Thursday, July 02, 2009

Back to Guadalupe - Miraculous Preservation?

Mr. Bellisario has started a new podcast, the "Catholic Champion Podcast" (link to episode 1). In this podcast he complains about a lot of things. He complains about me calling his idol "an idol." He complains about me calling the worship of the idol "worship." He complains about me "mocking" his idol and idolatry. His biggest complaint, though, seems to be that I pointed out how minor and honest the mistake was. He doesn't like my suggestion that he deal with the main issues. So be it.

Let's get back to a more significant issue: the superstition surrounding this idol. This superstition demonstrates the fact that the image allegedly of Mary is an idol. One example of the gross superstition surrounding this idol is seen in the following paragraph from an apparently popular website devoted to "Our Lady of Guadalupe":
After complying to the Bishop's request for a sign, She also left for us an image of herself imprinted miraculously on the native's tilma, a poor quality cactus-cloth, which should have deteriorated in 20 years but shows no sign of decay 477 years later and still defies all scientific explanations of its origin.
(source)

If you look at the image provided on that web site, you might be impressed by the apparent high quality of the preservation (link to image). It looks great. The problem is, that's not the actual image. The actual image has undergone deterioration over the years.

Here (at this link) is an attested faithful reproduction of the image (although one should note that the horizontal mid-line of the reproduction does not appear to have any correspondence in the original). As you can see from the reproduction, there is some real loss of quality in the image. First, there is the most noticeable deterioration along the center of the image. This is due to the fact that the image was painted on a medium made up of two parts, joined along that center line. That's a very natural place for the image to undergo deterioration and damage, just as the edges would be if the image were painted to the edges.

Next, two significant horizontal lines are visible passing just under Mary's hands, and then a second symmetrical pair of lines running approximately through where her knees would be. Given the symmetrical nature of the damage, one is inclined to attribute this to damage from folding the image at some point in the past.

Further, in the upper right corner there is a large stain that appears to be some kind of water damage. A more severe stain appears in the extreme bottom right of the image.

Moving from the blank space of the image inward, consider the outer edge of the corona that surrounds Mary, just beyond the rays that extend from her. The quality of this corona seems to be seriously degraded, particularly at the points where the horizontal fold lines pass through it, but also at other points along the edge of this ring.

Moving inward again, and considering the rays, we see that there is serious loss of paint in many of the rays. This is more pronounced on the right side of the image, although the the sixth ray above the mid-line of the image on the left side appears to have lost paint along about 60% of its length.

We similar asymmetrical loss of paint in the crescent moon under Mary's feet. The right hand side of the moon is slightly more deteriorated.

Moving still further inward, consider Mary's cloak. This cloak originally was covered with stars. These stars appear to have either oxidized or faded in an uneven way such that some of them are quite dark whereas others appear to have a brighter appearance.

Hopefully the above serve to illustrate the general point. Now, of course, some of those problems identified above may only be germane to the reproduction, so it is worthwhile pointing out another reproduction (link). This reproduction shows less deterioration, but some of the same major elements, including the stain in the upper right (less pronounced), the vertical line through the painting center, the horizontal lines (less pronounced), and the loss of paint in the rays and moon. The corona looks much better in this reproduction, but there is still deterioration visible.

High quality photos of the original at the present time seem to be hard to find. Many are from a bad angle (example) or seem to have some focus issues (example) or exposure issues (example). Still, these photographs confirm that the main areas of deterioration identified above are in the painting that is being displayed as the image of "Our Lady of Guadalupe."

So, what is left of the claim of miraculous preservation? Well, someone might claim that this is pretty good preservation for a nearly 500 year old painting, especially considering what it has seen over the years (allegedly, a bomb was exploded nearby the image on November 14, 1921. However, since 1993, the image joined the pope in being protected by bullet-proof glass, presumably out of a concern for the idol's safety just as the pope's safety became a concern). Nevertheless, the plain fact is that while there is still a visible image, it has deteriorated over the years. The claims to the contrary are just superstition - superstition that is contradicted by the photographic evidence.

-TurretinFan

UPDATE: Let me anticipate a quibble. The quibble is that the paint may have decayed, but the medium on which it is painted has not. It should be obvious that the superstition is about the image as a whole, but in case the quotation above wasn't clear enough:

"The colors have not faded and the cloth has not deteriorated." (source)

"The tilma remains just as vibrant as ever, having never faded." (source)

"The image of Mary emblazoned on Juan Diego's tilma has not faded in nearly five hundred years, nor has the fragile ayate fabric deteriorated ... ." (source)

"There were no signs of cracking or fading on the original image." (claiming as well that "The face, robe, and mantle of the Virgin are declared inexplicable by science. The sunburst, tassels, cuff, moon, gold border of the mantle, stars, and brooch were touched up with paint by Fray Miguel Sanchez trying to enhance the image. Those overlays are showing significant cracking while the original is in perfect condition.") (source)

"It is remarkable that after more than four centuries there is no fading or cracking of the original figure on any portion of the agave tilma, which—being unsized—should have deteriorated centuries ago." (makes similar, though more nuanced, claim regarding human additions to the image) (source)

10 comments:

Alex said...

It should be noted, as I said I do not remember that much about the image, but what I do remember is that the stars and "rays" were not part of the original, but were added on later.

Lockheed said...

What is with the whole 'preservation' phenomenon anyway? Does God care so much for a painting, idol, or dead body that he won't allow time to take its course upon it? What possible Bibilical (realizing that isn't necessary for RC beliefs) support can they provide for this? Surely they do not appeal to "my holy one will not see decay"?

This seems yet one more superstitious belief that Roman Catholics cling to, it surprises me that someone of Bellisario's status would even give this lip service much less appeal to it in some apologetic fashion.

I recently read a fascinating non-fiction account of the exhumation and examination of BJiles Perry Richardson, Jr.'s (aka the Big Bopper) body. While the Bopper had only been dead about 50 years, the forensic pathologist was suprised (and dismayed) at the lack of decay. Nor is this a spurious case, depending on the methods of preservation both bodies and artwork can last for many years.

Surely these types of preservations or the recent discovery of beautiful Roman fresco and other artwork, seemingly as beautiful as the day they were painted, are not some evidence that God some how favors these objects as well.

Finally, I am reminded of the 32' bronze statue of Mary in Santa Clara, CA outside "Our Lady of Peace" Roman Catholic Church. There are often throngs of people surrounding it, bowing before it and praying to it... how is this not idol worship?

Turretinfan said...

Lockheed, speaking of the opposite example, there was a lot of unhappiness when it turned out that there were no identifiable mortal remains of Newman left in his coffin.

Turretinfan said...

"It should be noted, as I said I do not remember that much about the image, but what I do remember is that the stars and "rays" were not part of the original, but were added on later."

Yes, that's what one or two of the websites at my anticipatory update noted. Nevertheless, the same horizontal and vertical line issues are there with respect to the main body of the image.

-TurretinFan

Alex said...

Lockheed: What possible Bibilical (realizing that isn't necessary for RC beliefs) support can they provide for this?

Me: Can you show me where the Bible says that there needs to be support. Just wondering, not saying that there is or isn't.

Alex said...

Lockheed: I recently read a fascinating non-fiction account of the exhumation and examination of BJiles Perry Richardson, Jr.'s (aka the Big Bopper) body. While the Bopper had only been dead about 50 years, the forensic pathologist was suprised (and dismayed) at the lack of decay. Nor is this a spurious case, depending on the methods of preservation both bodies and artwork can last for many years.

Me: Interesting point.

Alex said...

"Finally, I am reminded of the 32' bronze statue of Mary in Santa Clara, CA outside "Our Lady of Peace" Roman Catholic Church. There are often throngs of people surrounding it, bowing before it and praying to it... how is this not idol worship?"

Intention for starters. Maybe some people are worshiping the statue.

Alex said...

"Nevertheless, the same horizontal and vertical line issues are there with respect to the main body of the image."

I'm not familiar with that, and can therefore not comment on it. Are you sure that the lines are not just in the copy?

Turretinfan said...

"'m not familiar with that, and can therefore not comment on it. Are you sure that the lines are not just in the copy?"

Pretty sure.

natamllc said...

Lockheed,

first, none; second, maybe He does and if He did, it wouldn't be any of our business seeing God does private things for public reasons too; third, none; and finally, they can make any appeal they want to make. God is and He remains Himself any way they or we are before Him as Isaiah elucidates here:

Isa 46:1 Bel bows down; Nebo stoops; their idols are on beasts and livestock; these things you carry are borne as burdens on weary beasts.
Isa 46:2 They stoop; they bow down together; they cannot save the burden, but themselves go into captivity.
Isa 46:3 "Listen to me, O house of Jacob, all the remnant of the house of Israel, who have been borne by me from before your birth, carried from the womb;
Isa 46:4 even to your old age I am he, and to gray hairs I will carry you. I have made, and I will bear; I will carry and will save.
Isa 46:5 "To whom will you liken me and make me equal, and compare me, that we may be alike?
Isa 46:6 Those who lavish gold from the purse, and weigh out silver in the scales, hire a goldsmith, and he makes it into a god; then they fall down and worship!
Isa 46:7 They lift it to their shoulders, they carry it, they set it in its place, and it stands there; it cannot move from its place. If one cries to it, it does not answer or save him from his trouble.