“Visionaries, Angels, and Blue-Chip Saints”, Gambit Weekly



by Eric Bookhardt


Visionaries, Angels and Blue-Chip Saints

Visions are tricky things. Timing is all-important, it seems. For instance, no one had visions in the 1950s; it just wasn’t done. But by the late 1960s, people were having visions all over the place. By 1980, visions were passe (unless it was to envision a bigger cash flow). Then the. 1960s and the 1980s came together in the 1990s, in bestsellers like The Celestine Prophecy and other literary vision quests for yuppie couch potatoes.

Still, visions can be dangerous — at least, if your timing is off. Even though the folks in the Bible had visions all the time, it became very dangerous to have visions in later centuries. By then, visions indicated witchcraft or treachery — unless you could pass muster as a genuine, certified saint. Most flunked, or died in the process, but those who passed were true, blue-chip saints.

Like St. Agatha, a noble Sicilian virgin traditionally seen holding her breasts on a plate. It seems that she had spurned the advances of a Roman governor who, in a fit of pique, ordered her breasts cut off. But, through the intercession of St. Peter, who applied a “celestial ointment” to them when he appeared in her jail cell, they were soon restored. The miracle of St. Agatha is celebrated in some otherworldly sculpture by Ersy Schwartz.

Although the artist is probably not a saint, her sculptural creations are distinctly visionary in scope. An Orleanian who has lived in New York for some time, Ersy displays a talent for the surreal along with her native Catholic penchant for miracles. Her St. Agatha is like a cross between a reliquary chamber and a doll house, with large casement windows through which a pair of cast plaster breasts can he seen. They rest on a checked tile floor below a very full mane of reddish human hair hanging from the ceiling. Atop the tall, narrow structure is a metal case containing some really nasty-looking antique metal pincers.

It all looks real, yet hallucinatory — like a set for an opera by Anne Rice. Similar strategies prevail in her tributes to St. Roch, St. Leger and St. James, as well as in The Feast of the Assumption, commemorating the bodily assumption into heaven of the Virgin Mary”s mortal remains (as confirmed by the Pope in 1954).