Symbols in the Ancient Christian Home
A discussion of home decorating on a Catholic website might seem trite and irrelevant. In many ways, it certainly is.
Our primary focus should always be on Our Lord and not on the material goods of this world. On another level, it is an essential. Since the earliest days of Christian culture, the physical sign posts -- "home decorating" -- along with the concept of hospitality were critical aspects of Christianity. One's identity as a Christian was all encompassing. The tradition of hospitality was often the deciding factor between life and death as those who spread the Good News sought refuge in the Christian underground. The Joyful Heart website offers an excellent description of ancient Christian symbols.
For American Catholics, it might seem a far fetched notion, but in these dangerous times, there may well come a time when the fact of mere Christianity could again become a perilous undertaking as it is in other parts of the world.
In the earliest days of Christianity, "home decorating" in the form of symbolism was found in dwellings and meeting places for followers of Our Lord. Although secretive in nature, it served as a sign to those who entered that this was a place where they could break Bread in the fellowship of the Spirit.
In the Christian eras several centuries later, the culture of society was thoroughly integrated with the culture of the Church and it's living liturgy. Feast days, customs, beliefs, morality, art, music and even law all reflected a Christian outlook on day-to-day living. It was a simpler, more homogenous society for Christians, and certainly provided simpler pathways for establishing a Catholic Home and Garden.
As Christians we are called to evangelize - to share our faith and our hope with others. While some may be called to shout the message on street corners, evangelization can also take a quieter, more steady pathway in the Catholic home. The way we order our lives, prepare our homes for visitors, and live and breathe our faith is powerful witness to the culture of Catholicism.
Today the culture of Catholicism is rapidly disappearing. No, in truth, it is nearly gone. The lure of the secular culture of sex and death, of instant gratification and self-glorification has certainly contributed to the decline of Catholic culture. Some think that the changes following Vatican II are solely to blame. The truth can be found somewhere in the mix of these two factors, with a heavy influence resulting from the global homogenization of society ushered in by electronic media, the ease of international travel and trade.
For those Catholics who are dismayed by the current state of Catholic culture -- what will you do about it? Are you ready to simply surrender in the face of a secular culture and the easier path of relativism? Or will you take up the challenge to revive traditions, adapting them for the modern home, and breathing new life into our identities as Catholics?
A treasured Catholic artifact
Set in an absolutely awful metal frame, this very nice print of the Virgin Mother with the Child Jesus is inset
with an old mercury thermometer.
Why is it so special?
It was a promotional item given out by a very
ordinary neighborhood butcher shop. A completely secular business. Probably run by a Catholic family.
It is indicative of how the culture of Catholicism
was once so prevalent in our society. Today virtually every business would be terrified of offering a piece like this for fear of offending and, of course, the ensuing lawsuits. It was displayed in our dining area to remind us of what we've lost until recently when it was acquired by one of our customers.
All materials on this page Copyrighted by Catholic Home and Garden. All rights reserved.
|The Catholic Home Today
Not long ago, it was possible to walk down the street and easily identify the homes where Catholics lived. In the suburbs, wherever there was a little patch of grass, there would be a statue of the Blessed Mother, the Sacred Heart, or maybe a Saint. Sometimes they were housed in shrines resembling bathtubs. Sometimes, the shrines actually were bathtubs. In rural areas, it wasn't unusual to see a wayside shrine housing a Crucifix. Even in urban areas, images and statues were placed in windows to proclaim that a Catholic lived there. It wasn't unusual to see those who passed along the way pause for a moment to bless themselves.
If you entered one of these homes, there was never a doubt that you had entered a Christian home. In every room little touchstones of the Catholic faith were integrated with the more mundane objects of day to day life -- a Crucifix, a cluster of statues, prints of favorite saints, votive candles, and rosaries. In fact, these objects were part of day to day life.
In some heavily ethnic neighborhoods, the evidence of outward Catholicism is still present. Even in the midst of poverty and urban squalor, Catholics find ways to beautify their homes with Catholic artifacts to the best of their abilities.
From the viewpoint of European aesthetics, the results might be startling. From the viewpoint of the heart, they are striking.
For the most part, shrines have been replaced with flags and banners, spinning whirly-gigs, or cute cut-out figures of child gardeners or frogs. You can be fairly certain that no one blesses themselves as they pass one of these homes. Inside there will be attractive furnishings that glitter and gleam, but it's unlikely that an image of the Sacred Heart will take a place of honor in the center of the home, nor will there be a Crucifix over every bed. Instead you'll find posters proclaiming the glories of the latest recording sensation or video game hero.
The front yard shrine, like devotional images in the home, is rapidly disappearing from Catholic America. Ask why and you'll probably find that they are embarrassed to display these images - that they don't want to offend - or that they simply find other objects to be more important and interesting. Or they have more important things to spend their money on. (Please visit my front yard shrine page)
Evangelism. Pope John Paul II called for a New Evangelism in the Church - and that means us - the members of the Body of Christ. Does this mean that we must all shout the gospel from the rooftops? Well, some of us may be gifted in that way, but for most of us, evangelism can start in your front yard and with the art you choose to display in your home.
Remembering Who We Are. Catholic art in the home also helps us to remember who we are. It reminds us that we are here on earth to carry the message of hope and faith - to our families - to friends - and to those we haven't met yet. It reminds us that life on this earth is short and we should use it profitably to attain our salvation.
How often do we grown impatient with a loved one, and ready to let lose with a string of harsh words or criticism, stop in our tracks when our eyes fall upon an image of the Crucified Christ?
How often do you worry about the health of a loved one, your child's performance in school, or a pile of unpaid bills ... and lifting your head from your hands, find solace in an image of your Heavenly Mother Mary, and recall that all you need to do is ask her to come to your assistance.
Not often at all? Then perhaps you need to think about the objects you've chosen to place in your home.
Like you, we've had many visitors in our home. Some are social guests. Others arrive for mundane reasons - to sell us insurance, to clean the chimney or repair the boiler. Inevitably they'll notice how our home is decorated and tentatively ask, "Who is that saint? I haven't seen that since I was a child." I will never forget a conversation with a cable installation worker who couldn't help but notice the collection of lithographs in my office featuring death bed scenes - the Death of a Sinner and the Death of a Just Man. He asked about their meaning and we talked for hours about his own conversion. You never know who God will place on your doorstep.
The warm, welcome in a home that is obviously Christian can open the doors to many souls, and plant the tiny seed of faith.
Catholic art in the home and garden serves so many purposes. It sustains the culture of Christianity in a world where children believe in magic, but not miracles.* Catholic art brings solace, inspiration, and hope where there otherwise might be none. It reminds us to give thanks to our Creator. And it reminds us of who we are - Catholics and Christians - grateful to have been chosen.
Your purchase of Catholic art at our shop helps to support this website and we are grateful for your patronage. But whether you make a purchase from us or elsewhere, please consider making room for the sacred in your home.