Sunday, January 22, 2017


Mary, Mother of God, Queen of Heaven - Hail Mary Holy Mary - was in 1950 pronounced ex cathedra by the Vatican (Pius XII) to have been assumed into Heaven, body perfectly intact. For her, decomposition was too imperfect, too sinful, too earthly a fate.

"By the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and by our own authority, we pronounce, declare, and define it to be a divinely revealed dogma: that the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory." 

1950 I'm here to declare wasn't that long ago, in fact within my lifetime. Yuri Gagarin was only eleven years behind, but he, without the cloud bearing angels, he was trapped by science (and sin) into a couple of orbits before plunging back into the land of the fallen while Mary made it through.

Little wonder science is still the bane of the religious fundamentalists.

Moreover, and within my lifetime, small wide-eyed Catholic children were taught we too would be united with our bodies, since perfected, when we reached Heaven - conditions apply of course: you had to make it. One way, a highly recommend way, was through Mary. She wasn't scary, wasn't too busy, and had that motherly understanding of what naughty children were like. Ask her for stuff, she'd have a word in His ear, and Heaven and a perfect body was on the cards. My problem was I didn't like my body then, and even less now. It was plainly rubbish.

It was this Mary, the Assumed Mary of Titian, together with the Tintorello Mary at the foot of the cross in the comfort of John the Beloved (Disciple), that preoccupied the Irish writer Colin Tóibín and finally saw him write The Testament of Mary in play, book, and novella form. And unsurprisingly, attract the ire of fundamentalists.

Unlike Titian's vertically accented loveliness, Tintoretto's crucifixion is wide screen and teaming with humanity. Mary and John the Beloved are isolated in a clutch at the foot of the cross from where the tortured slowly dying Son, Tóibín would soon remind us, would look down to say to them: "Mother, this is your son. Son, this is your mother".

John the Beloved is a wonderfully evocative title. I was in love with it when I made my First Communion, just after Pius XII made his declaration on Mary, and it still touches me somewhere deeply. Yes, my name is John, and beloved is absolutely what I want. Love, where are you.

It was after our First Communion, when in satin creamy white suits we sat down to break the fast, a nun came from behind and leaning over me, all black except for a soft unknown face, gave me a picture, mounted ready to stand by a bed, which it did. It was Jesus at the Last Supper with his arm around John. Kitch would just about cover it. It made me feel so special, and want to be a John like that, with Jesus's arm around me. I still do. I kept it for years, and years, and sometimes still hope it might turn up somewhere in a box in an attic, my special me in Jesus's arms.

And so it is with Specialness. And it is the Specialness of Mary that Tóibín unravels in his 80 minute monologue of the layered memories of a mother.

The marvellous STC team (and lots of good reading) behind this production is here.

From a marbled grotto stacked with candles (1 euro each please), it is the wholly impressive Alison Whyte who strips off the imposed specialness (stunning moments indeed), and takes on giving us the mother and her thoughts, from his conception, childhood, restless early years, picking up with misfits, tackling the establishment, to the climactic final declaration of his Godhead, and the certain execution the establishment will inflict.

It's a great role and she relished it. All woman, all mother, all human, all flesh. Imperfect flesh. There were a few word slips (early in the run) and an awkward moment when a young couple for no apparent reason other than boredom took it upon themselves to make a noisy exit from near the front of the house. Oh no. Some bigoted ranting wold have been preferable. Mary became Alison Whyte again, and with a whimsical smile and a gentle forgiving 'sorry', waited them out.

The closing  moments are where Tobin take us away from the dictates. When Mary and John flee in fear, finally settling at Ephesus (where too Tóibín sought inspiration) where this Mary would collect herself and deliver her truth in her words. Words which revealed a mother reflecting on the accretions of time and emotions, repressed and exposed, frail and strong, forgiving and not. Her final judgment on the worth of His life resonates still, days later, inside my head.

This was a woman who suffered.


Anonymous said...

Lacking cradle exposure such as you relate I'm afraid I couldn't get into the book so am not particularly tempted by the play. What about K?

wanderer said...

We make a night of it - dinner at the wharf, stinking hot evening by the harbour, all that. He enjoyed it, nodding off now and then - not the only one - but then he is very interested in the Jesus Question generally. And it does address underlying issues: the body and its worth (a sacred temple? hardly), myth making, and of course and mainly the clash of Faith vs Science, still raging today, unbelievably.

And she was very good - a tough gig with only Her/her voice and a few lights and sound effects to tell the story.

Long time no blog - ?

Anonymous said...

Blog-somnolence, a trip to WA for family business and customary estivation.

Krol Roger will likely stir me into action. Am seeing that for the first time on Sat.

wanderer said...


Looking forward to a report then. We're off on hols so give him my apologies - Roger I mean.