Saturday, November 27, 2010

5 Questions with Bernard Fontana & Edward McCain, authors of A Gift of Angels


Which chapter was the most intriguing for you?
After the introduction, the chapters describe specific areas within the church.  Virtually all the stories of the lives of the saints (there are 64 of them represented in the church) I found to be intriguing.  But when it comes to the marriage of art with story telling, the sanctuay (Chapter 9) probably stands out.  Here we find God the Father; the story of Christ's birth from the Annunciation and Visitation to the Nativity and Adoration of the Magi; the patron of the mission (San Francisco Xavier); Christiaity's earliest martyrs (Saints Lawrence and Stephen); a quarter of Apostles; and the Immaculate Conception as Tota Pulchra -- in paintings as well as in sculptured art enhanced by lavish use of gold and silver leaf on plaster surfaces.  That's a remarkable undertaking, certainly unique in North America!

There are many stunning photos in the book, which one is your favorite?
I have two.  One is the view of the mission from the northeast (Fig. 1.1), a perspective which to my knowledge has never before appeared in print.  It's almost as if the church were cited in Morocco or elsewhere in North Africa rather than in southern Arizona.  My other favorite image is that in Fig. 1.6 which shows much of the interior of the church as the priest sees it from the sanctuary.

Why do you feel this is an important book for readers to check out?
Anyone with an interest in Christianity, in its meaning and history, and in the ways in which these have been represented visually, is likely to find this book of more than passing interest.  The art of Mission San Xavier del Bac, with its extraordinary depth and breadth, is universal Christian art.  It is incidental that this treasure left to us by New Spain is located in Arizona in the Sonoran Desert.  Its message, and its beauty, are transcendent.

What did you learn from the process of putting the book together?
Although Roman Catholicism is my religion, spending more than a decade in deciphering the religious imagery of Mission San Xavier made me realize how shallow my knowledge and understanding of the Church had been.  I found myself on a daily voyage of discovery.  The mission became almost as a university for me, one provoking curiosity and challenging my intellect.  I was reminded once again there are few aspects of life more important than learning and, thereby, growing.

What's next for you?
Given that I will be 80 years old in fewer than two months, I shudder to think!  But I am contemplating writing my memoirs about a life which for nearly 60 years has been daily divided between academia and  the reality of living within fifteen feet of an Indian reservation with neighbors whose life experiences and worldviews are very different than those with which I grew up.  Its working title: Mesquite Wine: A Memoir.







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