February 11, 2019 – Our Lady of Lourdes
Sacred artist Gwyneth Thompson-Briggs recently completed a portrait of a holy cardinal persecuted for defending the indissolubility of marriage. The Cardinal Bishop of Rochester in England, St. John Fisher, was martyred in 1535, but his witness and intercession seem intended by Providence for our day.
“St. John Fisher is very much a saint for our times,” says Gwyneth. “The conditions of his day—political and theological attacks on marriage, a corrupt and craven episcopate—are strikingly similar to our own.” Fisher was the only English bishop to publicly oppose Henry VIII’s abandonment of his wife, Catherine of Aragon, and his subsequent schism from the Catholic Church.
The painting, commissioned by Our Lady of the Mountains Catholic Church in Georgia, combines several source images from Fisher’s own day: the famous drawing of Fisher by Hans Holbein the Younger, a lesser known bust by Italian sculptor Pietro Torrigiano, gold letters adapted from Giovanni Cresci’s 1570 book on ideal characters, and an early 16th century fabric sample.
Gwyneth followed 16th century techniques as well: completing several studies of the source images, transferring the chosen study onto a Lindenwood panel with charcoal dust, and building up the figure in a series of layers, beginning with a grisaille underpainting. She used shell gold for the lettering, a popular Renaissance technique that has fallen into desuetude.
Researching and reviving Renaissance and Baroque techniques is part of Gwyneth’s mission as a sacred artist. “When I tell people I’m a sacred artist, they tend to think of icons. The iconographic tradition is rich, but it is essentially Byzantine. In the Latin Church, we have our own glorious but neglected tradition, one which does not express the spiritual through abstraction, but through the integration of beautiful particulars observed in nature. To me, this approach perfectly communicates the action of grace, which does not distort or destroy nature, but perfects it. That is what the art of Giotto, Fra Angelico, Michelangelo, and Rubens expresses.”
Giorgio Vasari wrote that Michelangelo, in his Moses, had prepared the patriarch’s body for the General Resurrection. This is very much what Gwyneth sought to do in her St. John Fisher. “I wanted to capture Fisher’s idealism, his heroism, the supernatural reality of him as a man perfected by grace,” Gwyneth explains.
Gwyneth hopes her painting can inspire others, particularly bishops, to allow grace to perfect them. She is diffusing a holy card with the painting on one side and Fisher’s own “Prayer for Holy Bishops” on the other. The prayer, taken from a sermon Fisher preached in 1508, notes that it is only the fire of the Holy Ghost that turned the “soft and slippery” Apostles into “mighty pillars,” and beseeches God to once again “exercise [His] mercy . . . upon [His] Church” by firing bishops in His kiln. She is currently trying to put the holy card in the hand of every U.S. bishop. “My prayer,” says Gwyneth, “is that the example, merits, and intercession of St. John Fisher may inspire bishops today to preach the Faith in season and out of season, no matter the persecution they face.”
Read the full story of St. John Fisher, purchase holy cards, and learn more about Gwyneth’s sacred art at .
During the 1903 papal conclave and via the voice of Cardinal John Puszyna of Krakow, the aging Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria exercised the jus exclusivae for the last time in Church history, blocking the election to the papacy of Mariano Rampolla, Pope Leo XIII’s Secretary of State.
There are many theories on why one of the last scions of the Habsburg dynasty would have interrupted the election of Rampolla. Some allege that Rampolla was a supporter of liberal and anti-clerical France vis a vis Austria. Others have argued that it was because of Rampolla’s support of agitator Karl Lueger, mayor of Vienna and leader of the Christian Social Party, a thorn in Emperor Franz Joseph’s side. Some have even suggested that it was because Cardinal Rampolla denied Christian burial to Rudolph, Franz Joseph’s son, who allegedly had committed suicide under mysterious circumstances.