Bride of Christ

‘St Catherine’ by Desmond Chute
Wood engraving from Horae beatae Virginis Mariae: juxta ritum sacri ordinis praedicatorum
Ditchling [England]: Typographia S. Dominici, 1923
Syn.4.91.59(11), p. 49

At the top of this engraving of St Catherine of Siena, the artist Desmond Chute has put the letters JM and JD, which probably stand for Jesus, Mary, Joseph, and Dominic, an unusual addition to the traditional depiction of the saint holding a lily, but a reflection of the work’s origin in the Guild of St Joseph and St Dominic.

Beneath the figure Chute has written ‘Catharina sponsa Xti’ (Catherine, bride of Christ’). The Sienese saint (1347–1380) had experienced a vision in which she entered into a mystical marriage with Jesus. Rejecting both an ordinary marriage and life in a nunnery, Catherine had chosen as a young woman to become a member of the Mantellate, a lay Dominican group of women, mainly widows. She became a prolific writer of letters which became the vehicle for her preaching and ministry to people in different walks of life, whether condemned prisoners or civic leaders. Called upon to settle various disputes, she gathered round her a ‘family’ of devoted aides, including her Dominican confessor and other friars. She undertook several extended journeys to Florence, Pisa, Avignon, and Rome in attempts to reconcile different city-states and to recall the Pope to Rome. Apart from St Catherine’s many letters in Italian, her greatest work was The Dialogue, in which God calls Catherine into the ‘cell of self-knowledge’ and teaches her the depth of His loving providence. Catherine presents Christ as the bridge across which souls are drawn to God.

In 1921 Desmond Chute left Ditchling to study for the priesthood at Fribourg. Ordained at Downside Abbey in 1927, he spent most of his subsequent life at Rapallo in Italy, where numerous Dominican friars, as well as writers and artists including Ezra Pound, enjoyed his hospitality. At his death in 1957, he was buried in the Dominican habit as a Tertiary (Lay Dominican).

Every effort has been made to contact the estate of Desmond Chute before reproduction of this image. A representative of the estate is invited to contact the exhibition organisers.

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