Monday, May 21, 2012

"History is a nightmare..."

The weather suddenly changes from midwinter to midsummer. To escape the heat, we go to the Museo de Bellas Artes in Sevilla. It is full of religious pictures. Room after room of them. It's an endless parade of suffering saints. We lose count of the number of beheaded heads of John the Baptist. Of poor mad St. Jerome about to smash his chest open with a stone. Of flagellations, stonings, crucifixions. All the Immaculate Conceptions would be a relief from it all, but because they are all about the denial of sex they are simply insipid. looked at like this, it is simply astonishing how Christian values limit the artistic imagination. The difficulty was that the conquest of Granada coincided with Columbus' journey to America; and so it all opened up a whole new period of aggressive imperialism, by sea and by land, with Sevilla as the base for the sea operation. This is where all the expeditions set off to South America; and this is where the treasure ships came in to land. So all the religious orders had their bases here: to co-ordinate the missionary expeditions out there, and grab the first share of the pickings on their return. And they all commissioned works of art. Mile after mile of them. It wasn't till the 19th century that artists at last began to be escape the clutches of the church; and not till the 1890's that we finally, after miles of suffering, saw a smiling face. It is profoundly upsetting to think of this city being the headquarters of this huge cultural attempt to export life denying misery; and then being the receiving house for the treasure in return. Most of which was squandered on useless luxury or used to pursue religious wars in Europe. Walking these endless halls is like walking through some gigantic cultural train smash. A huge cultural catastrophe. I think of the huge dead weight of life denying tradition hanging on these walls; and of the tiny, hopeful congregation of my church: working together as best we can to affirm life, in all its wonderful diversity, to learn how to love each other and work towards the creation of aa better world. And then I think of my book: The gospel according to Jesus, Queen of Heaven., To which I must now return.
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