Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Fr. Thomas McGlynn, O.P, and the Fatima Statue

I recently ran across an interesting story recently about Fr. Thomas Matthew McGlynn, O.P., an American priest and artist who is best known for sculpting the large statue of Our Lady of Fatima that currently stands in the niche above the main entrance of the basilica in Fatima, Portugal.  The large statue is based on a smaller statue that is said to be the most accurate representation of the Virgin from the apparitions, as it was constructed with the careful consultation of Lúcia Santos, whom we of course know as one of the three children who claimed to have witnessed the apparitions at Fatima in 1917.  What is most striking about the statue is how simple it is.  Apparently Fr. McGlynn had originally produced a version of the statue according to his particular interpretation of the apparitions and had gone to Portugal in order to acquire the approval of Lúcia.  However, when he consulted with Lúcia (Lucy), she convinced him that he had to start from scratch apparently because she was not pleased with many of the details:
After examining the [first, original] statue for some time, [Lúcia] said,"It's not the right position. The right hand should be raised and the left, lower down. The garments in the statue are too smooth. The light was in waves and gave the impression of a garment with folds. She was surrounded by light and she was in the middle of light. Her feet rested on the azinheira (a small holm oak tree). The leaves of the azinheira were small as it was a young tree. The leaves did not bend down." This was a shock to Tom who thought that Our Lady had appeared on a cloud, a form he considered to be appropriately artistic. Lucy added, "She always had a star on her tunic. She always had a cord with a little ball of light,' and she indicated an imaginary pendant around the neck falling down near the waistline.

She explained that there were only two garments visible, a simple tunic and a long veil or mantle. The tunic had no collar and no cuffs. Nor was there a cincture or a sash around the waist, although the tunic was drawn in at the waist. The sleeves were not wide, and the mantle and the tunic were a wave of light. When Tom (McGlynn) asked her how one distinguished between the mantle and the tunic, she said,"There were two waves of light, one on top of the other." When Tom asked her if there was a line of gold on the mantle, she explained "It was like a ray of sunlight all around the mantle." She further explained that this ray around the mantle was like a thin thread. The mantle in Tom's sculpture was a long, oval contour which he treasured. Lucy said, "It seemed to be straighter. It was a thing all made of light and very light, but it fell straight down. The clothing was all white. The cord was a more intense and yellow light....The light of Our Lady was white and the star was yellow."

Tom had added hair around the neck to fill out the form, but Lucy insisted that she never saw any hair. Nor did she see whether Our Lady was wearing sandals because she never looked at her feet. Tom asked her if the face and hands and feet of Our Lady had the color of light or the color of flesh. She answered,"Flesh colored light; light which took on the color of flesh." As to Our Lady's expression, she commented,"Pleasing but sad. Sweet but sad." She told Tom that the face of his statue seemed too old...

Thus, it was agreed that Tom would remain at the convent to do a new statue under Lucy's direction. What happened is something unique in the life of the Church and the history of sculpture: a documentary of a spiritual experience that one had with the Other World. Lucy was the narrator and Tom the instrument through which Lucy would express what she saw.

... With the statue completed, Tom returned to the Bishop of Leiria to thank him for this opportunity to see Lucy and to correct the statue. Since Lucy had participated in the new statue, Tom asked the Bishop permission to do a large figure of it for the niche on the facade of the Shrine. Tom suggested that the funds for it execution might come from American Catholics as a perpetual symbol of American Catholic devotion to the Blessed Virgin at this, her newest shrine. 
The final, completed statue was presented as a gift to the Sanctuary of Fatima from the Catholics of North America in 1958 and placed in the niche the following year. 

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