What Would St. Francis Do?

February 19, 2015

Salvador, Bahia, Brazil

St. Francis would be appalled but would probably recognize it.  I wonder what Pope Francis thinks.  In an ironic statement the Franciscan church and monastery in Salvador, Bahia is laden with gold.

19 Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal:

20 But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal:

21 For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

Matthew 6:19-21King James Version (KJV)

Sometimes I can be so Protestant (even citing the King James Bible, but that’s the one etched into my brain from Sunday school.)   That is the verse that came to mind and kept running through my head as I walked through this Franciscan complex.  Each night we get a quote on travel laid on our bed along with the chocolates.  Last night’s quote “Journeys are the midwives of thought” was particularly appropriate because during our walk through the complex my mind was not so much focused on the glory of gold but on a plot for a short story about the trial of a Franciscan Brother who comes into the chapel every day with a small penknife and scratches off a little gold leaf.  At the end of each week he melts it down and sells it to provide food for the poor.  The drama in my mind is not in the act of theft but in the arguments for the prosecution and the defense in both the civil and cannon courts.

(At a Franciscan monastery in Olinda, further up the coast, when the guide showed us the chapel for the rich, adorned with gold leaf, and the one for the poor I asked him what St. Francis would have thought.  He said Francis was concerned with animals and not people.  My short story has found its prosecuting attorney.)

Thoughts of courtroom drama aside, the baroque rooms in the complex were ugly and beautiful and disturbing and awe inspiring all at the same time.  That’s why we travel.

The mind and the eye get a rest as we walk from chapel to chapel.  Between the gold leaf there are corridors and arcades lined with restful blue tiles imported from Lisbon that are beautiful and somewhat mitigate the overwhelming aura of obscene and ostentatious wealth.

A little further on we reached the cathedral.  It is made of beautiful sandstone with elaborately carved and gilded pieces.  This day after Ash Wednesday, the second day into Lent, we could not see the altar that the guidebooks crowed about.  It was covered in a purple vail.  Somehow that was comforting.

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