Monday, September 13, 2010


One day, back in the early years of the eighteenth century, word reached the people of Guaratinguetá that 
Dom Pedro Almeida, the new Governor of the Province of São Paulo, would be making a journey that would take him through their little village.
On the eve of the Governor’s visit, the local fishermen were recruited to secure fish for a banquet, something the nearby Paraíba River provided in abundance.
But not on that day.
On that day, the 16th of October, 1717, there seemed to be no fish at all.
Then, just as it was getting dark, the three persistent men who remained on the water agreed to try one more cast.
And brought up a statue from the bottom of the river.
The head was missing, and small enough to pass through the holes in their net, but it suddenly appeared floating in the water next to their boat - and they were able to recover it.
They wrapped both pieces in their shirts, cast again, and their net came up full of fish.
A miracle!
This is the statue, made of fired terracotta, some 40 centimeters in height, weighing about four kilograms, and now venerated as the image of the patron saint of Brazil, Nossa Senhora de Aparecida.
How she wound-up in the river, no one knows.
But, many years later, the clay of which she’s made was analyzed - and found to have had its origins in Santana do Parnaiba, a little town about a hundred kilometers away.
Which gave a clue to both her age and her authorship.
More than a century prior to the statue’s discovery there lived, in Santana do Parnaiba, a Benedictine monk and sculptor, Frei Agostinho de Jesus.
The monk’s style is well-defined. His works display smiling lips, cleft chins, flowers, (and a broche with pearls) in the hair.
And all of those details are characteristics of the statue found by the fishermen.
The color of her skin, a golden chestnut brown, is thought to be symbolically linked to the Brazilian racial mix – and to one of the miracles brought about by the Lady’s intercession – the freeing of Brazil’s slaves.
The influence of the cult of Our Lady of Aparecida upon Brazilian Catholic society can’t be overestimated. There are about 300 parishes dedicated to her – and five cathedrals. In addition, many towns are named after her and so are many Brazilian women and girls.
Her first church in Guaratinguetá was a simple chapel, built in 1737.
In 1834 work on a larger church was begun, which became the “old Basilica” when work was undertaken on the “new Basilica” in 1955.
A walkway connects the two.
And the new one is big, very big.
Second only to St. Peter’s in Vatican City.
The building is in the form of a Greek cross, 173 meters long and 168 meters wide. The tower is 100 meters high, the naves top out at 40 meters and the dome at 100 meters. The surface area is a little over 18,000 square meters, enough to hold up to 45,000 worshipers at one time. The 272,000 square meter  parking lot can hold 4,000 buses and 6,000 cars. And it needs all of that space, because the Basilica receives more than 8 million pilgrims a year.
It’s pretty ugly though.
Here, however, is one that isn’t.
Another cathedral dedicated to Our Lady of Aparecida.
Most of the walls are of glass, so looks just as good at night as it does by day.
And from within, with daylight streaming through the glass, it's spectacular.
The building stands in the federal capital, Brasilia, and was designed by Oscar Niemeyer.
A confirmed atheist.

Leighton - Monday


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  2. The glass cathedral looks as if the architect turned the Madonna's crown upside down. Which is more spectacular - seeing the sun come through the glass or watching the night sky through it?

    In all creativity, there is a spark of divinity. We use the terms "talent" and "gifted" and while these gifts and talents need to be nurtured in order to be brought to fruition, they have to be in the individual from the moment of creation. And that inspires faith.

    In the Sistine Chapel, a monument to the divine spark, the process is presented to us. The Creator God reaches out to the form that He has made and, with the point of His finger He animates the form with the Divine Spark and the form becomes Adam.

    I think many people missed John Paul's statement that there is nothing in evolution that contradicts God's role as the author of life. Whether it is creationism or evolution, the process had to start at some point; some divine force animated the cosmos.

    All of it is a testament to faith. The term "Thank God" is uttered by most people more than a few times a day. It is the response to something that improves our lot in life for that moment. It is said fervently when the car finally starts on a freezing morning. It is said almost breathlessly when the doctor tells us the test results are negative for cancer or any of the other multitude of diseases that plague our lives.

    Thanking God mindlessly or mindfully is a testament of faith. I am a firm believer in miracles and the power of faith. Nothing will change my mind.



  3. Hi Leighton,

    Interesting story and great photos.