Saint Mary Magdalene of Pazzi

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Saint Mary Magdalene of Pazzi
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Image by A.Davey
I believe this painting in the choir of St. Peter and St. Paul’s Church in Vilnius, Lithuania, represents Saint Mary Magdalene of Pazzi.

Here’s her biography:

Mystical ecstasy is the elevation of the spirit to God in such a way that the person is aware of this union with God while both internal and external senses are detached from the sensible world. Mary Magdalene de’ Pazzi was so generously given this special gift of God that she is called the “ecstatic saint.”

Catherine de’ Pazzi was born into a noble family in Florence in 1566. The normal course would have been for her to have married into wealth and enjoyed comfort, but Catherine chose to follow her own path. At 9, she learned to meditate from the family confessor. She made her first Communion at the then-early age of 10, and made a vow of virginity one month later. At 16, Catherine entered the Carmelite convent in Florence because she could receive Communion daily there.

Catherine had taken the name Mary Magdalene and had been a novice for a year when she became critically ill. Death seemed near, so her superiors let her make her profession of vows in a private ceremony from a cot in the chapel. Immediately after, Mary Magdalene fell into an ecstasy that lasted about two hours. This was repeated after Communion on the following 40 mornings. These ecstasies were rich experiences of union with God and contained marvelous insights into divine truths.

As a safeguard against deception and to preserve the revelations, her confessor asked Mary Magdalene to dictate her experiences to sister secretaries. Over the next six years, five large volumes were filled. The first three books record ecstasies from May of 1584 through Pentecost week the following year. This week was a preparation for a severe five-year trial. The fourth book records that trial and the fifth is a collection of letters concerning reform and renewal. Another book, Admonitions, is a collection of her sayings arising from her experiences in the formation of women religious.

The extraordinary was ordinary for this saint. She read the thoughts of others and predicted future events. During her lifetime, Mary Magdalene appeared to several persons in distant places and cured a number of sick people.

It would be easy to dwell on the ecstasies and pretend that Mary Magdalene only had spiritual highs. This is far from true. It seems that God permitted her this special closeness to prepare her for the five years of desolation that followed when she experienced spiritual dryness. She was plunged into a state of darkness in which she saw nothing but what was horrible in herself and all around her. She had violent temptations and endured great physical suffering. Mary Magdalene de’ Pazzi died in 1607 at age 41, and was canonized in 1669. Her Liturgical Feast Day is May 25.
St. Peter and St. Paul’s Church is a Roman Catholic church located in the Antakalnis neighbourhood of Vilnius, Lithuania.

Construction was begun in 1688 and the decorative works were completed in 1704.

It is the centerpiece of a former monastery complex of the Canons Regular of the Lateran.

Its interior has masterful compositions of some 2,000 stucco figures by Giovanni Pietro Perti and ornamentation by Giovanni Maria Galli and is unique in Europe.

The church is considered a masterpiece of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth Baroque.

The interior of the church changed relatively little since that time.

The major change was the loss of the main altar. The wooden altar was moved to the Catholic church in Daugai in 1766.[4]

The altar is now dominated by the Farewell of St. Peter and St. Paul, a large painting by Franciszek Smuglewicz, installed there in 1805.

The interior was restored by Giovanni Beretti and Nicolae Piano from Milan in 1801–04.[11]

At the same time, a new pulpit imitating the ship of Saint Peter was installed.

In 1864, as reprisal for the failed January Uprising, Mikhail Muravyov-Vilensky closed the monastery and converted its buildings into military barracks.[11]

There were plans to turn the church into an Eastern Orthodox church, but they never materialized.[11] In 1901–05, the interior was restored again. The church acquired the boat-shaped chandelier and the new pipe organ with two manuals and 23 organ stops.[12]

The dome was damaged during World War II bombings, but was rebuilt true to its original design.[12]

When in 1956 Vilnius Cathedral was converted into an art museum by Soviet authorities, the silver sarcophagus with sacred relics of Saint Casimir was moved to the St. Peter and St. Paul’s Church.[13] The sarcophagus was returned to its place in 1989.

Despite religious persecutions in the Soviet Union, extensive interior restoration was carried out in 1976–87.[11]
About the Decorative Scheme

St. Peter and St. Paul’s is one of the most studied churches in Lithuania.[19]

Its interior has over 2,000 different decor elements that creates a stunning atmosphere.[20]

The main author of the decor plan is not known. It could be the founder Pac, monks of the Lateran, or Italian artists.
No documents survive to explain the ideas behind the decorations, therefore various art historians attempted to find one central theme: Pac’s life and Polish–Lithuanian relations, teachings of Saint Augustine, Baroque theater, etc.[19]

Art historian Birutė Rūta Vitkauskienė identified several main themes of the decor: structure of the Church as proclaimed at the Council of Trent with Saint Peter as the founding rock, early Christian martyrs representing Pac’s interest in knighthood and ladyship, themes relevant to the Canons Regular of the Lateran, and themes inherited from previous churches (painting of Blessed Virgin Mary of Mercy and altar of Five Wounds of Christ).[21]

The decor combines a great variety of symbols, from local (patron of Vilnius Saint Christopher) to Italian saints (Fidelis of Como),[22] from specific saints to allegories of virtues.

There are many decorative elements – floral (acanthus, sunflowers, rues, fruits), various objects (military weapons, household tools, liturgical implements, shells, ribbons), figures (puttos, angels, soldiers), fantastical creatures (demons, dragons, centaurs), Pac’s coat of arms, masks making various expressions – but they are individualized, rarely repeating.[23]

The architects and sculptors borrowed ideas from other churches in Poland (Saints Peter and Paul Church, Kraków, Sigismund’s Chapel of Wawel Cathedral) and Italy (St. Peter’s Basilica, Church of the Gesù).[22],_V…
From the Church’s Brochure
The church was erected after the Russian invasion that devastated Vilnius in the mid-17th century.

Barely a dozen years passed, and the capital of Lithuania began to recover.

In 1668 Mykolas Kazimieras Pacas, Hetman of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and wojewode of Vilnius, embarked upon the Antakalnis.

The church is decorated by the stucco mouldings of two excellent Italian sculptors, Giovanni Pietro Petri and Giovanni Maria Galli.

The interior of the church consists of the main nave, six chapels on both sides, and the transept.

Twilight from Tunnel View
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Image by kern.justin
Another image from a very famous place
Do we need another image from Tunnel View in Yosemite National Park? One could argue that after Adams took his iconic "Clearing Winter Storm, Yosemite National Park" in 1944 there has been little need to recapture the public’s imagination with the view of this grand valley from a simple roadside pull-out. Yet there is rarely any shortage of photographers and nature lovers peering out over the stone wall making memories and photographs of the valley’s major features laid out in such stunning symmetry. So then, what is the reason for snapping away (see below for proof of just how many people bore witness to the grandeur represented in this photograph)? Do we need more nature images of landscapes thoroughly inhabited and (theoretically) protected? Why is a culture so hell-bent on consuming and utilizing every natural resource possible even interested in nature photographs, especially of landscapes which have been (at least temporarily) spared from mining, drilling, clear-cutting and development? I have two answers to these questions – the general and the personal.
The Wellspring

The valley called Yosemite, and a few other spots on Earth, have served as the nursery for ideas. These ideas were the basis for a series of successful and unsuccessful marches in the name of conservationism and environmentalism. The valley was the gray-walled and sand-floored crib of Muir’s preservationism. If Muir loved the wilds before (and he certainly did) he came to Yosemite, he got so near to the heartbeat of the Earth that he wanted for the rest of his life to try and get nearer. The valley was the luminous, storm-ravaged epic landscape of Adams’ classic photograph – laid out like some glamourous nude, covering just enough with a lacy veil of fog and snowcloud to elicit excitement and inspire others to the same end as Ansel. Camp 4 was the cradle of the American love affair with rock climbing and the first rungs of Rowell’s ladder from a poor mechanic to influential photojournalist and world-explorer. Perhaps too The Valley has been the nursemaid to our love of hiking and exploring the wilder places of America as something, if not vocation, then more dear than avocation. Thomas Jefferson famously wrote, "The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is it’s natural manure." Conservationism did not die as some antiquated nineteenth century ideal, but it too must be refreshed from time to time. It’s night-soils were the words of Muir, the photographs of Adams, Rowell, and others. There is much yet in this world, and even in the Yosemite Valley, that needs protecting and conserving. I don’t know that my photographs will change anyone else’s mind about how to behave in the valley or in their own backyards, but I do know the process of taking photographs of this place has fixed in my mind the value of this wonderful place. The argument, therefore, is that ideas need expression and the continual flow of nature imagery is an effort to convince the apathetic and timid of the great value inherent in conservation. Great photography is a call to action, it draws the breath from our lungs and the blood from our hearts for a moment only to rush it back two-fold and inspire us to do more (by doing less) than gnaw with an axe at old, pine-perfumed gardens. Maybe Ansel’s was just an aperitif to some great and yet-unmade masterpiece more completely encapsulating the million-fold images, emotions and experiences that are Yosemite. Not all of us are going to make these still epics, however, and the reason to justify our personal photographic efforts are perhaps subtly different.
Making memories and photographs
The process of taking photographs is more about what is not in the photograph than what makes it into the frame. This is true in the compositional sense – often exclusion of extraneous elements and isolation of subject is the key to a successful photograph (a lesson I must constantly learn and a tree that is continually refreshed by the "manure" of deleting photographs poorly executed). This statement is also true in the figurative sense. These photographs are about more than their subject. They are about an amazing light show as dessert to a full meal of hiking and camping, they are about sitting at what seems like the top of Eden and enjoying a simple cup of hot soup as the blood-crimson of sunset gives way to steel-blue of twilight and finally to soot-black of night. They are about the fan-blade whoosh of ravens’ wings over the Pines campground and the long light of drawing winter skies in the high country of the Tuolumne Meadows – sundogs and all. The act of photographing is an act of personal education and change.

What I’ve learned in my time as photographer hobbyist is that you cannot collect or consume nature images. This is where I think most of us who aspire to wonderful amateur photography fail. There is an oft-considered difference amongst photographers between "taking" a photograph, like a vacation snapshot or a record shot of some event, and "making" a photograph through careful composition, consideration, patience and thought. So too there is a difference between remembering things and making memories. Stopping at a roadside pullout and clicking away at even the most gorgeous and tumultuous light shows of our Earth, only to pop back into the car and head out along a drab ribbon of asphalt is to take a snapshot in your mind’s eye and does disservice to the photograph, no matter how grand. If I could have told something to my younger self when looking to learn about how to make photographs, I would have told myself "Sit the $&#@ down and absorb the world you’re trying to photograph – you can’t photograph something you don’t understand and you won’t understand it until you let it in." I say all this because the photograph above of the valley from the famous Tunnel View pullout was populated with an enormous number of photographers, each very earnest and very serious and very talented. I counted at least two workshops going on and quite a bit of knowledge seemed to be in the offing. By the time I took the second photograph – my wife and I were alone. We had been alone for an hour by the time I took the fourth photograph on this post.

"Letting it in" is something different for everyone and I probably couldn’t teach it to my younger self, let along a stranger. It’s something like how Buddha can’t share enlightenment, but can only share the "way." It is a balancing act between imaging, imagining and observing. Compare the difference in the quality of the light between the photograph that leads this post with the one below (taken just a moment apart). The conservationists problems would quickly end if only he or she could bring all the skeptics, miners and misers to Tunnel View for a late-fall light-show and therein lies the dichotomy.

The Dichotomy of the Valley
Tunnel View is famous because it presents the major aspects of the valley so harmoniously. Yosemite’s scale seems to grow in proportion to its distance from the viewer. Half Dome is distant but towering, El Capitan is accurately represented as an impossibly sheer and impossibly beautiful slab of granite, some titanic slab table laid on its side, and nearest of all is the Bridalveil spilling fresh mountain run-off from the high country into a flower garden of amber- and ocher- and scarlet-leaved trees. The valley has just overcome the crisis of its birth, trees new and the cataclysm so near that water has not yet had time to erode its way, crashing instead from precipitous heights and providing our only clue of the impossible scale involved. I had made the pull-out having just hiked 12 miles of the valley floor trail that day and the complementary 10 miles the day before. In that hike I was struck with the out-of-place luxury of the guest resorts within the valley. To me there is something idealogical irreconcilable between a luxury hotel and a preservation of wilderness like Yosemite. I had many thoughts rattling around in my head while I took this last 16-minute exposure. I was thinking about originality, documentation, and the value of an image. The idea I wanted to convey was the dichotomy inherent to these national parks of ours. Yosemite village has a gift shop that sells purses and t-shirts and other trinkets designed to separate bused-in tourists from their money. The shop has a large plaque decrying how many plastic water bottles were consumed in Yosemite the year previous. The plaque is hung above a display selling plastic water bottles. Forever increasing pressure from the outside world to bring more visitors, to consume more wilderness, is one aim of these parks. In stark opposition is the initial, Muir-esque ideology of the parks – a preservation outside of development and the mar of humanity. So I waited for the last rays of twilight to fade and I left my shutter open for what seemed like an eternity, capturing the light pollution of a parade of cars, thundering past Tunnel View, casting their headlamps on the bows of nearby pines and then, on the valley floor, weaving through the gathering fog along the park road between the Pohono bridge and the northern park destinations; I imaged behind it all and above the valley the collected pollution casting a red pall on the sky like the representation of distant war by some Renaissance master.

To take a step back, and to put an end to my ramblings, it is hard not to take a good photograph from Tunnel View, or for that matter, of the valley. In two trips, I have been able to produce what I think are two rather unique images of the place (at least to the degree that any photographic act is one of creation or uniqueness): "The Dichotomy of the Valley" (above) and "We are Killers" (below). Far more importantly I spent two unforgettable evenings trying to absorb a bit of the grandeur in the thin and chilly mountain air. Had I to boil down the thesis here at play I would simply say that what is lacking in poor photography when compared to great photography are ideas and the successful expression of those ideas. The world is full of information easily found about how to successfully express a photographic idea, but often woefully short of fresh ideas themselves. This is why there was only one Muir, one Adams and one Rowell and why there is only one you. The reason that we need more images of nature, of Tunnel View, of the valley is that no two images are the same, they are all products of their respective creators and our thirst for brilliant creators is never quenched though the wellspring of Yosemite has provided amply. The trick isn’t to represent Tunnel View, but to represent yourself through Tunnel View.

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