April 23, 2007


At the church where I work on the weekends we recently recovered a beautiful stone statue of St. Anne and the Blessed Mother.

They are in a typical teaching and learning pose: Anne and Mary, who is perhaps eight or ten years old, are both looking at a scroll that Mary is holding. On the scroll are the Roman numerals I through VII. So the question has arisen among us: what do these numbers represent?

The first proposal was that St. Anne was teaching Mary about the Ten Commandments. But then why do the numbers only go up to seven? Well, maybe the rest are on the other side of the scroll. Seems unlikely to me.

The second suggestion was that Mary was learning about the seven deadly sins. Mary would have had to have learned about sins through "book learning," as the normal manner of learning about sin, through experience, was unavailable to her. Alas, though, there was no list of seven deadly sins when Mary was a little girl, so I think this proposal is out.

In a brilliant execution of the principle of ontological economy, one parishioner suggested that Mary was simply learning how to count to seven. Clever, but not religious enough, methinks.

My suggestion, which seems to me the most likely, is that the statue represents Mary and her mother contemplating the Seven Sorrows that the Blessed Mother will suffer in later life. I think that this is especially likely given that the statue was recovered from an Irish-American church.

Anyone who knows something about iconography want to solve this one for us?


Anonymous said...

It's the oddest thing, I was just in a hospital visiting a friend who had a baby, and there was a statue at the end of the hall of a woman with a little girl, reading a scroll. I'd never seen a statue of St. Anne and the Blessed Mother, but I presumed that it was them. I was curious to see what they were reading, but there were no numbers. The statue was not in the best of shape, there were a lot of chips in the paint so I presume the numbers have worn off. I know that 7 was an important number biblically, but I don't remember why. I'm very curious about it, though!

Anonymous said...

I agree that the seven sorrows is probably the most likely answer to the mystery.

However, as I am always willing to flee from Occam, I might speculate that the seven refer to the days of creation, which look almost in askance to Our Mother as the Vessel who will bring us the Lord: The One who will remake Creation anew on the Eighth Day.

Indeed, the Seven Sorrows themselves may refer in some sense to the days of creation which needed to be remade and infused with the good the beautiful and the true.

It was no accident that Her Conception and Birth were on the Eighth of their respective months.

Anonymous said...

Maybe Anne and Mary were discussing how many decades there should be on the rosary, five for the Dominicans or seven for the Franciscan Crown.

Since you bring to mind William of Ockham and also "seven sorrows", maybe Anne and Mary are discussing another Franciscan philosopher/theologian and his seven sorrows: Angelo Clareno's "Chronicle of the seven tribulations".

Brother Charles said...

Great insights, Anonymous. I hadn't even thought of the days of creation, though it makes sense in the new Eve, new Creation through Mary vein of things. Thanks!

And yes, Conrad is the patron of the Denver province.