As you know, on my recent trip to Prague, I spent quite some time in the church of Our Lady Victorious where the celebrated statue of the Infant of Prague has its home. I attended Mass, prayed before the statue, in particular for families, for people in need and all who asked me to pray for them, and then took some photos. I reported on the church and statue in my column of Wednesday, August 8.
Today I want to tell the story of the Order of Carmelites, with a focus on the gold and copper statues of their founders that you will see in my photos. As I took each picture, I also took a photo of the church’ description of each statue that was on the altar railing – who the statue was, a quote from that person and a fact about them.
I was doing all this minutes before 7 pm when the church closes. I had no time to get the history of the statues and so I wrote to the Carmelites at Our Lady Victorious and they responded yesterday. Thus, accompanying my photo of each statue is what they sent me, in addition to a piece called “Gold and Copper” by the sculptor in charge of restoring the statues that will soon be returned to their place on the main altar. As you will see in this photo, that altar currently has canvas over it. This latter piece was in Czech and I used Google translation, tweaking the grammar just a bit in one or two places.
A SHORT HISTORY OF THE ORDER OF CARMELITES
The Order of Carmelites has its origins on Mount Carmel in Palestine where, as we read in the II Book of Kings, the great prophet Elijah defended the true faith in the God of Israel, when he won the challenge against the priests of Baal. It was also on Mount Carmel that the same prophet, praying in solitude, saw the small cloud that brought life-giving rain after the long drought. From time immemorial, this mountain has been considered the lush garden of Palestine and symbol of fertility and beauty. Indeed, “Karmel” means “garden.”
In the 12th century (perhaps after the third crusade, 1189-1191), some penitents-pilgrims who had come from Europe, came together near the “spring of Elijah,” in one of the narrow valleys of Mount Carmel, to live out their Christianity as hermits after the example of the prophet Elijah in the very land of our Lord Jesus Christ. Then and in later times, the Carmelites did not acknowledge anyone in particular as their founder, but remained faithful followers of Elijah who was associated with Mount Carmel through biblical events and through Greek and Latin patristic tradition which saw in the prophet one of the founders of the monastic life.
In the middle of the cells they built a chapel that they dedicated to Mary, Mother of Jesus, thus developing a sense of belonging to Our Lady as Mistress of the place and as Patroness, and they became known by her name as “Brothers of Saint Mary of Mount Carmel.” Thus Carmel is deeply associated with Elijah and Mary.
In the 15th-16th centuries there was some relaxation of discipline in various communities, a fact greatly opposed by Priors General such as Blessed John Soreth (+1471), Nicholas Audet (+1562) and John Baptist Rossi (+1578), and by some reforms (among others those of Mantua and Monte Oliveti in Italy and of Albi in France) to put a stop to the spread of the abuses and the mitigations.
The most famous reform is certainly the one started in Spain by St. Teresa of Jesus for the reform of the nuns and then, helped by St. John of the Cross and Fr. Girolamo Gracian, for the reform of the friars. The most relevant aspect of this reform of Teresa is not so much that she opposed the mitigations introduced in the life of Carmel, but rather her ability to integrate in her project, vital and ecclesial elements of her time.
In 1592 this reform, called that of the “Discalced Carmelites” or of the “Teresians,” became independent from the Carmelite Order and grew rapidly in the congregations of Spain and Italy that were then united in 1875. Thus there are two Orders of Carmelites: “The Carmelites,” also known as of the “Ancient Observance” or “Calced,” and “The Discalced Carmelites” or “Teresians” who consider St. Teresa of Jesus their reformer and foundress.
(Source: Official webpage of Carmelites: http://ocarm.org/en/content/ocarm/brief-history-carmelites
OUR LADY VICTORIOUS: STATUES OF CARMELITE FOUNDERS IN COPPER AND GOLD
The statues of the founders of the Discalced Carmelite Order were restored into the original form, which combines gold and copper, in 2017. After the next phase of the restoration will have been finished, they will return to their posts on the main altar.
Currently, the four statues are on a side altar:
The restoration of the main altar is supported by the City of Prague.
ELIJAH: “The LORD Almighty lives, in whose presence I stand.“
“My God is Yahweh” in Hebrew. Prophet of the Old-Testament who has been zealous for the Lord on Mount Carmel. Spiritual father of the Carmelite Order.
ELISHA “Where is the LORD, the God of Elijah?”
“My God is salvation” in Hebrew. Prophet of the Old Testament, pupil of Elijah, on whom his spirit rests.
TERESA OF JESUS: “”Nothing disturbs you, nothing frightens you, everything passes, God does not move. Patience reaches everything, who has God, nothing lacks. God alone is sufficient.”
(1515-1582) Reformer of the Carmelite Order of Avila, Spain. Founder of 16 female monasteries and 2 male convents of the Discalced Carmelites. Author of numerous spiritual texts and Doctor of the Church.
JOHN OF THE CROSS: “When you notice something, you stop throwing yourself at everything.”
(1542 – 1591) Discalced Carmelite, contemporary and collaborator of Teresa de Jesús, first brother of the reformed Carmel. Poet, mystic and Doctor of the Church.
GOLD AND COPPER
By Dr. Petr Kuthan, academician. Sculptor, restorer
Restoration of the main altar into a polychromic form from the time of its construction.
“A few years ago, when I was restoring the interior of this temple (…), I was invited by the monastery as an expert to solve the overall concept and intent of restoring its space, especially all altars.
“Restoration is a very demanding process in which the preservation of the work itself, especially its essence, is sought and the path to the original presentation is sought, knowing what a landmark it was at the time of its creation. All movable monuments in the area of this temple have undergone many changes since its location in the 17th century, especially in the polychromes hues in the sculptural decoration of individual altars.
“The restoration process and the search for the right path were always preceded by extensive discussions with the representatives of the monumental institute, and all the restoration surveys that were the basis for the initial position were analyzed in great detail.
“The sculptural decoration of the altars, the figures of the saints and the angels, and later re-paintings, especially on the polychrome layers of incarnations, were captured. In many places, a new gilt layer was applied to the new underlying chalk layers. This chalk layer was very strong and therefore completely degraded the original bravur expressive carving and at the same time overlaid the fragmentary original layer on which the copper foil was laid. Here it was decided that the gilding, probably from the 19th century, should be removed and refurbished using that copper foil.
“As it is already evident, after the restoration of several previous stages, the restoration plan was chosen very well, authenticity is very positive in the church space.”