In [Flannery] O’Connor’s description, what Parker goes back to is “the haloed head of a flat, stern Byzantine Christ with all-demanding eyes.” Parker decides it’s for him. Once completed, the tattooed image affects people in the most alarming ways. A single glance, with the help of an angled mirror, is enough to drive Parker himself to the corner for a pint of whiskey. Later, when he shows it off to his old cronies, their laughter drives puts him in a rage, which he expresses with his fists, leading to his ejection from the bar. When she finally gets a look, Sarah Ruth, claiming not to recognize the figure as God, damns Parker for an idolater and thrashes his back with a broom, raising welts on Jesus’ India-ink image and driving Parker out of the house. He ends up “leaning against [a pecan] tree, crying like a baby.”
I am all but convinced that this particular representation of Christ did not come from O’Connor’s imagination. Nor is it a one-off from some crumbling church in the Near East. On the contrary, it is a stock image called a Holy Mandylion, and is very popular among the various Orthodox communions.
It’s got Flannery O’ Connor, Philip Roth, Aryan conspiracies and more. Let us find our fun where we can!
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