Catholicism: Art & Opulence. The Divine & The Division

Back in the summer, I remember looking at the images of the Met Gala, whose theme was in relation to Catholicism and its influence on fashion: Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination and thinking wow… the church is really trying to get out of its comfort zone. Trying to open up some part of a religion that for the most part has remained, and likely will always remain, closed in an increasingly open world. With the exhibition at an end, it was the most visited exhibition in the history of the Met. Therefore, it is safe to say that people are fascinated by the religion. Some criticized the Catholic Church for engaging in such a spectacle, reducing our religion to hashtags and flashbulbs, and leaving it at the mercy of an industry not necessarily known for its respect of tradition or culture. Salvation is personal, religious beliefs are private and traditions sacred, hence the outrage must’ve been expected and understood.

I was one of those impressed with the Church’s decision to, as it were, step into the light of this modern and unconventional world it must navigate to remain relevant. Parts of it at least. The Vatican approved exhibition drew references from symbols and traditions of the Catholic Church; Mass to communion rites, confession, The Vatican, The Sistine Chapel, religious deities and subjects. Exploring fashion’s relationship with the Catholicism, the intersection of art, fashion and religion. It was interesting to see the different interpretation of the Catholic Church on the red carpet; Zendaya came dressed as Joan of Arc, the warrior saint credited for the victory of The Hundred Years War that liberated France from English rule. The Chalice of wine was depicted by the likes of Kerry Washington in Ralph Lauren- wine we drink along with bread as symbols of Christ’s body and blood; The Last Supper. Taylor Hill in DVF dressed as a Cardinal- upon the death (or retirement as we’ve seen in recent history), of a Pope, the College of Cardinals elects the next pope during sede vacante; the time of the empty throne. The ceiling of the Sistine chapel was imposed on Ariana Grande’s gown by Vera Wang- the Chapel is where the College of Cardinals sit in conclave to vote on the next Pope. There were other more literal religious references- Lana Del Rey who came as Our Lady of Sorrows; which depicts the seven sorrows suffered by Mary, the Mother of Jesus. SJP came dressed as an entire chapel, topped with a nativity crown; her look was reminiscent of one of the chapels in the Church of Sao Roque in Lisbon, one of the earliest Jesuit churches, most decorative and arguably the world’s most expensive chapel. As cohost of the gala, Rihanna came dressed as the Pope in a custom Martin Margela, by way of John Galliano…it was a fete to say the least and for a little while the Church reveled in the spotlight.

But that was the summer, the pride felt has since ebbed into shame and anger as we transition into fall. Another story of abuse hits the Catholic Church and along with it a revelation of a web of cover ups and deceit that has only enabled this behaviour. Sometimes as Catholics, there is an innate fear of looking within, addressing these issues that plague our religion. Sunday liturgy expands on the word of God from the bible, but hardly touches on the dark side of the religion at the hands of men, issues that affect us as a community seeking the grace of God through faith. Those conversations are difficult, but ought to be had. Religion is a construct to help believers navigate daily life, a source of hope and a cause of conflict. Its history is both problematic and debatable, but truth is its cornerstone; without addressing these issues we do a disservice to our faith. Whilst the involvement of the Catholic Church with the gala was progressive, it is still very much steeped in a tradition of secrecy that allows a sordid past to fester. Therefore, it is important that people maintain the same energy for this aspect of the Church as they did for the outrage following the met gala.

That narrative centred around a particular argument about appropriating the tenets of religion for entertainment. Now, there are many things we can say about the Catholic Church, a lot has been said, but what we cannot, simply must not do, is forget about the origins of the Catholic Church. Don’t throw stones, I’m a devout Catholic, and a critical thinking realist especially when it concerns my religion. So… appropriation. 25th of December was the Pagan festival of the risen sun but today it is Christmas- birth of the Son. The books of the Bible are said to have been chosen by the Nicea Council, led by Constantine, a pagan emperor who was only baptized before his death. Paganism is the worship of the sacred feminine and different male religious deities until the arrival of Jesus whose origin as man and one part of the trinity is still being debated by some today.  Whatever you believe, Christianity and its sacred codices, has its roots in Paganism and contrary to popular beliefs once held, Paganism is not the worship of darkness. If we are to take this one step further we would talk about the sacred feminine; the truth about Mary Magdalene; whether or not she was the intended disciple of Christ on earth and not Peter. That’s a topic for another day or not.

I say all this to say, if there is any argument for appropriation to be made in this instance, Catholicism would bear the brunt of it.

Religion is a force for good in society- no religion preaches hatred; FACT. Despite its complicated history, good, bad and ugly, The Catholic Church, is a source of goodness, charity, missionaries in far flung places of the world, priests who forego their life’s comfort to help some of the poorest societies… but for all its good and fashionable progression, this dark element still shrouds the light. It is against the essence of our religion. The Church may have gone out of its comfort zone for the Met Ball, but the behaviours of men sworn to uphold its traditions and lessons, fails to protect those for whom Christ sacrificed himself. It ridicules our religion, and does little for faith.

Our Lady of Sorrows Source here