Tuesday, June 24, 2008

La Sainte Jean

Pietro Bernini. St John the Baptist.1612-15. Sant’Andrea della Valle, Rome.
And thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Highest: for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways: To give knowledge of salvation to his people, unto the remission of their sins: — Luke i. 76-77.
Now, John, in its many versions (Ivan, Ian, Jean, Evan, Jan, Janes, Johan, Giovanni, Sean, Juan, Ionnes, Jahja ...), in many languages, is the most popular name in the christian world. So, a distinction to designate amongst different individuals is needed. In the Gospels, we have the beloved apostle and evangelist John, and the baptist or the precursor, whom the eastern church, often, refers as the forerunner. In the west, John the Precursor has two days on the calendar, his birth and his beheading. Usually, the date of death, when he nears the heavenly reward is commemorated. The christian church notes only a few births, Jesus, his mother, Mary, and his second cousin, John the Baptist. The eastern church celebrates four additional days for John the Forerunner. As was estimated, that John was six months older than Jesus, we note the 24th of June as his birth.

In art, he is often depicted. In some icons, John has wings suggesting his celestial nature.. In the west, he often is pointing up, in the direction of heaven suggesting the coming of Our Lord. He is sometimes gaunt, haggard and tanned wearing rough sewn animal skin. He had lived an ascetic existence in the unwelcoming desert. He often has a very slender cross as a staff, sometimes with the a scroll that reads “Ecce Homo” or “Agnus Dei”, which naturally, announces Jesus. He is often with a handsome lamb, again predicting the coming of Christ.

Sometimes he is a child with the Child Jesus and Mary. Often, other non-contemporaneous saints and individuals appear. This sort of painting is a sacra conversazione, which reflects our actual, though sometimes, invisible community and conversation. Remember, we are all in it together.

Saint John is important in the Americas. San Juan Bautista de Puerto Rico is named in his honor. He is patron of Canada, especially of St. John’s, Newfoundland, and Saint John, New Brunswick. The poem and song, now anthem, Ô Canada, was created for the 1880 La fête de la Saint-Jean-Baptiste.

In Québec it is a civil holiday. La fête de la Saint-Jean-Baptiste, in some quarters, is like Saint Patrick’s amongst the irish in america: an ethnic display of parade and alcohol. Beginning in the late ’60s the day became politicised, in 1969 there was a riot and an icon was destroyed.

In english Canada, the day passes with little, or no, cogniscense. But, Saint Jean was very important to the canadiens of generations past. This year, Québec City is celebrating 400 years with the 49th International Eucharistic Congress, which ran from the 15th to the 22nd of June. Catholicism still breathes on the Plains of Abraham.

A month ago, the Bouchard and Taylor commission, as a sop to anti-Catholics, wanted to remove the crucifix above the speaker’s chair in National Assembly. Premier Jean Charest did not accept this, Charest said, “We won’t rewrite history. The church has played a major role in who we are today as a society, the crucifix is more than a religious symbol.”* Charest did remark, that no reminders of Victoria (the english queen) were to be excised, nor other symbols were to fall into the memory hole. L'Assemblée Nationale voted unanimously to bear, and not to bare the cross. The Quebec Act of 1774, to the anger of english colonists, guaranteed the civil and religious rights of the conquered french in north america. To-day Quebec is still more than three quarters french, and french and catholic were a common dual identity, and much of the old immigration was also catholic. The centre holds still. French Canada is Catholic Canada, any revision would be false and an act of arbitrary will force ably imposed.
*«Il n
est pas question décrire l'histoire à lenvers. L'Église a joué un très grand rôle depuis 350 ans, le crucifix est un symbole de cette histoire, ce nest pas seulement religieux»
noto bene: In the Hitchcock film, I Confess (1953), you can see the legislative assembly chamber, and crucifix in two scenes; in addition, a very large and impressive crucifix is in the courtroom.

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