Sunday, March 17, 2013

Saint Elizabeth Anne Seton

Found this statue of Saint Elizabeth Anne Seton at St. Peter church, on Barclay Street by the WTC, also called the ground zero church due to its proximity to the events of 911, the closest church to the World Trade Center.
Saint Seton was the first American-born saint and was all about charity, she founded the Sisters of Charity.  Her iconography is limited. She is usually depicted in a simple bonnet and dress, obviously the proto-habit of the order she founded, and holding a rosary.  Statues are more uncommon. This is the first I’ve seen in real life (i.e. non-internet).
 This is obviously, a modern statue, with its expressionist form and lines, yet there's a neo-middle age feel, an animated, mystical form as opposed to the more accurate representation of classicism, of ancient Greek and Roman statuary.
 Also uncommon, although far from unheard of, is another individual contained in the symbolism of the statue. A man on his knees, presumably poor; Saint Seton is helping him, a gesture of charity. The saint helps up the destitute. I love the way she bends over; the suggestion of physicality is quite tangible. An actual moment is captured.
Saint Seton, an Episcopalian, was a convert to Catholicism. Also a mother of five children; it is said she started her first school to ensure her children received an education. She was also not a martyr.
Pope Paul VI canonized Seton in 1975, during the first time the United Nations declared the year of the woman. For the first century and a half of the United States, the relationship between the Vatican and the U.S. went from chilly to contentious. A motivational factor for pilgrims separating from the church of England and came to the U.S., was their belief that the Church of England had become too catholic. Down with popery was the rallying cry of nativists – who included a lot of Abolitionists – and the nativist movement was alive in the 20th century; prohibition was an anti-immigration movement, and most of those immigrants were papists. The Vatican too was always wary of a new nation and its freedom of religion, and the erosion of their sphere of influence – French, Spain, and Portugal had successful in terms of conversions throughout the New World, and Britain and the American Colonists were a counter to that influence. It’s no wonder that the Vatican was the only European government to fully recognize the Confederacy. Look at the candidacy of Al Smith for president in 1928, it would take another 30 years for John F. Kennedy to be elected – and he needed to assure the nation that he was American first. It was not until Ronald Reagan that the U.S. sent ambassadors to the Vatican.
Anyway, here some experts from the PPVI declaration of Seton’s Sainthood:
Yes, Venerable Brothers and beloved sons and daughters! Elizabeth Ann Seton is a Saint! She is the first daughter of the United States of America to be glorified with this incomparable attribute! … A Saint is a human creature fully conformed to the will of God. A Saint is a person in whom all sin-the principle of death-is cancelled out and replaced by the living splendor of divine grace…
Elizabeth Ann Seton was wholly American! Rejoice, we say to the great nation of the United States of America. Rejoice for your glorious daughter. Be proud of her. And know how to preserve her fruitful heritage. This most beautiful figure of a holy woman presents to the world and to history the affirmation of new and authentic riches that are yours: that religious spirituality which your temporal prosperity seemed to obscure…

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