Monday, January 10, 2022

Candle Artist Offers Unique “Theological Virtues” Design for Easter 2022

Gina Switzer, whose candle work David Clayon featured at NLM five years ago, continues to offer custom-made candles for liturgical use—Paschal candles, baptismal candles, and the like (see her website for a full listing and examples).

Her Paschal Candle design for 2022 symbolizes Faith, Hope, and Charity by means of the Peacock, the Artichoke, and the Pomegranate. The following explanation was shared with NLM by the artist.

“This year’s candle is ornate in design and more elusive in symbolism.

“The goal of this design is to draw the eye of the viewer by using a kind of sumptuous beauty to begin the questions; starting with, ‘Wait...what is this candle?’; then ‘Why peacocks?,’ etc. The peacock, artichoke, and pomegranate are ancient symbols with various meanings that are not readily apparent. I tried to create a candle that is beautiful and worthy of contemplation and of asking questions.

“The Peacock as a symbol of Faith. The peacock, stunningly beautiful in color, design, and flair is more than just a pretty animal. The ancients believed its flesh to be incorruptible because it does not rot like other flesh, but only dries out. St. Augustine attested to experimenting as such in The City of God. Early Christians baptized the peacock as a symbol of eternal life and used its image on sarcophagi and murals in the catacombs. The tail feathers of the peacock molt at the end of summer and begin to grow back around Christmas, returning in full glory and more brilliant than before around Easter. The feather cycle and the connection to eternal life makes the peacock a fitting symbol of the Resurrection. On this candle the peacocks drink from living water flowing from a font, the waters of baptism. They proclaim the theological virtue of Faith based in the Resurrection, for as Paul say in 1 Cor 15:14, ‘If Christ has not been raised, then our own preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.’

“The Artichoke as a symbol of Hope.
The artichoke is a symbol of hope because the tough, thorny leaves protect the soft, tender heart. The Christian interpretation goes back to Genesis: ‘Cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it brings forth to you’ (Gen. 3:17-18). The artichoke is a thistle. While this scripture verse truly bespeaks a terrible curse, these words should also give us hope! God could have justly punished Adam and Eve with instant physical death and damnation for their sin of disobedience. He did not. He removed them from the Garden but kept them alive as an act of His Mercy and to set the stage for our Savior, who would be born of their lineage. (Oh happy fault!) In toil we grow our food; it takes work to prepare foodstuffs to be eaten. Preparing an artichoke in particular takes perseverance and a bit of ‘hope.’ Trim the thorns. Boil the globe. Peel away each leaf. Scrape away the nascent flower. Finally, the small tender heart is revealed and the hope for a tasty morsel is revealed. In light of the Resurrection, it seems fitting to contemplate the hope of the transformation of a cursed thorny thistle into a delicacy, like our own thorny selves becoming holy through the grace of Christ’s redeeming work on the Cross. On this candle the artichoke is represented in various growth stages with the thistle flowers shooting up to meet the peacock tails as a call and response from Faith to Hope and Hope to Faith, each reaching to the other.

“The Pomegranate as a symbol of Charity.
Like the peacock, the pomegranate as a symbol has deep roots in pre-Christian and Christian traditions. The multitude of seeds readily signify fertility in older traditions. But the deep red juice allows the Catholic imagination to see the flow of blood from Christ’s side pouring forth to bring new life and fecundity in the Church. An NLM article describes the pomegranate as a symbol of Charity because ‘it gives of what it contains that is most delicious and precious: it gives itself just like Christ did in his infinite charity through the Eucharist, born in his heart—that heart which he allowed to be opened for us through the striking of the spear of the soldier during his Passion, that the divine red liquid might flow forth.’ On this candle the pomegranate is centered on a symmetrical, ornate gold cross. It is also a feature in the bands representing the Alpha and the Omega, the peacock and the artichoke because, in the end, Charity remains.”

Gina noted that priests will sometimes “preach from the Paschal candle” at Mass, at baptisms and funerals. If the candle itself is decorated with a lot of symbolism, it makes it an obvious reference point for elucidation, and of course a homily about peacocks, artichokes, and pomegranates will be a lot more memorable than a homily in the style of Garrigou-Lagrange about the theological virtues.

Regina Candles (the name of Gina's enterprise) has multiple Paschal Candle designs as well as personalized baptismal candles, to promote and build a culture that recognizes children’s baptisms as their birth into the life and love of the Trinity. She encourages people to keep the candles in a known place and to light them once a year briefly on the anniversary of baptism as a way of reminding ourselves of this immense gift and mystery.

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