Thursday, December 03, 2015

The Feast of St Francis Xavier in Rome - A Small Step in the Right Direction

In many different years, I have been able to visit the Jesuit mother church in Rome, popularly known as the Gesù (but formally “the Church of the Holy Name of Jesus”), on the feast of St Francis Xavier. The altar of the right transept is dedicated to him, and just over it is suspended a reliquary which contains his right arm, the arm by which he baptized hundreds of thousands of people during his long career as a missionary in India and the Far East. The altar has the normal number of steps, the lowest of which rests on a platform extending slightly away from it, a step above the main floor level. This platform is surrounded by a communion rail, and the space inside the rail, while not huge, can certainly accommodate a decent number of concelebrants, or even a solemn Mass in the rite for which it was built. Nevertheless, every time I have been there on the feast day, a table was set up outside the rail, on the same level as the main floor, and the Masses of St Francis celebrated on the table. That is, until this year, when there was no table, and I saw part of a Mass, OF in Spanish, celebrated versus Deum at the principal altar. Just a small step, but one in the right direction.

The altar, designed by Pietro da Cortona, contains the painting of “The Death of St Francis Xavier” by Carlo Maratta, and the reliquary of his arm (closer view below).

The Trinity Crowning St Francis Xavier, by Giovanni Andrea Carlone. The saint is not represented in the fresco itself, but in the stucco relief below it set on top of the altar piece. (In the next photograph.) The representation of the death scene below, the Saint rising into Heaven in the middle, and the glory of Heaven above, also reinforces the idea of the Saint as a mediator between us and God, an important theme of the Counter-Reformation period which this church exemplifies. Various miracles of the St Francis are represented on either side of the window, and to the left and right of the Trinity.
St Francis Xavier Assumed into Glory in Heaven 

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