Friday, April 12, 2019

Clandestine Devotion

From Aleteia:
A mere 500 years ago, Catholics were hiding their faith on both sides of the planet. Persecution was rampant in Japan and in England. A little further west than that, the Americas were a safe haven. This was the time when the missionaries and conquistadors went forth into regions of the world unknown to Europeans and multiplied their congregations. Those Spanish and Portuguese who headed west to the Americas reaped extraordinary rewards in terms of human souls, as well as enough silver to throw European economies into chaos.

Those who headed east towards Asia faced different obstacles. Instead of taking over the spiritual life from California to Cape Horn, they ended up in little pockets of big nations that were often hostile to alien religious practices. Life for Catholic artists was as tough in 16th and 17th century England as it was in Japan at the same time.

At both sides of the world, believers resorted to hidden expressions of faith. Despite the harrowing scenes in the 2016 Martin Scorsese movie Silence, Japan had more to offer than rugged, hand-whittled pendant crucifixes. The clandestine paintings that survive are a fascinating fusion of East and West. Usually in the form of portable shrines, they are triptychs in which the central panel is a classic Western devotional scene. The rest of the icon is typically Japanese lacquerwork, giving no exterior indication of what was contained within. Although they were once commonplace, very few of these items have survived; those that have were usually taken back home by Westerners. Hidden though they were in Japan, many icons were destroyed by the authorities. The next hazard was being in Nagasaki, the Catholic center of Japan. (Read more.)

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