As you know, dear reader, from time to time I draw to your attention events which I believe are not only worthy of your notice but also of your support. This morning is just such an occasion, for I am hoping you will join me in supporting the work of the Dominican friars at the First Annual Dominican Pontifical Faculty Spring Gala on March 26th. Yes, I recognize that these are difficult economic times for many, and yes, there are many political campaigns and charitable causes asking for your financial support. And still I am here to challenge you to consider attending this event, or giving some support even if you cannot attend.
The laity, and particularly those of us who are now incoming-earning adults in our 20’s and 30’s, need to resume the mantle of responsibility that was shirked by many in the generation before us, which led to the decline and even closure of many monasteries, convents, and religious houses. As the Conte di Castiglione, the inspiration for this blog, would not doubt agree, if one is to consider oneself a true courtier one must make an effort to support the work of the religious orders when the opportunity arises, particularly because they do not have the fallback of a diocese, as our parish churches do. The monastic houses of Europe great and small were able to both preserve and build upon Western Civilization, while praying for the salvation of souls, because ladies and gentlemen down the centuries recognized the importance of supporting that work. Now, gentle reader, it is your opportunity to join that illustrious company.
Last evening I had the distinct privilege of being invited to attend Vespers and to dine with the friars of the Priory of the Immaculate Conception, at the Dominican House of Studies here in Washington, D.C. Readers may be aware that the nickname for the Dominican Order is “The Dogs of the Lord”, which is a bit of a pun on their Latin name, “Domini” or “Lord” and “canes” or “dogs”. It is said that Blessed Juana de Aza, St. Dominic’s mother, had a vision of a dog carrying a torch in its mouth that illuminated the world, and this has become of the traditional iconographic symbols for the founder of the Order.
Dominating the refectory is a large painting showing the Crucified Christ surrounded by Dominican saints, blesseds, and others, by Sister Mary of the Compassion, who was born Constance Rowe in London in 1908. She studied at the Royal College of Art as well as in Rome; she later traveled to the United States and entered the Dominican Order in 1937. There is a fascinating blog post about her by Father Gabriel Gillen, O.P., which I highly recommend to my readers, even if you are not Catholic or particularly interested in the Order of Preachers, as Sister Mary was quite an interesting woman.
The painting itself possesses a subtle, pale slate tonality, better in person than any reproduction I have been able to locate online. There is a distinct art moderne quality to it, combined with what was clearly Sister Mary’s interest in Flemish painting of the High Gothic, particularly her handling of the otherwise plain white drapery of the kneeling figures. It is a powerful, seemingly very modern, graphic image, almost monochromatic, and yet it also reminds us of the Cinquecento nearly-monochromatic work of Blessed Fra Angelico – another great Dominican painter – at the Friary of San Marco in Florence.
So how can you get the chance to look at this very interesting painting? Well, of course one could arrange a tour of the Priory, but I suspect that if you were to attend the upcoming Spring Gala, dear reader, that one of the friars would be more than happy to show it to you, including some of its very unusual details which are not evident at first glance – such as the differing types of nimbus or halo, the identity of some of those represented, and the two curious figures standing off to our right. Or perhaps you will give me the opportunity to point out these things to you myself when we run into each other there? In addition to cocktail hour nibbles and drinks, we will be able to participate in a silent auction for a number of items – including religious art, tickets to local cultural events, and even a private docent tour of the National Gallery – and conclude our visit with Compline in the beautiful main chapel of the Priory.
For more information, please visit the associated web page, and do feel free to contact the event coordinator Miss Margaret Perry, of Ten Thousand Places and Little Lamb Books fame, at the email address listed for the event. I assure you that Miss Perry will be very glad to hear from you and answer whatever questions you may have. If you would prefer further clarification from me, do feel free to contact me at theblogofthecourtier at gmail, and I will be happy to try to find out what you need to know about the gala. I hope to see you at there!
by Sr. Mary of the Compassion, O.P. (c. 1950)
Priory of the Immaculate Conception, Washington DC