A statue of Mary stands on my dresser, so I often touch the base while I put on my earrings in the morning. Jesus, depicted as the Risen Christ by the Sea, by Jack Jewell, beams his joyful smile at me from a framed print on the wall. I usually talk to him at night before bed. Over my husband’s dresser hangs a hand-carved crucifix next to a pencil sketch of Jesus sitting in a church pew.
Is this too much religious art for one room? Perhaps, but it’s our bedroom, and it makes us happy to be surrounded by holy pictures and statues while we sleep and when we wake each morning. My house isn’t full of religious kitsch, though there’s a holy eclecticism in my decorating style. And the décor is always changing, because I move Jesus and Mary around so they don’t get bored and so I don’t forget to notice them.
When my daughters were growing up, their friends came over and peeked around the rooms to see what was new on the walls. They liked the 12 Days of Christmas intaglio print the best. The second-best was the icon of St. Anthony in the laundry room. (I put him there for the missing socks.) A stained-glass angel hung on the door to the screen porch, and a modernist black crucifix moved around from room to room each year.
My personal favorite has to be Our Lady. Her portrait hangs either near the fireplace or over the dining table, where her downcast eyes look into the flames or the food along with ours on cold winter evenings. Those two rooms don’t share her with the rest of the house.
I experienced religious art in my home growing up too, and it made an impression. For 24 years, my parents lived in an attached apartment off the back of our house. They had their own living space and separate entry, so it worked out well for their retirement. When they moved in, they came from a four-bedroom colonial to a one-bedroom apartment, so the downsizing was drastic. But Mom kept her favorite religious art. After she passed away, my seven siblings asked me which of her things I would like to keep. That was easy. I chose her statue of the Madonna and Child.
I consider that statue miraculous. When we kids were growing up, this statue rested on the bookcase at the bottom of the staircase. During those 30 years, my four brothers took the stairs three at a time both up and down, and only made the turn at the bottom by grabbing the newel post. Basketballs often bounced their way from one story to the next, laundry was thrown down the flight, and our backpacks and purses swung over our shoulders as we made the narrow turn. Mom told us that it was her favorite statue, so her keeping it in such a perilous place was a sign of faith that loomed enormous. How that delicate porcelain Mary ever survived unscathed is a mystery to all of us.
Nowadays, Mary and Baby Jesus reign over my guest room, welcoming all who stop to rest for the night. She reminds me of my mom’s strong faith. She also tells me that the miracle of growing up in a large family without a chip in the glaze is entirely possible—with prayer, of course.