Saturday, July 4, 2009

Shrine On!

I had a wonderful surprise in the mail today! Due to my sprained ankle (yes, yes, I know I've milked the subject dry) I haven't made it to the post office of late to clean out the usual build up of dust from my mail box. Yesterday, however, I was befuddled to find a "final warning!" card there to pick up a parcel that had, apparently, been awaiting me for several days. As the postal clerks had gone home, I had to wait until this morning to collect my mystery mail. I was completely surprised and utterly delighted to find that my friend over at Driftwood & Turtles had sent me the book, Shrines, Images of Italian Worship by Steven Rothfeld.

The dust jacket tells us, "Created by average people as an expression of religious devotion, the shrines appear along ordinary roads in villages and cities, in the fields of farmers, and in the yards of simple cottages and homes."
The Drifter knew I'd love the book because I'd gathered a few images of my own on my trip to Calabria a while back. Here's a taste of what I saw:
(Photo taken in Tropea, May 2007. I am especially fond of the little electric candle that's been rigged up inside.)


(Photo taken in Tropea, May 2007. At this shrine, I was tickled by the lingering presence of a Christmas garland draped over the padlocked Madonna).
Throughout my trip, I was enchanted by the many and varied shrines embedded in the walls of palazzos, popping up in the middle of roadways, jumping out from shadowed nooks and beside hidden doorways. They embodied the simplicity, sincerity, and oftimes full-blown tackiness of genuine folk art.


(Photo taken in Pizzo, 2007)
Shrine to Our Lady of the Dish Towel (?)
On a sadder note, the publication of Mr. Rothfeld's book pretty much eradicates my fantasy of getting an arts grant from the Canada Council to roam about Italy gathering photos of folksy shrines. It's been done, they'll tell me.
Maybe instead I'll try pitching the idea of collecting pictures of graveyard statuary and bathtub Madonnas from PEI!
(Seen above: Our Leaning Lady)


  1. Hey that's a nice surprise!!! Kathryn is so nice!!! LOL, to the dish towel. I love the word befuddled too! BTW, really? I mean about the grant? There has to be some way, I know that "Steve" cut out a lot of money towards the arts..I don't really know too many details, other than what Rick Mercer tells me!

  2. Hi Rain, Sorry to disillusion you but it's pretty much who you know, not what you do, when it comes to grant money. Gotta be a player. And "Steve" is not big on the arts...or environment, education, health care, etc. Rick Mercer for PM?

  3. LOL, I'm SO ignorant when it comes to politics and government crapola, I think intentionally! And here is the hoser in me "Yeah!!! Mercer for PM!!!!"...I'd totally vote for him, lol...yeah, you know, I would, pretty sad!

  4. Seem to be many surprises around lately, either through a back door or a parcel.
    Makes me glad to read about you being happy, as it seems to be a rare 'good' these days.
    (Spend many hours upon the playground seeing other parents shouting, beating etc there children, yes made me mad)
    Wish you a nice weekend.

  5. Robert, happiness is fleeting. Best to crow about it while it's here.

  6. Ahh Lynne, I guess there are quite a few of us who would love to get an arts grant to go traipsing about the countryside doing photographs all day long... me for sure... Do you think anyone would give me a grant to go track down abandoned houses and cars and appliances full time for a year or two ? Your shrines are beautiful here, you could make a movie : Shrine the Light

    How wonderful is that to have unsolicited books turn up in the mail... like drawing one of the Chance cards in the game of Life, or Monopoly or whatever... that says you just won 500 dollars... Love the dish towel !! But what is a bathtub Madonna, pray tell? Are they common in Canada ??? Between the feet up on the chair and the bathtub Madonnas, Décolleté is starting to get a little racy... LOL :-D

    Hope you will keep us posted as to how your summer reading is getting on...

  7. Cher Owen: I do sympathize with your unfamiliarity with the concept of the Bathtub Madonna. It is an unfortunate side-effect of living in a country as culturally deprived as France. The Bathtub Madonna is very popular with the Acadian people here in the Maritimes so perhaps the tradition first arrived on these shores with the original French settlers. In that case, there is a good chance that you could procure a cultural grant to reintroduce the practice in the French countryside. All one requires is a front yard, a claw foot bathtub, a shovel, and a statue of Mary (preferably with a painted blue robe). Cement is optional, though recommended.

    The process:
    Dig a hole in the middle of the front yard.
    Insert the bathtub into this hole, upended (very important!! do not insert it prone!!)
    Fill the bottom of the tub (that is in the ground) with well-packed soil, or preferably cement.
    Insert the statue so that she is standing in the centre of the bathtub “nave,” looking outward towards the road (never to the house).
    Stand back and admire.

    You may decorate this shrine as much as you like but as it is innately a thing of beauty, a minimalist approach is perhaps best. Christmas lights do add a charming touch, however, but only in blue or white; multi-coloured would be considered tasteless.

    Bonne chance!

    Shrine a Light! LOL! Must pass that on to Scorcese.

  8. Oh dear Lynne, you are TOO much !!! You know LOL, well I'm LOL and LMAO and LSHIAPMP ! Well, you are going to have to come up with a few photos of these bathtub Madonnas now, because you have really piqued my curiosity with this fabulous description with clear instructions. Maybe I'll make one for our front yard ! The only thing I know of that the French do with bathtubs (other than use them for their intended purpose as little as possible) is to set them out in fields, prone position, for horses and cattle to drink out of... Am galumphing off to bed giggling to dream of raccoons prowling around bathtub ladies... virgins at that... :-D

  9. Good save! Were you worrying about the parcel being returned... suspense until morning... ya know?
    Happy it came through for you. Especially since it's the Shrines book. I'll have to look the book up, for we have a large Italian population here in Rochester and there are all sorts of shrines around here. I am also about to embark on a group of Our Lady (or Virgin) of Guadalupe tiles (hopefully without the full-blown tackiness ;)
    Wonderful photos, too -- love the colors.
    Ramble On!

  10. Hi David--Nice to see that you found this post before I sent it back! I was not too worried about the parcel being returned. I mean, for God's sake, I live in a village--you'd think they could just call me up and say come get your parcel. But, yeah, I did hustle down there next morning. Cool that you're planning a Lady of Guadalupe series. I love saints imagery...and I'm not even Catholic!

  11. Tropea! Instant want to go there! :-) I love Calabria (and the rest of Southern Italy)!

    The Madonna in the graveyard is a fantastic image, what with the sky and the clouds mirroring the colors of her clothes so beautifully!

    Btw, if something has been done, doesn't mean it can't be done again or better!

  12. Merisi: I join you in your instantaneous desire to go Tropea. Or traipsing around anywhere in southern Italy. Bellissimo!

    I will tell the grant people what you said about doing something again. You're so right--we all have our unique way of viewing and reporting our impressions of the world. And there's nothing new under the sun!