My interest in religious iconography goes back to my childhood in Catholic school. I marveled at the way Catholic crucifixes and statues were always more graphic than our Christian counterparts whose churches often had a plain, wooden cross over the altar. Catholic churches were known for their often bloody representations of Jesus hanging by nails on the rough wood. Saints, too, especially martyrs, were depicted with flaming hearts, barbs and wounds, clearly in torturous ecstasy in their pain. I remember one statue I saw when I was in second grade: St. Lucy, patron saint of the blind, holding a plate with two eyeballs, visually telling the story of how she either had her eyes gouged out by her tormentors, or dug them out herself as sources of sin.
Recently, I attended a dedication of a statue of Our Lady of Fatima on a local corner in my neighborhood. During the Mass, the priest tried to make the case that Catholic worship of icons was not idolatry, something forbidden by the Second Commandment. He did not make a convincing case. The question bothered me long after the Mass and dedication ended. We bow and genuflect in front of statues and icons; we leave flowers and burning candles. Some Catholics even kiss the icon. How is this not idol worship?
I began research for a longer piece on this subject. As a precursor to my study, I reviewed my photographs over the last few years and I realized I have made it a point to collect images of statues whenever I visited a California Mission or a Catholic church. Many of the images were quite startling in their graphic depictions, but a few were striking because of the facial features, especially the eyes. I decided to publish some of these photos here on the blog in keeping with the season of Easter. As I continue to research and write, I am sure there will be more to come about these haunting icons and their importance to Catholics the world over.