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Lent Retreat - Fra Angelico

Thursday, February 18, 2010
Guido di Pietro was born in Rupecanina in Tuscany in 1395 and was already making a name for himself as an artist by the time he joined the Dominicans around 1423. He took the religious name Giovanni but is better known by his nickname, Fra Angelico, in reference to both his own holiness and the beauty of his work. He was often heard to remark that "he who does Christ's work must stay with him always", a maxim that he truly embraced. He was beatified in 1982 and is the patron saint of artists.

A characteristic of great art is its ability to go beyond self expression and speak on behalf of a culture. The artist reveals the community to itself, and as the community recognises itself in the work of art, it is consolidated and its values communicated to others. One of the reasons that Fra Angelico's memory has been so treasured by his brethren over the centuries is that his paintings manage, in a mysterious way, to capture the spirit of Dominican life. To ponder on his work is to meditate on Dominican spirituality. He continually returns to the Annunciation and to the Last Judgment for inspiration, reflecting the Order's traditional emphasis on preaching and hearing confessions. In addition, one can see the themes of humility and devotion running right through his work, as well as a great sympathy for the human person. Fra Angleico's work and his religious life seem to have been deeply integrated, both are firmly anchored in Christ. It is unsurprising then, that his work has such potency and depth.

Of course great art is not the only way to communicate the ideas and themes that inspire us. All of us, simply by the way that we live, communicate to our neighbour in an enormous range of subtle and nuanced ways the values that we stand for. It is well worth taking some time at the beginning of Lent to reflect upon whether the way we live witnesses to the presence of Christ among us.

Nicholas Crowe OP


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