Thursday, June 24, 2010

Heads You Lose

Today is the Feast of Saint John the Baptist - one of those secondary feast days in the church calender that becomes a major celebrations in some regions of not just Italy but the World. As an example in Québec June 24th has always been a major celebration of Saint Jean-Baptiste the patron of the province. It has since taken on a slightly more nationalistic nature but the traditions of the older celebration still hold on.

You have to admit that the story of John the Baptist is a pretty good one. Its got everything - religion, sex, politics, sex, political descent, sex, intrigue, sex, death and did I mention sex? Its no wonder it's attracted writers, artists, composers, choreographers and movie makers.

In paintings the child John is normally seen with the Madonna, his smug little cousin Jesus and his mother Elizabeth. Often he's holding a lamb or a cross and when he gets older is dressed in camel skin. However this sculptor seems to think he started his career as an ascetic - howbeit a chubby well-fed one - early in life.

The story of Salome dancing for her step-father Herod on his birthday and, at the insistence of her mother, demanding the head of John has been expanded from a few lines in two of the gospels. She is not even mentioned by name but historically it is known that the daughter of Herodias was called Salome.
The idea of Salome as an icon of dangerous female seductiveness is an old one that became more entrenched in our modern sensibilities with Oscar Wilde's play and later Richard Strauss opera based on it.

The Feast being celebrated today is his birth - which is exactly 6 months before Christmas, no doubt to jibe with the story of Mary's visit to his mother Elizabeth. The Beheading - a much lesser Feast in the calender - isn't celebrated (?) until August 29.

All the photos here were taken in the Bode Museum during our trip to Berlin late last year.

24 giugno - Natività di San Giovanni Battista


Debra She Who Seeks said...

There's a theory that the Gospels talk so much about John the Baptist because they're really trying to dispel the competing view that he was the Messiah, not Jesus. So the Gospels go out of their way to portray John as having an important role but only as the warm-up act to "the real thing."

David said...

Johannistag! Johannistag! Shame those Spanish students lost more than their heads in an attempt to celebrate. Or is that a remark in really poor taste? Either way, it's a bloody stupid way to die, as Daphne du Maurier put it.