Sunday, 31 May 2009

What not to wear?


Last week, I walked past a shop selling dresses decorated with Our Lady of Guadalupe. Of course I went in to look but discovered that said dress was made for someone much shorter and slimmer than me and also, by chance, cost the entire current contents of my bank account. You may now be wondering whether Women's Guild, after not posting in three weeks, has degenerated into a blog devoted to shopping, fashion and crash dieting. Fear not.

There really is a serious point to this -I wondered, if I were to buy the dress, how would other people look at me wearing it? In church? In the pub? On the night bus home eating a bag of chips? Would they think it was disrespectful, or that I didn't know what the image was, or that I was another of those nutters (see previous post) ? Or would they view it as an act of Christian witness or ask me what it was all about?

Clothing is often so much more than a few pretty things to wear, as the iconography of Our Lady of Guadalupe shows. It is important to bear in mind her status as the most important Mexican religious and cultural symbol, from her apparition to an indigenous Mexican, Juan Diego, during a period of conversion to Christianity from the Aztec religion, to her role as a symbol of national unity during the War of Independence.

Sun and moon: as in Revelation 12:1, "arrayed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars". However in this case the stars are on the cloak and there are far more than twelve. Another interpretation is of an image of triumph over the Aztec sun and moon deities -in fact the little squashed figure underneath may be a winged moon god.

Cloak: Blue and green were Aztec colours of divinity. I have seen detailed argument that the arrangement of stars is that which appeared in the night sky on the date of the apparition, although to my untrained eye they do seem quite regularly spaced.

Dress: Rose coloured, as one might expect given that the apparition story involves the production of Castilian roses from a Mexican hill. Interpretations of the pattern range from more roses, to a contour map of Mexico.

Belt: A black belt was an Aztec symbol of pregnancy.

Brooch: On the original icon, and some detailed reproductions, it is possible to see a cross shaped brooch at her neck. Despite the indigenous influences, she is definitely a Christian figure.

So, the clothing of one relatively simple and well known image of Our Lady can lead to many interesting discoveries -more of her political and social implications as a Mexican national symbol are discussed in this essay.


Here's an attempt at a representation. Some of the important features can be seen, but I know that constellations, contour outlines of Mexico and winged moon gods are certainly far beyond the skill of the embroiderer!

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Mary's Month of May

If you've not yet read this piece by AN Wilson then here it is for your enjoyment. Members of the WG were in attendance at the Society of Mary's May Devotion at S. Silas, Kentish Town. An excellent day was had by all and I'd highly recommend it to anyone who hasn't been!

The Society of Mary 'seeks the glory of God revealed in Our Lord Jesus Christ, born for us as Perfect Man and Perfect God. Christ was given to us through Mary, His Blessed and Ever-Virgin Mother. As Members of the Society of Mary, we love and honour Her, who is shown to us in the Bible as ‘Blessed among Women’ and who was loved and honoured by Jesus.'


The Diary: AN Wilson

By AN Wilson

Published: May 9 2009

Sirens whined, traffic honked. Blocking the buses and the cars, was a long religious procession. The image of Our Lady, borne shoulder high on a bier, teetered forward. Little girls threw flowers. From the doorway of a Brazilian bar a heavily lip-glossed waitress, with cascades of raven hair and 5cm of mini-skirt, made the sign of the cross.

The nutters in the procession, who included myself, sang, “Ave, Ave, Ave Maria!” Behind the 250 people were an army of clergy in exotic rig, and the rear was taken up by two prelates arrayed in costumes that would have been a bit on the dressy side at the coronation of Pius IX – yards of lace, gauntlets, and jewels the sizes of over-ripe strawberries on their hands. One was the Suffragan Bishop of Whitby and the other the Dean of St Paul’s, who preached an excellent sermon at the Vespers of Our Lady that followed the procession and bun-fight. For we were not in São Paulo, or Lourdes, but in Kentish Town. And the clergy at this May Devotion were (just about) Church of England – what writer John Osborne in a superb joke called “Walsingham Matildas”.

These beautiful ceremonies are only the cherry on the pudding – the rest of the time the inspired and inspiring parish priest who is responsible for them is a key figure in the local primary school, tireless in his local knowledge and care for all of us, from the lonely alkies (and that’s just the writers) to the schoolchildren, the criminals and the housebound. Community may be an overused word but it isn’t an overused phenomenon. What else in today’s Britain could bring together people of so many varied ethnic and social backgrounds?

If you happen to be in Oxford on Saturday 23rd May then you could attend the Oxford May Devotion. This will begin at St Barnabas, Jericho, with High Mass at 3pm, followed by a procession to Pusey House; this will be followed by Benediction and then a party in the Pusey House gardens. The preacher is Fr Graeme Rowlands, Chaplain–General of the Society of Mary.

"O Mother! I could weep for mirth,
Joy fills my heart so fast;
My soul today is heaven on earth,
Oh could the transport last!
I think of thee, and what thou art,
Thy majesty, thy state;
And I keep singing in my heart—
Immaculate! Immaculate!"

Monday, 4 May 2009

Losing the Habit


Available on BBC iplayer -Losing the Habit

From their website:
"British nuns tell the story of the dramatic Vatican reforms 40 years ago that forced them to abandon a life of seclusion and adapt to the modern world.

The Second Vatican Council's Decree on the Renewal of Religious Life in October 1965 may not have dominated the world's news agenda at the time, but it resulted in a revolution. Instead of a flight from the world, women's religious orders found themselves pressured into experimenting with new freedoms in the way they lived and worked. The end result was a 'new religious woman' in a cultural age when women were claiming their voice. But for many, it was a bruising journey: 'I've felt like a chameleon for the past 40 years,' says Sister Dorothy Bell.

We hear the testimonies of four women: Sister Dorothy Bell, June Raymond, Gemma Simmons and Sister Christine Charlesworth talk to Moyra Tourlamain about their initial decisions on entering the church and the subsequent upheaval when the Vatican reassessed its place and image in 20th-century society.

For some, the new encouragement towards freedom and individual decision making was empowering and refreshed their vocation; for others, it felt almost like betrayal. The results are still difficult to gauge. Numbers have dropped significantly, but that was already a trend in the 1960s."
Some quotes from the participants show that opinion as to the success of the reforms was, and still is, mixed. There were clear benefits for mission:
"It came as quite a shock to people when they started looking back at their origins, at their history. For instance a number of women's religious orders realised that they had never been intended to be considered nuns in the monastic sense, they had never been intended to live in large convents, large communities living a regimented way of life. A number of women's orders had been founded for quite front line missions -working with the very poor, working with orphans, working with prostitutes -but working outside the institution. They'd never been intended to wear monastic dress, but these were things that were imposed on them by the church in later centuries."

"I can remember a student saying to me "You know, I feel quite differently about you now that I can see you've got knees"
But also great regrets for what was lost:
"It was simply gorgeous, it was full seventeenth century widow's gear complete with a very complex veil....we wore linen cuffs which were modeled on cuffs that had been made for us by Queen Mary of Modena back in the seventeenth century. It was a very becoming habit, people looked very good in it, but it did take you a while to get dressed in the morning."

"Suddenly you weren't a traditional nun any more and I was quite sad about that because I rather liked the formality and the discipline of the old style nuns."
Listen soon as it disappears at 11:30 on Wednesday morning.