Tuesday, February 28, 2017
Maria P. Meneses - Maria Meneses
MIAMI SHORES | The cross measures 8 feet high by 7.5 feet wide and weighs 200 pounds. It was designed by a Dominican friar and crafted in wood by a local artist. And it now hangs in the newly refurbished Cor Jesu Chapel at Barry University.
Appropriately so, for its designer, Dominican Father Cristóbal Torres Iglesias, meant it as “a visual allegory of the founding of Barry College” — the school’s original name — “by a community of women preachers.”
Fittingly as well, the icon cross was installed in the chapel last November, punctuating the conclusion of the university’s 75th anniversary year, and coinciding with the annual remembrance of its four founders: Dominican Mother Gerald Barry, then prioress of the Adrian Dominican congregation; her brothers Bishop Patrick Barry, then bishop of St. Augustine, and Msgr. William Barry, then pastor of St. Patrick on Miami Beach; and Miami Shores’ then mayor, John Thompson.
Father Torres, born in New York and raised in Florida and New Jersey, is a talented artist and powerhouse preacher, already much sought after despite being ordained only two years ago. In his work, he explores the fusion of image and narrative in comics and sacred art. His influences include Eastern Christian iconography, Latin American popular religious art, graphic novels and sequential storytelling.
The icon cross is the final piece of the Cor Jesu Chapel renovation that started a year ago, and was completed last summer. Father Torres painted the original design in digital media, and then commissioned a local artist, Michael Javaharian, to build it and paint the design on it to scale.
Javaharian built the 200-pound structure, then fastened to it a canvas on which he had replicated the priest’s painting. The cross has gold leaf on the sides and back, and is carefully positioned to look as if it’s suspended in midair. Centered over the altar and just above the glass reredos, at a distance it seems to hang just below the baldacchino above the chapel’s altar.
Father Torres describes the image this way: “The scene depicts a still living Jesus, flanked by four Dominican women of various historical periods standing and interacting with one another at the foot of the cross. To the left of Jesus are Venerable Teresa Chicaba and St. Rose of Lima. Teresa holds an unfurled scroll with the biblical verse, ‘Wisdom has built her house’ (Proverbs 9:1), which identifies Jesus as God’s Wisdom Incarnate who has built her house, the Church.”
The fact that wisdom takes on female characteristics alludes to Barry’s foundation as a college for women, and itself a “house of wisdom.”
The priest continued: “To Teresa’s right, Rose gazes contemplatively into the face of Jesus until her eyes, face and hair come to mirror his own, even as her hands lie cruciform over her heart. This is a loving exchange. This loving exchange of gazes and the transformation it brings is the foundation of all fruitful preaching and apostolic action.”
To the right of Jesus are Mother Barry, one of Barry’s founders and its first president, who is depicted as closely studying the mystery of the cross and how it is reflected in what is happening around her, while she fingers her habit’s rosary beads. She also holds a scroll containing her correspondence with her brothers.
“She analyzes the ministerial needs of her day, prays continually as she does so, and brings all of this to her ongoing dialogue with her two brothers and her Dominican sisters,” Father Torres explained. “To her right, St. Catherine of Siena leans in and whispers in her ear, urging her to act. With the exception of Mother Barry, all the women raise one of their hands as a sign of their participation in the act of preaching.”
They say “beauty is in eyes of the beholder.” In this case, a magnificent piece of art invites the beholder to enter into Cor Jesu Chapel’s sacred space and contemplate, listen to, and gaze upon the beauty of the cross — a cross that holds such meaning for the world in general, and for the alumni, students and faculty of Barry University in particular.