Thoughts for Today 5th May 2020
From the real world sublime and challenging
Salvador, Brazil - slavery, poverty and exuberance….
We called in at Cape Verde on the way to Salvador. Cape Verde was pretty barren. We saw many half-finished houses and small holdings that had been deserted after the stressed irrigation due to the lack of affordable water supply out of town.
Salvador was a hectic port. Our guide, Emmanuel, told us of the history of slavery from 1653 until its abolition in 1888. He pointed out the contrast between the lavish of the Cathedral and Franciscan Church with the poverty of the city.
Outside the Cathedral we enjoyed thirst-quenching milk of the fresh coconut. The vendors were busy!
Inside the Church of St Francis we were surprised by the lavishness of the Cathedral-like building compared with the simplicity of the convent attached to it. The original church was burned down during the Dutch invasion of the 16th Century. The rebuild happened soon afterwards.
In the photograph we see Francis helping Christ down from the cross. Francis has one foot on the globe signifying the global care we all share with Christ. The decorative gold was mined locally to adorn the refit and is overwhelming.
It was the stark contrast of the place and the history that struck us. The contrast of the lavish and the poverty of the fovellas with the Franciscan way of life.
There was a historic theme of slavery recurring throughout our journey around South America. It has followed us home as the modern manifestation of the selling of human beings still goes on.
Last Monday a BBC re-showing of the 1980 film ‘The Elephant Man’ told the story of Joseph’ JohnMerrick’ (1862-1890) born in Leicester. It is the real-life story of his slavery for gain, being hawked around the ‘freak’ shows of France and different parts of Europe from the age of nineteen. Dr Frederick Treves first saw him across the road from the London Hospital in a shop window, where ‘the Elephant Man’ could be seen for a price. Treves assessed him at the hospital (in recent times Joseph was found to have Proteus disease) and later controversially admitted him in 1886 into a room where he remained until his death in1890. Treves was a famous surgeon of the time performing the first Appendicectomy in in the world in1884. He saved the life of King Edward VII two days before his coronation in 1902.
Slavery takes many forms. It takes great courage to gain an insight into suffering. It emanates from the cross of Christ, to reveal the pain and extent of it. The portrayal of the ‘Salvador Jesus’ being taken down from the cross by Francis takes me back to the story of the saint at the Little Church of San Damiano in Assisi. There, Francis was called to build the Church of God, and as he found out it was to be a global compassionate church, not just another church building. In the act of taking Christ from the cross he also embraces His suffering. We have never seen such a picture but thanks to Salvador…it gives a new insight into the pain of the world and the golden strengthening of the redeeming glory of God in Christ transforming the ugly and the painful to new life.
These words were found in Joseph Merrick’s papers after his death at the age of 27:
“Tis true my form is something odd,
But blaming me is blaming God,
Could I create myself anew
I would not fail in pleasing you.
If I could reach from pole to pole,
Or grasp the ocean with a span
I would be measured by the soul:
The mind’s the standard of the man.”
Edward and Jane
Next stop Rio de Janeiro….