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March 15, 2009

Do yourself a favor this Lent and check out this book

By Dolores Madlener


“Facing the Apostle: Paul’s Image in Art,” by Armanda Santos, FSP, Pauline Books & Media, $16.95

The closest I’ve come to being knowledgeable in art is a humanities course and watching Sister Wendy on PBS in the 1990s. Yet, “Facing the Apostle: Paul’s Image in Art” has thrilled me.

Daughter of St. Paul Sister Armanda Santos is an expert, and she adds a passion for the personality of Paul to these 128 pages.

Santos uses 13 dramatic color images of St. Paul to anchor his story in 13 chapters. Each one is tidy enough to savor as a meditation after the kids go to school, or while riding the Metra or CTA to work.

While this art work may immortalize the Apostle to the Gentiles, her text humanizes him and looks inside the mind of each artist, as they must have “faced” the saint.

Whether an oil painting, fresco or mosaic, we learn a different aspect of this zealot ambushed by Christ on the Road to Damascus, who falls in love with the Light and follows it to martyrdom.

Caravaggio and his stallion are here, but so is a work painted in 1947 by an unknown artist. Eugenio Roccali was one of a hundred Italian prisoners of war during the 1940s in Staten Island, N.Y, befriended by the Daughters of St. Paul. Each Sunday the men could attend Mass and stay for a spaghetti dinner cooked by the sisters. After the war, Roccali painted “St. Paul in Chains” and presented it to the Pauline community in gratitude for those special Sundays.

Santos also includes the haunting wooden sculpture “Head of St. Paul,” by Juan Alonso Villabrille y Ron. Among the best works in 17th-century Spanish baroque art, she envisions its realism as “a snapshot taken at the very moment of the Apostle’s martyrdom.”

Along with sacred culture and the hagiography of Paul, Santos closes each chapter with a simple free verse prayer, composed by her sibling, Sister Germana Santos.

It’s Lent and the Year of St. Paul. Do yourself a favor.