Friday, October 27, 2006

Woodcarver at work

One thing I did not expect about having a fairly prominent website about rosary history is that I now get occasional requests by e-mail -- usually to help identify or date someone's old rosary, though most of the people who ask have rosaries from sometime in the 19th or 20th century, when I can't be of much help.

Once in a while I get something different. Last spring I got an inquiry from Dennis Collier, an artist who had been commissioned to carve a rosary from olive wood: himself a practicing Buddhist, he had no idea what a Catholic rosary should look like, how many beads it should have, or where to start. I sent him some basic information, for which he was very grateful.

Checking back recently, he's finished the project, and now has it up on his website. There is a wonderfully carved crucifix backed with a medallion, a rosary of fairly large plain beads, and a rosary case for the whole thing, made from a section of the trunk of the olive tree.

Copyright 2006 Dennis O. Collier

I hadn't heard a lot of details when he first asked, so I was interested to hear more about where the commission had come from and what he had been asked to do.

The initial request came from Katie Burchfield, a woman from Georgia who has reported visions of Christ and the Virgin Mary, and who feels she has been directed to present a rosary portraying her vision to Pope Benedict XVI. It's an interesting story: she was originally a Southern Baptist before her visions began, but has now converted to Catholicism, and a number of Catholic sources have been very interested in her experiences.

As Dennis Collier explains, her central vision has been of Jesus as the "bridegroom." The image she requested includes a crowned, risen Christ, astride a globe, with a sash emblazoned with the motto IHS and a star of David, and robes with the alpha and omega symbols on each sleeve. Dennis has done a lovely job of translating this into wood.

Copyright 2006 Dennis O. Collier Copyright 2006 Dennis O. Collier

As with the overwhelming majority of modern reports of visions and miracles, official Catholic sources are politely silent on whether Katie's visions are considered "true" experiences of the supernatural. Many people over the centuries have reported such experiences, and modern society doesn't really have a conceptual framework into which such things easily fit. My own interest in this case is because I see it as a living example of a common phenomenon in the history of religion: one person's experience, being translated into a new image of devotion. Certainly such things now receive far wider public exposure than in the days before mass media and the Internet, but I don't think the phenomenon itself has changed much.