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Φέρειν νίκη transliterated: “Veronica”; translated: “true image,” from the Latin vera for true, ica from Greek’s eikon, or our modern icon. Thus Saint Veronica is an historical flub in that, as the sixth Station of the Cross shows us a woman, a Veronica, wiping the face of Jesus, the word “veronica” itself refers to the image of Jesus’ face miraculously left on the woman’s cloth, and not the woman who showed charity. The Gospels make no mention of this woman wiping Jesus’ face during the Passion. This nameless woman’s legend gains momentum beginning in the twelfth century. Still, the Vatican possesses a “Veronica” which the Vatican displays Passion Sunday, in the fifth week of Lent. Of the Church’s many “Holy Faces,” most of them smack remarkably of medieval representations of the human face in artistic rendering. Myth making art making myth is legend is religion.
Veronica Veil
In Saturday Night Fever, after Bobby C falls from the Verrazano Bridge to his death in the Narrows, a police officer asks Tony if Bobby C committed suicide, to which Tony responds, “There’s ways of killing yourself without killing yourself.”

In paintings that represent the first Station of the Cross, when Jesus is condemned to death, the man stands bound beside Pilate, who wields a scroll. Jesus appears expressionless, haloed. Roman soldiers jeer in the background. This background is lavish: Roman columns, drapes, blue sky, solitary cloud.

Seven Cities of Gold
The opening sequence of the 1955 film Seven Cities of Gold tells us that the story is so true to history that the only change the director, writers, and producers effected, was to take the original Spanish and native languages, and translate them into English for the American actors and audience. Based loosely on Isabelle Gibson Ziegler’s 1951 novel The Nine Days of Father Serra, the adaptation varies widely form a novel that had already taken great liberties with history.
Between the novel and the film, it’s hard to know who’s telling less of a truth. Ziegler’s The Nine Days of Father Serra makes no mention of the land expedition’s course up from Baja California to the coast at San Diego Bay. Yet Ziegler details the relationship Father Serra somehow develops with a native Kumeyaay boy who speaks remarkably good Spanish, for one exposed to the language for perhaps a year. Meantime, Seven Cities of Gold attempts to chronicle some of this journey, with Junípero Serra pacifying a potentially violent band of Indians en-route with beads.
The infidelities to truth in both mediums are multifold. For a post-war novel, The Nine Days of Father Serra remains remarkably insensitive to a culturally relativistic point of view. A contemporary with Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye and both Beckett’s Molloy and Malone Dies, The Nine Days of Father Serra is anything but great literature—and was never intended to be. It falls into the action/adventure/exploration genre—practically a cowboy-and-Indian Western. While attempting to maintain characterization, Father Serra predictably despises the thoughts and actions of the lay Spaniards around him and at the same time loves the Indians and reviles their “disgusting puberty rites,” and tries to teach them about the “one true God.” The natives are always called “savages,” and Ziegler writes at one point that “The Indians who lived in the mission lived better that they had in the wilderness.

Consecrated: ground, cross, and mission: San Diego de Alcalá. Upon the oaken altar the Blessed Father placed an oil of Nuestra Señora, la Madre de Dios: clothed with the sun, a moon beneath her feet, a crown of twelve stars circling her head, her belly distended with child. A seven-headed dragon attacks the venerable mother, but the Archangel Michael, sword ready, protects her. Blessed Father Fray Junípero Serra, with this painting, showed the soldados de cuera and the California pagans the Lord’s mission: defeat the beast of the apocalypse in California, and spread the good Word of God.
Junipero serra signature
In 1771 Blessed Father Fray Junípero Serra ordered Fathers Fray Angel Somera and Pedro Cambon north from Mission San Diego along the trail, so that they might found Mission San Gabriel Arcángel at the banks of El Rio de Los Temblores, on a plain that sloped from the mountains to the sea. The padres and their escalta trudged through the chaparral, wary of the rattle of rattlesnakes, dozing dark nights swimming with coyote whoops. When the native Tongvas approached, screeching, brandishing their war clubs, bows and arrows, Father Somera withdrew from a pack upon his mule the oil of Nuestra Señora de Los Dolores, brandishing it in the pre-LA sunlight. The Indians threw down their weapons, and ran forward to the friar. They fell to their knees, spilled open leather pouches, their offerings of pine nuts and dried fish sacrifices to the god before them.

claudio boltiansky virgin child
In Claudio Boltiansky’s “Virgin and Child,” Mary prays over her sleeping Messiah. Palms pressed, fingers splayed like steeples, Mary’s blue robes spill, a Pacific cascading the crags of her shoulders. Eyes downcast, mouth set in meditation, her skin glows pale. The child, covered in white linen, radiates, a sun, golden glowing locks, a hint of halo.
These natives—Kumeyaay, Tongva, Esselen, Rumsen, Salinan—having never seen a Western style oil, beheld a window unto the world from which gods looked out and back. At the pine palisades that walled the mission, women gathered for a glimpse. The fathers brought forth the painting to the stockade, where the women thrust their breasts through the narrows of the branches, attempting to suckle the pale child upon his holy mother’s lap.

Museums and churches in Russia are the same: wafts of wax and old books. In the Russian Museum, St. Petersburg: a 12th century wood panel depicting the Archangel Gabriel. In the churches, or museums (sometimes both together) the faithful spied me, chins tilting sidelong, when I genuflected. Excusing myself to my wife—we’re not religious—I said, “respect.” Sarah said, “You were confirmed, right?”
In many artistic representations of the Annunciation, Mary dons lavish blue robes sitting or kneeling in a room vaulted and draped. Said room’s furniture is intricately carved. The Virgin has situated herself near a porticoed window. Sometimes, Mary’s even seated upon a throne. This is hardly commensurate with the gospels’ carpenter’s wife living in a working class wattle and daub peasant’s hut, with its dirt floor. Mary sports no homespun rags. She appears leisured, having been reading, thinking, perhaps napping. Should there have been a historical Mary, it’s likely she remained illiterate throughout her life. The Archangel Gabriel, no less finely garbed, has brought her a bouquet of radiant lilies. A dove descends toward the open window. In Federico Barocci’s oil from 1592-96 a cat naps upon a pillow in the foreground. Did Jesus know this cat? I believe he did. Jesus, even, was a cat person.
A modernized Gabriel serves as the main character of Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses.

From Guy Ritchie’s Snatch, between two minutes and three minutes, thirty-four seconds, characters disguised as Orthodox Jews planning to rob a diamond dealer, consort thus:
Thief # 1: The Septuagenarianist scholars misinterpreted the Hebrew word for young woman into the Greek word for virgin. It was an easy mistake to make because there was only a subtle difference in the spelling. So, they came up with the prophecy: Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear us a son. You understand it was the virgin that caught people’s attention. It’s not everyday a virgin conceives and bears a son.
Snatch Hasid virgin
“And then a couple hundred years or two, the next thing you know, you have the Holy Catholic Church.”
Thief # 2: “. . . What are you saying?” 

Thief # 1: “I’m saying, just ‘cause it’s written does not make it so. It’s not important whether it’s fact or fiction.”
In the fourth Station of the Cross Jesus meets his mother, the Virgin Mary. In these depictions, Mary, perpetually covered by blue robes, her head sheathed in a cowl, comforts her son in this hour of his death. Jesus himself appears resolute, motioning his mother away, as if to say, Nothing more can you do for me. In all but a few artistic renditions of this station Christ wears pure white robes, despite his having been stripped, flogged, and held as a prisoner. His skin sits white as alabaster, scratchless. Not a drip of dried blood or caked dirt mars him. In Matisse’s study of the fourth station the figures remain faceless, cross-less, a simple, tender meeting of bodies.
In La Plaza de San Francisco in Havana Vieja stands a statue of Blessed Father Fray Junípero Serra and a neophyte boy. The Blessed Father’s left hand drapes across the boy’s shoulder, draws him close. In the Blessed Father’s right hand, a cross reaches Heavenward. He stares out, slightly upward. The neophyte stares another direction, his right hand draping along Blessed Father Fray Junípero Serra’s robes, grazing his thigh.

In L. Trousset’s 1870 painting, Father Serra’s Landing Place, or Celebration of the First Mass, under the coast oak at Monterey the Spanish flag drapes center, held aloft by a kneeling soldier. Also raised: Blessed Father Fray Junípero Serra’s arms, Eucharist to the sun, the father’s eyes. He sings, “Take this bread and eat it, for this is my body.” Fathers Fray Juan Crespí and Buenaventura Sitjar kneel opposite each other, flanking the altar, sheltered by the ship’s sail that dangles from the oak’s branches. The leatherjacket soldiers square the scene, gun barrels like palisades. In the distant bay the San Antonio floats, backgrounded by seaside sand dunes, in a place that will later be called Seaside, at the rolling foothills of Mount Toro. From that barge a cannon fires, call-and-response to the ringing bell, to the muskets’ repeat. What must the Rumsen Indian think at the painting’s lower left corner, as he peers from the seclusion of a boulder? What fear or hope or curiosity girds him? Could he pray against the syphilis and measles that will soon follow?
Trousset Father Serra

My first communion missal condensed the gospels’ Christ’s Passion to a single narrative. This singularity made for good story: both a sad and happy ending. Jesus, betrayed by Judas, goes to his death. The Romans scourge his back with scourges. The march to Golgotha, with the wiping of Jesus’ face, Simon of Cyrene’s help, meeting Mary Magdalene and Mary, the mother of Jesus. Nails driven through hands and feet. Blood trailing down the cross’s splintered length. Jesus dies and is buried. On the third day, Mary the Mother of Jesus and Mary Magdalene encounter a risen man. In body, Jesus remains forty days—so sad, for his apostles who lose their friend, to get him back, and lose him again. Jesus does not get to live the rest of his life with his friends, but like all good stories, he remains in spirit.
This is the same story as Roger Spottiswoode’s Turner and Hooch. Police office Scott Turner (Tom Hanks) is transformed (or converted) by a big, messy, rambunctious Dogue de Bordeaux, who helps him solve a murder. Sacrificing himself, Hooch takes a bullet in the climax and later dies. But he has already impregnated another dog (conveniently provided by the town veterinarian, who likewise conveniently plays Turner’s love interest). Dénouement: little Hooches carry on their father’s legacy of annoying Office Turner.
Turner and Hooch was shot in Pacific Grove, California, a city on the Monterey Peninsula, about six miles from Mission San Carlos de Borromeo del Rio Carmelo, and about three miles from the Royal Presidio Chapel, sight of Blessed Father Fray Junípero Serra’s founding of the original mission.

Michelangelo Pieta
This thirteenth Station of the Cross: unlucky number for an unlucky guy. In Michaelangelo’s Florentine Pietà—said by some to contain Michaelangelo’s self-portrait in the male figure (Joseph or Nicodemus) cradling Jesus’ body—Jesus grows from the marble, rock out of rock. Michaelangelo abandoned this project, which was finished by his pupil, Tiberio Calcagni, a lesser and today an unknown artist. Michaelangelo’s/Nicodemus’s/Joseph’s face, carved of solid marble, appears old, soft as old man’s skin, tissues against the dead body in his arms.
Franciscans in literature: Friar Tuck of the Robin Hood legend does not appear in original allusions to Robyn Hode, but plays a part in an extant fragment, a play from 1475: Robin Hood and the Knight. Friar Tuck challenges Robin to a contest of wits. The wager: who will carry whom across a river. Tuck ends up tossing Robin into the water and becomes one of his Merry Meyne. Popularly, Friar Tuck is depicted as overweight, jovial, and a drunkard.

Great Christians in Literature: In Robert de Boron’s Joseph d'Arimathie, Joseph of Arimathea goes to the British Isles and becomes the first Christian Bishop of those lands, founding the mythical monastery at Glastonbury, headquarters of the mission to evangelize the tribes of Britain, and where Joseph of Arimathea kept the Holy Grail that Arthur and his knights quested after in legend.
the mission play
In the beginning of the 20th century, Franciscan Father Zephyrin Engelhardt, known as the authority on California mission history, wrote to John Steven McGroarty for godspeed in his writing of The Mission Play, a sentimental epic starring Blessed Father Fray Junípero Serra as a fiery padre desperate to defend his neophyte maidens’ honor against rapist secular Spanish authorities. Father Engelhardt was especially pleased that McGroarty represented the Blessed Father without “everlasting, silly femininity.”
The Mission Play: three acts: the Sacred Expedition’s near failure, with its sailors and soldiers dying of starvation and scurvy; the missions’ rise to greatness; and the missions’ fall to ruin in the hands of the newly independent Mexican government. The Mission Play was performed at Mission San Gabriel 3,268 times to over 200,000 spectators.

John Steinbeck- Tortilla Flat

Onetime editor of the LA Times, Charles Fletcher Lummis—in a rare display of early twentieth century sound thinking—described McGroarty’s play, its treatment of Native Californians, and its historical inaccuracies thus: “Father Serra didn’t teach the California Indians to weave dam [sic] bad Navajo blankets!” 

Salvador Dalí returned to Catholicism later in his life and career, after having dabbled in atheism. The paintings from this period—particularly “Christ of St. John of the Cross”—depict the Crucifixion, or crucifixion-like poses for male figures.
To see what happens to the survivors of the Spanish, Mexican, and American colonial eras of Alta California one need only read Tortilla Flat by John Steinbeck.

Jamie Iredell lives in Atlanta and teaches at Savannah College of Art and Design. He is the author of Prose. Poems. A Novel. , and The Book of Freaks.

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