Wednesday, 23 June 2010

The Ecstasy of St Theresa

Worthy of a post all to itself is another Bernini statue we saw in Rome: The Ecstasy of St Theresa. It's in the baroque church of Santa Maria Della Vittoria and I insisted on going because it's - on one level - a fantastically beautiful depiction of psycho-sexual spirituality, and - on another - so fecking ridiculous that it's impossible to look at with a straight face.

The statue depicts 16th-century nun (and masochistic self-harmer) Theresa (motto: "Lord, either let me suffer or let me die") in the midst of her most famous "vision" of the "divine love". Here's how she describes it:

"Beside me, on the left, appeared an angel in bodily form.... He was not tall but short, and very beautiful; and his face was so aflame that he appeared to be one of the highest rank of angels, who seem to be all on fire.... In his hands I saw a great golden spear, and at the iron tip there appeared to be a point of fire. This he plunged into my heart several times so that it penetrated to my entrails. When he pulled it out I felt that he took them with it, and left me utterly consumed by the great love of God. The pain was so severe that it made me utter several moans. The sweetness caused by this intense pain is so extreme that one cannot possibly wish it to cease, nor is one's soul content with anything but God. This is not a physical but a spiritual pain, though the body has some share in it—even a considerable share."

Um ... darling ... it's called Orgasm. We all have them!

Theresa's ferocious mental training, though, seems to have enabled her to bypass the need for physical masturbation. Apparently she was subject to these ecstatic rushes in public, in a way she found rather embarrassing:

"This has not happened to me often: once, however, it took place when we were all together in choir, and I, on my knees, on the point of communicating. It was a very sore distress to me; for I thought it a most extraordinary thing, and was afraid it would occasion much talk; so I commanded the nuns—for it happened after I was made Prioress—never to speak of it. But at other times, the moment I felt that our Lord was about to repeat the act, and once, in particular, during a sermon,—it was the feast of our house, some great ladies being present,—I threw myself on the ground; then the nuns came around me to hold me; but still the rapture was observed."

How inconsiderate of God!
Bear in mind that the statue is presented in a literally theatrical way - as if it were on stage...

... with a gawping audience on either side:

How pervy is that?


Jo said...

Hmm. If I was having heaven sent spontaneous orgasms in the middle of my working day, I'd make a fuss about it :)

I remember doing this in art in school - um, the statue that is, not the spontanoeous orgasming - and there was talk of Anorexia... fasting and fainting etc. No talk of orgasms though.

Janine Ashbless said...

I imagine her neurochemistry must have been something to behold. Anorexia, self-flagellation, etc.

Chris said...

All in a day's work for your dedicated mental health professional. We'd probably admit her to hospital the first time to be on the safe side, then just let her get on with it.

Janine Ashbless said...

Well, it didn't do her social standing any harm!