|Beatrice summons Virgil. Engraving by Gustave Doré.|
Peter Paul Rubens – ‘The Intercession of the Virgin and St Francis Averting Divine Wrath’
Royal Museums of Fine Arts, Brussels, 1630s.
When Rubens painted this altarpiece in the 1630s, it would have seemed a very powerful and consoling image, for at that time Europe was in turmoil. Less than half a century earlier, Germany and the Low Countries had witnessed the violence and destruction of Calvinist iconoclasts, who vandalized churches, monasteries and cathedrals and drove Catholics out of their homes and cities. Rubens himself was born in a small town in Germany, to which his parents had fled following the riots that raged through their native city of Antwerp.
|A print showing the destruction in the Church of Our Lady in Antwerp - this was one of the central events of the Bildersturm, or 'statue storm' of iconoclastic fury that swept Germany and the Low Countries in the 16th century.|
And at the time this painting was completed, the whole of Europe was engulfed in one of the most prolonged and destructive conflicts in history – the Thirty Years’ War. From 1618-48, famine and disease raged through the nations of Europe, and entire regions were destroyed in the fighting. Lawlessness abounded. Mercenaries looted towns and villages, setting fire to everything they could not steal.
The message of the painting – that Our Lady and St Francis can avert God’s wrath – would have been compelling to the worshippers at the Franciscan church in Ghent. It encouraged them in their fears and troubles to turn to Our Lady and St Francis in prayer. They could see clearly from this large, powerful image, the influence St Francis had in Heaven.
The intercession of saints is just as compelling to Catholics today, as we watch what is happening in the world. When we place our worries, fears, difficulties, needs and struggles into the hands of our favourite saints, and of Our Lady, we are confident that our prayers will directly reach Heaven. And we know, because Our Lady of Fatima has told us, that if we offer up daily prayer, sacrifices and penance in reparation for the sins by which God is so much offended, we can and will change the world.