Catholic Acts of Devotion

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Both the Portuguese print of a statue of Christ and a Currier and Ives hand-colored lithograph depict mysteries of the Catholic religion. One shows a miraculous statue honored by the pope with a special indulgence and the other the consecration of the Body and Blood of Christ during Holy Communion. Both rituals were deeply cherished in Catholic devotion in the 19th century.

Miraculous Christ of Ponta Delgada, The Azores by Kristen Rohde

For 19th-century Portuguese-Catholic immigrants in America, the print of the Miraculous Christ of Ponta Delgada would proudly reconnect them to a cherished memory of their homeland. The Convent and Chapel of Our Lady of Hope in Ponta Delgada houses a statue known as "Senhor Santo Cristo dos Milagres," Christ of Miracles. In the past the statue was carried through the streets in time of crisis, and today it is the focus of a popular religious festival. It is possible that the owners themselves may have visited the statue or had relatives or friends who did. The print is not overly large, yet emits a comforting sense of cultural identity for the owner and would be placed on a wall in the home for daily reverence.

The Ponta Delgada uncolored lithograph depicts a nun, the Venerable Theresa of the Annunciation, engaged in prayer before the statue of Christ of Miracles. Devotion to the image is endorsed by the Pope by way of 40 days indulgence (limit once daily) for the recitation of one Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory Be to the Father, either at the actual site or by meditation on a reproduced image in the privacy of one's own "sacred space" of the home.

The idea of an indulgence, or a way to "work off time in purgatory" by an act or visitation of a site in order to gain merit, is a practice which dates back to the Middle Ages. Medieval Christians traveled for miles on pilgrimage roads to view reliquaries of portions of saints' bodies, miraculous sites or objects in order to attain the grace of God and allow them passage into Heaven. Viewing such sacred objects/ spaces was seen as a way of connecting to the heroic Christian, the saints, who acted as intermediaries between heaven and earth.

This elaborate sketch truly captures a miraculous "moment in time" and also aids the viewer by way of the Portuguese caption describing the event. In the Ponta Delgada image, Theresa is shown kneeling in front of the Christ image with open prayer book, rosary and inviting left palm facing up in a loving, outstretched manner. Christ appears only from the torso up, being shown as having features belonging to both the King of Heaven and the Suffering One. His royal cloak and sprays of roses which lay at the base of the altar cannot deter one's eyes from observing the inhumane crown of thorns which results in the visible traces of blood leading downward to his neckline. The nun's awe-inspired trance is never met by the image as he stares blankly beyond her gaze. This image is meant to engage the viewer in a "moment in time," "miraculous spiritual happening" and evoke a sense of internal piety and faith worth meditating on in hopes of obtaining an indulgence or special favor.

The print came into existence to honor Christ of Miracles and thereby give people the ability to bring the sacred site into the home and have it become a permanent fixture in their everyday lives. To put this in modern terms, we might say that if the owners of this print had previously visited the site and then hung this image in their house, this could be described as valuable "bragging rights" of the time, quite similar to token pictures of us and our families at the Grand Canyon, Eiffel Tower and other well-known world landmarks of the present day. This image, which is also a tool to implement morally sound Christian teaching (by way of prayer and veneration) and doubles back to forge a sense of cultural pride and identity for the immigrants' genuine roots.

Images like this were very important to immigrant communities whose religion and language formed strong bonds. In the secular world of a modern, homogenized society, finger paintings of ambitious kindergarten students and copies of Monet's Water Lilies have often replaced such devout religious depictions. What do they tell us about cultural bonds and collective memories? Is it now that we relate primarily to the immediate family or to "art" of pleasant decoration rather than that of ancestral memory?

The Holy Communion by Mark McLean

The print of The Holy Communion depicts a Sunday Roman-Catholic Mass, very similar to what an Irish immigrant would experience in Worcester of the 1870s. The church doesn't seem to have much money, which is shown by the small altar. There is a priest holding the Eucharist while eight men and women kneel in prayer before the altar. Four altar boys stand behind the priest, some bowing their heads, others looking to the sky. The men and women are separated on either side of the altar, men on the left, women on the right. This division of gender for social and educational purposes has been evident to us as we looked at schools such as St. Joseph's with its French inscription "Filles" (girls) and "Garçons" (boys) in stone letters marking entrances on either side of the building. The depiction shows the need for expansion not only in the church, but also in the Irish community as well. Soon they would both grow larger and the Irish would become a major immigrant group in the United States.

The print was published by Currier and Ives in 1873. This was an important time for the Irish immigrants because during the 1870s the third wave of immigrants from Ireland came to the United States, and Worcester. The first immigrants came to work on the canal, and even though the Yankees did not believe that the Irish would stay in their communities, the Irish had other plans and decided to start a new life in the United States. The second wave of Irish immigrants came to the U.S. during the potato famine of 1846 and 1847. Then in the 1870s the third wave of Irish immigrants came and tried to establish a presence.

Similar to the Miraculous Christ of Ponta Delgada, The Holy Communion is an image of multiple copies, a print. The Holy Communion was hand colored whereas the other print was not. The print seems retains its original frame, and its discoloration testifies to its long life against the original acidic wood backing. Although it is slightly smaller than the Portuguese image it still allows the viewer to get a sense of an Irish Roman-Catholic Mass and the culture behind it. It is possible that people hung the picture on the wall and used it as a sense of pride for their culture and religion.

People would want pictures such as this in their home to bring Church teachings to the house or to teach good Catholic morals. The image was also used as a sign that the family followed what the Church believed in. Here the sacrament is the Eucharist, one of the seven sacraments of the Church (Baptism, Eucharist, Penance, Confirmation, Holy Orders, Matrimony, and Last Rites). Catholics were obligated to attend Mass and at least witness the Eucharist every Sunday. The specific Catholic nature of the sacrament is emphasized by the Latin words "Hoc Est Enim Corpus Meum" (this is my body), said by the priest as he consecrates the host. The purchaser of this image was probably an Irish immigrant who saw the image within a sense of struggle for all immigrants in trying to have something of their own.

These immigrants were also trying to develop elaborate churches for themselves, as we have seen in the Cathedral of St. Paul, downtown, and St. Stephen's on Grafton Hill with its brilliant stained glass of many saints. Catholics wanted to honor their beliefs and have them appreciated.

During the 1870's Irish immigrants were trying to develop a sense of community in a far away land. Things that aided them in their transition were the rituals of the Catholic Church. The portrait of The Holy Communion shows how the Irish put many of these symbols of the Catholic Church in their home and used them to represent not only the beliefs that the church lived by but also their struggle as an immigrant group to develop and flourish in a new country.

Miraculous Christ of Ponta Delgada, The Azores
Verdadeio Retrato da Imagem do Senhor Santo Christo dos Milagres. / ECCE HOMO Que se venera no Convento das Religiosas de Nossa Senhora da Esperença na Cidade de Ponta Delgada de Ilha de San Miguel Açores /Com a V.Me Thereza da Annunciada orando na Capella do mesmo Senhor O e R. mo Senr. Nuncio Apostolico Concede 40 dias d'Indulgencia a quem resar un P.N. A. M. e Gl. Patri/ ou seja diante da propria Imagem ou diante d'esta Estampa, as quaes so se poderao ganhar uma vez em cada dia
A true picture of the image of the our Lord, the blessed Christ of Miracles, Behold the Man, that is venerated at the convent of the religious of Our Lady of Hope in the city of Ponta Delgada in the Island of St. Miguel, the Azores, with the Venerable Theresa of the Annunciation, praying in the chapel of the same Lord. His excellency the Papal Nuncio accords 40 days of indulgence for those who recite an Our Father, a Hail Mary, and a Glory be to the Father, either in front of the actual image or in front of this print; this (indulgence) can only be gained once a day.
Publisher: Rep. Lito, Nacional Portugal: brought from Portugal in 19th century by ancestor of previous owner, Gilly Borges, New Bedford MA
Uncolored lithograph
14 1/2 x 10 1/2 inches (with frame 16 1/2 x 12 1/2 inches)

Holy Communion
Currier & Ives, New York, 1873
Hand colored lithograph
Original glass and frame: frame 1 1/2 inch beveled with wood veneer
13 1/2 x 9 1/2 inches (with frame 16 1/4 x 12 1/4 inches)