Though I agree with removing monuments throughout our country that commemorate historical injustice, I recently came across a toppled statue that was simply a result of juvenile vandalism. So I’ve been told. The statue was near the entrance of our former Motherhouse and can barely be seen from the main road. However, while driving past the property, I spotted the overturned hollow base of the statue and the statue itself lying face down. Now, who would want to topple the likeness of St. Bernard of Clairvaux? Who even knows the man, let alone dislikes him or what he stands for? I thought the action might be the result of anger for the Church’s abuse scandals but then I recalled that there are other statues on the property that could have been defaced and they weren’t. Poor Bernard. A victim of easy, unprotected access for mischief.
But it’s not the first time Bernard was so assaulted from his spot nestled in fir trees just as you round the corner onto sacred property. In the early 80’s, when I was finishing leadership in the congregation, a group of miscreants toppled Bernard one night during the local schools’ spring break. A sculptor, who did a lot of work for diocesan churches, told me that to carve a new head (Bernard’s head was broken into smithereens) would be a substantial cost but he had a solution. Would I mind if he replaced Bernard’s head with that of Abraham Lincoln’s? He happened to have the head of the president and the measurements of the rest of the statue were perfectly in sync with the proportion of the head. “We can shave Lincoln’s beard,” he said, “add a monk’s expanded tonsure around the scalp and voila, we have St. Bernard!” So for years, St. Bernard, ersatz Abraham Lincoln, stood at the entrance way nestled in the idyllic corner from where he has been toppled again!
The reason St. Bernard was given a prominent place on our property is part of our history since 1928. A fairly wealthy industrialist, Bernard Schatzinger, owned the land – which he made into what he called a “Nordic shrine” – and willed it to the Diocese of Cleveland. In turn, the diocese gave it to the band of Sisters arriving from Pittsburgh to establish a foundation of the community to serve in diocesan schools. The statue reflected the appreciation the community had for Mr. Schatzinger and his family.
This week we celebrate the feast of St. Bernard on August 20. He was a twelfth century French Cistercian monk (think Trappist) who founded 343 monasteries throughout Europe, mediated between the real pope and an imposter, fought rampant heresies, and still managed to find contemplative prayer time. He is best known today for his scholarship on the theology of sacred space and music. He is also known as the promoter of lectio divina, a popular form of scriptural prayer today. The poet Dante used him as the last guide in “The Divine Comedy” out of respect for his mysticism. His writings on Mary, the Mother of God, have placed him in the pantheon of Marian scholars.
On this same property, there is a large pond which served as the place to sneak in a few whirls of ice skating during the winter if you were a student at our all-girls high school, Lumen Cordium. In the middle of the pond was a large pinnacle on which perched St. Christopher carrying the child Jesus. Every year, during senior week, some students would venture out on the pond wobbling and paddling a make-shift raft toward the statue in the middle of the night. They proceeded to dress St. Christopher in their uniform: a pleated gray skirt, bright red blazer, and white tammy! They never knew we watched from our windows – for safety reasons – but full of giggles and splashing and the banging of the raft against the pinnacle, they would succeed and St. Christopher became a Lumen student! The next morning, conservative faculty harrumphed at the sight but most of us concealed our delight that at least this saint was treated with love.
Statues are created to remind us of something the saint had done that earned him or her the title of saint. Do you know what the symbols mean that are represented on a statue you might see in your church or elsewhere?
A statue is not to be worshipped. That is reserved for God alone in prayer. But we can reflect and pray in the presence of a statue. Do you have a favorite statue or saint whose life furnishes you with inspiration?