Some time ago while studying Italian in the beautiful Tuscan town of Siena, I went into the language school’s small library and found a book about Italian art. As I browsed through the significantly heavy book I came across Fra Angelico’s masterpiece of the Annunciation. Having seen it many times before I thought it would be amazing to see it in person. After placing the book back into its place I grabbed a sightseeing guide of Florence and opened it to a random page. To my great surprise, there it was again: Fra Angelico’s Annunciation. Providence had made plans for me in seconds. I decided at that very moment that I would make the quick train ride into Florence the following Saturday to see the painting at the Convent of Saint Mark in Florence.
As I went up the medieval stairs of the convent, I was struck by the prominent location of the fresco. The image was at the top of the stairwell for every friar to admire as he went up the stairs. Timeless and appearing to be suspended in the air above the line of sight, its beauty emanated whether someone was present to admire it or not. I was struck by the gentle faces of both the Archangel and the Virgin, the bold colors, and the simple lines that created the portico where the action occurred. As I wondered through the convent I recognized several other of Fra Angelico’s works painted on the walls of the cells, including a rendition of Saint Dominic studying.
Bishop Robert Barron, Auxiliary Bishop of Los Angeles, frequently stresses the need to present the beauty of Catholicism to others, especially those who do not believe in God. Beauty is an entryway into the faith. Evangelization becomes more effective when a person experiences the beauty of the faith before learning or understanding what exactly we believe as Catholics. The Gospel message has inspired countless men and women to create works of art that speak directly to the human heart in unique ways that are impossible to replicate through other mediums. An encounter with what is beautiful whether it is painting, literature, poetry or sculpture, moves the individual to seek the source of that beauty. Rather than first explaining what we believe, we can lead others to experience the beauty that has its roots in the Gospel. Just as a child is inspired to play a sport by first watching it played rather than by first learning the rules, we must allow people to experience Christianity in its totality before learning its intricacies. Witnessing the beauty of a person loving selflessly is more effective evangelization than distributing one hundred catechisms. The details of the faith make no sense unless one has experienced the beauty and goodness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Christian art fuels so much tourism throughout the world because people are attracted to its beauty. The Sistine Chapel and Saint Peter Basilica may be the most prominent, but churches and museums throughout the world attract millions of visitors, both believers and nonbelievers. We must find effective ways so that our rich and beautiful artistic heritage, which is inspired by the Gospel, continues to lead souls to encounter Christ.
Pictures are mine, all rights reserved.