THE HANDS CONTAIN THE VIRGIN
BRISAS - Ultima Hora y Baleares Magazine
No. 428, July 2, 1995
The creation of a very special image of the Immaculate, by Italian sculptor Guido Dettoni della Grazia, who lives between Majorca and Barcelona, inspired his friend Miquel Ambròs i Albertí, a priest and writer, to write the present article.
THE HANDS CONTAIN THE VIRGIN
I closed the cell window with some reluctance. I didn’t really know what was wrong with me, only that a feeling of insecurity bothered me. Furthermore, I had not even gone to bed, because I was too nervous. A few moments earlier I had said goodbye to Guido Dettoni, who had come to Montserrat with Abel Bartolomé, driving a borrowed car despite not having a driver’s license. My friend was as irresponsible as all 18-year-olds. That’s why I was running around in my cell, as restless as a child after a misdeed. I knew something had happened, and I wasn’t wrong.
It must have been after ten o’clock (an inopportune hour for monks who retire very early), when the phone rang. Guido’s voice sounded on the other end, strange, very strange. “How did he get home so fast?”, I thought. My heart was racing. Guido had not arrived home, no; he was in the Monastery Square. He asked me to open, for him and for Abel. “This is serious,” I muttered to myself.
I opened the monastery door for them, and their appearance revealed everything: they were shivering, and it was not cold. They then told me that Guido had lost control of the car and had almost fallen off the rocks of the Montserrat massif. I did all I could to reassure them, convincing them that the Virgin Mary had intervened. Mary’s blue cloak, in the words of Father Cinto Verdaguer, had protected them.
I don’t know if it was a miracle, but this was like a seed planted in Guido’s unconscious that would eventually bear fruit.
Jumping back in time, I am now in Majorca, thirty years after that winter.
Guido, after traveling halfway around the world, has been settled on our island for two years, determined to exhaust all the virtualities of his work. Of course, he immediately got in touch with me, and this led to a fruitful collaboration for his art project YADA.
Well, back to what I was reporting. In February of this year, Guido had taken a plane to Mexico, invited by the University of the Americas to present his YADA project there. When he returned, he was very enthusiastic about the success he had had and especially about the reception he had received from the students, who had been hallucinated by all that they and my friend had experienced together. But above all, he had been struck by the spontaneous devotion that simple people showed in the churches, all the more so if they were dedicated to the Virgin Mary. In Mexico, that seed, planted the night of the incident in Montserrat, had borne fruit. The presence of Mary, the Mother of the Lord, emerged within him to the point of giving him the ability to respond with action to a suggestion made by Sister Teresa.
Sister Theresa is the third element in my story. She is the mother superior of the Purissima School in Palma. It is a special school because children with physical disabilities (blind, deaf, and mute…) attend it together with others called “normal.” It is therefore an integration school, perhaps the only one in Majorca. Sister Teresa, through the unforeseen circumstances of life, had met Guido and, being a woman of great intuition, had suggested to him the idea of sculpting an image of the Purissima (the Virgin Mary) for the school. He could not say no to her, but would he succeed? He had not yet entered the world of Christian iconography. Mexico clarified his ideas and, upon his return from that country, he set to work in his studio, which resulted in the statue of Mary that I described in the title as THE HANDS CONTAIN THE VIRGIN.
Dear reader, you might be surprised by the title, but Guido sculpts to the size of hands, so that they can contain the work, so that hands see and eyes touch, which is what the word YADA is meant to express.
Guido, on the other hand, was worried. Won’t it be irreverent to touch the statue of the Virgin? How will people accept it?
And with this suspicion he came to me one evening when we met in a club in Palma. I smiled at him, quoting the sacred text from the first letter of John: “We proclaim to you what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have contemplated, what we have touched with our hands: the Word of Life” (v. 1 of the first chapter).
Do not be afraid, Guido, I said to him. Without knowing it, you have expressed what is essential in Christianity: the mystery of the Incarnation. God is transcendent, unreachable, and invisible, but he becomes contingent, palpable and visible in his great Life Project, which is Jesus. That is why Christians carve or paint images as opposed to Jews and Muslims.
His eyes shone. However, he was not completely satisfied. Something still troubled him.
It’s just… It’s just…it doesn’t have a face. How will the person who will hold the statue in his hands react?
At the moment, I did not know where to begin. I reflected for a few moments and said, do you know what painters and sculptors of sacred images do? Before they start making the statue or painting, they look for a human model that contains traits of beauty that struck the artist, stylize or idealize them, and make the image. Perfect! There is nothing to say. But is this not more irreverent than touching the statue with your hands? Christ, Mary, or the Trinity are transcendent realities, which means there is no human beauty capable of expressing them, much less embodying them. On the other hand, the man or woman praying with your statue will be able to grasp transcendent beauty through prayer and identification with the person invoked. So let them sculpt the face by running their fingers along the statue. It will be more beautiful, more authentic and less irreverent than the most beautiful face that the imagination of the best artist can imagine. Let the one who prays make possible the ideal of the ancient Eastern monks, Icon’s painters, who waited to see within themselves an image of divinity not made by human hands.
Guido was beginning to understand and, as we could see, his fears were disappearing. Finally, I added: so far we have prayed before an image of Mary and, therefore, a distance was established between the person praying and the object of his devotion. Now, with your statue, we can pray “with” the image. By this I mean that it “is” the very gesture of prayer and becomes the witness and content of the emotions and devotion of the person praying. The object and the subject have come together without confusing each other. Is this not the highest aspiration of every person who seeks mystical union?
It was getting late. We said goodbye with the satisfaction of having participated in an important event, at least for us: THE HANDS CONTAIN THE VIRGIN.
To get there, Guido had experienced three crucial moments in his life, the ones I mentioned: the Montserrat incident, the meeting with Sister Teresa, and Mexico.