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 Black Catholics: Chapel Facts  

A Celebration of Love and Freedom
Expressed in Art and Architecture

The Meaning of the Sculpture Program in
Our Mother of Africa Chapel

At the Annunciation, Mary accepted the angel’s invitation to become the Mother of God. Because she cooperated in giving the Redeemer to the world, the Church has taught that Mary represented the redeemed human race at that moment when she said, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done unto me according to Thy word” (Luke 1:38).

Because of the Incarnation, Christ’s Passion and Death, and her assumption into heaven, Mary participates in the distribution of God’s grace by her maternal intercession to her Divine Son. It is through the life of grace, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, that we are united in the Mystical Body of Christ and receive the spiritual resources we need to work out our eternal salvation.

Mary’s mediating role in this sacred drama is uniquely embodied in the African American experience and eloquently expressed in the sculpture program of Our Mother of Africa Chapel.

A Sacred Conversation

The statue of Our Mother of Africa holding the Christ Child faces a bas-relief in the nave, which chronicles the African-American odyssey, and draws us to the Crucified Christ in the sanctuary These three sculptural components constitute a sacra conversazione, that is a sacred conversation, in which the spectator participates with Our Mother of Africa, her Crucified Son, and the African-American children in the sacred drama enacted here.

The sacred conversation, a representation of sacred personages in a single scene rather than in separate compartments, originated in the early fifteenth century. It is derived from altarpieces composed of three separate panels hinged together. By integrating all three panels, artists achieved a new realism in representing sacred space. The practice extended to sculpture; artists reached new levels of realism in which the spectator became an active participant in the sacred conversation, as in the Our Mother of Africa Chapel.

Our Mother of Africa, holding the Christ Child, looks down upon us. She strides forward toward the narrative relief in the nave, and her Divine Son gestures for us to read the relief, which spans the African American experience from slavery to emancipation.

Our Mother of Africa Chapel -2-

Our Mother of Africa Chapel
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