin Mary and she could not abide to meditate on images that were not true.

The Mother Superior wrote to the bishop and went to the convent loaded with books filled with well-known images of our blessed mother. He showed Bernadette paintings by famous artists such as Murillo and Raphael but none of them were met with approval by Bernadette.

After flipping through the books, they randomly came to an image of Our Lady of Cambrai. Bernadette fell to her knees and exclaimed to the bishop "that the face she saw in that icon looked just like the face she had seen in the grotto so any times before.

Malraux and Picasso wondered how a simple peasant girl could see the face of a real person in a painting that lacked "depth, movement, and realistic illusion." It was agreed by both men that "there was some numinous (having a strong religious or spiritual quality; indicating or suggesting the presence of a divinity) element in primitive art that knocked on the very door of the sacred. In essence, Bernadette, who had never before seen an icon, once again came face to face with the divine."

To read more, please refer to February 2008 Issue of the Magnifcat. "Divine Tenderness"


elena maria vidal said...

Very interesting! I had never heard this story!

Esther said...

I hadn't either Elena.

Anonymous said...

My husband and I were pilgrims to Lourdes in 2010. I was unexpectedly attracted to the ultra-modern church of St Bernadette (usually I don't like "concrete-brutale" style). This church has as its centre-piece a huge reproduction of the icon of Our Lady of Cambrai, pleasingly illumined by a natural skylight.

Bernadette, displeased by the statue in the grotto as not resembling the apparations, begged that a copy of the Cambrai Icon be displayed at Lourdes; but she did not get her wish until her ultramodern church was built.

I was so taken with this icon that I went to the Lourdes bookstore and bought a small booklet on the history of this image, and several fine postcards of the icon which I have shared with others who have been attracted to it.

I think Bernadette was taken by the expression of loving concern and serene reassurance that the icon conveys, --rather than any "photographic" likeness.

Esther Gefroh said...

Thank you very much for sharing your story! One can almost feel the love depicted in the icon.