"Love follows knowledge."
"Beauty above all beauty!"
– St. Catherine of Siena

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Art: Our Lady of Fatima, the Thomas McGlynn Statue, Part 2

In Part 1 of the posts on the Fr. Thomas McGlynn statue, I gave an overview of how he, a sculptor as well as a Dominican priest, went to Portugal to interview St. Lúcia de Jesus dos Santos, the living child (then grown an adult) from the Fatima apparitions to create a statue of the Blessed Mother as she appeared to the children.  As it turned out, Irmã Dores (Lúcia), as she was known at her convent, completely rejected Fr. McGlynn’s initial prototype, and so he decided to collaborate with Lúcia for a new prototype, what would be the official statue based on one of the eye witnesses.  Fr. McGlynn documented all this in Vision of Fatima, his book on the journey and the making of the statue.

In part 1 I also mentioned how I went up to the Church of St. Vincent Ferrer in Manhattan to photograph an actual marble production of the statue.  In that post I spoke about how the statue may have been the first actual version of the prototype, and now after completing the book I know for sure it is.  In chapter 20, Fr, McGlynn tells us that the first marble version, a five foot copy, was placed and dedicated on May 11, 1947 at the Church of St. Vincent Ferrer in New York City (p. 202).  So the statue I photographed is the first marble production.

In this post want to look at the statue in detail and bring in the words from Fr. McGlynn in how the various elements of the statue came about.  The words come from two chapters in the book, chapter 7, “Irmã Dores and the Apparition,” where Fr. McGlynn discusses with Irmã Dores the details of her vision, and from chapter 11, “Our Statue,” where Fr. McGlynn tells of the collaborative interaction between the two to create the prototype.  What must be kept in mind is that creation was completely based on Irmã Dores’s apperception.  Fr. McGlynn tells us what creation meant to the future saint.

She had always wanted to see a statue of this apparition of the Immaculate Heart.  She had wished many times that she could be a sculptor so as to be able to make it herself, but since she was not, she said, she believed that God had sent me to make this statue.  (p. 98)

In many respects, Lúcia herself was the artist with the vision, Fr. McGynn the medium through which the vision was realized: “There was not a detail of execution that Irmã Dores missed or on which she did not comment with either approval or correction” (p. 100).  So here once more is the statue in total:

Fr. McGlynn Our Lady of Fatima Statue

You can enlarge the photos by clicking on them.  Let’s start with the most controversial part of the statue, the statue’s most defining feature, the Blessed Mother’s hand positions.  It was the first thing Irmã Dores rejected when Fr. McGlynn had presented his vision of the statue.

Não dá posicão,” she said. That was the first sentence of Portuguese I learned and one I shall never forget: “It’s not the right position.”

“The right hand should be raised and the left lower down,” she continued. I knew she was speaking of the June apparition and hastened to explain that in the gesture portrayed I was not intending to be descriptive but symbolic. I was indicating in the position of the hands the devotional message of Fatima, namely, the Immaculate Heart and the Rosary.

She smiled at my apologetic, unable to gather the interest I had in symbolism; nothing could substitute for the reality with her, it was obvious. She simply repeated her first comment, “Não dá posicão.”  (p. 61)

So here is a close up of the hands, the right offering a rosary, the left in an open gesture.

Fr. McGlynn Our Lady of Fatima Statue, Close Up, Hands

It is a most curious positioning.  Either of the position of the hands are natural in themselves but I think what makes it unusual is the combination together.  It’s hard to imagine how the two occur at the same time.  But Irmã Dores tells us:

The statue again reminded her of the June apparition. “She appeared as the Immaculate Heart in June only,” she said; then getting her Rosary out of a pocket of her habit, she draped it over the palm of her right hand and joined her hands in the attitude of prayer, continuing, “In June she appeared at first as in the other apparitions, then she opened her hands.” Irmã Dores demonstrated. Her right arm was extended, the forearm forward of the plane of her waist and elevated only slightly above the horizontal, the hand gently arched, palm downward. Her left hand was upturned near the center and close to her body with the fingertips a little below the waist. After carefully establishing this position (I made her hold it for a while so that I might study it), Irmã Dores held her right hand flat about two inches in front of her left breast to indicate the position at which the Immaculate Heart appeared, surrounded by thorns. I expressed surprise that the heart appeared out from the body, but she assured me that it was so. It was not so good for sculpture, I thought, but the consideration did not disturb me very much. I was too much interested in hearing her complete description.  (p. 64)

On reflection, as a work of art I really like the hand positioning.  It is the one part of the statue that elevates it to beyond the mundane. 

Next let’s look at the rosary.  Irmã Dores made the rosary herself for the prototype.  Here’s how it came about.

The rosary that Irmã Dores was working on was intended for the statue, a tiny chaplet of mother-of-pearl beads, which she linked together with great skill and speed.  She had the beads on a coil of fine silver wire that she twisted with pliers into hardly visible links as the rosary grew, bead by bead.  She stopped the work frequently to examine the statue.  The distraction may account for the fact that one of the decades has only nine beads.

I asked Irmã Dores about the size of the beads carried by our Lady.  She took hold of a bead of Mother King’s rosary and said they were about that size.  The little beads of the rosary she was making were therefore in good scale.  Irmã Dores could not say definitely that the rosary carried by our Lady was of five decades, rather than fifteen.  But she did assert that the Rosary extended about to the knees when our Lady’s right hand was in the position of the June apparition.  From this information and Irmã Dores’s identification of the size of the beads, it is a fair deduction that our Lady’s rosary must have been of five decades, for one of fifteen decades with that size bead would have gone far below her feet.

Irmã Dores said that the rosary was all white, the cross included.  She apologized for having to put on the rosary she was making a cross that was aluminum and a bit oversized.  She explained she had no other.  (p. 99)

Fr. McGlynn Our Lady of Fatima Statue, Close up, Mid Body

I can’t tell if the rosary is missing a bead, but I would imagine that would have been corrected for the actual statue.  The crucifix is white and not silver.

The garments in the sculpture presented certain problems.  First the apparition glowed brightly of which the clothes appeared to almost be at the source of the illumination.  Second, they were real and they had folds.  Third there was a mantle that went over the tunic and covered the Blessed Mother’s head. While these are things that might be embraced in a painting, they are more difficult to carry off in a sculpture.  Fr. McGlynn was not met with approval on his first attempts:

“The garments in the statue are too smooth,” she said, after we were all seated again and the statue was resting on the little marble-topped table. The fascination of speaking with someone who had seen and spoken with our Lady contended with the disappointment of her not approving the work sufficiently to keep me interested in further criticism.

Again an apologetic: “I knew from published descriptions that the vision was very brilliant. Now, it is impossible to express light in sculpture otherwise than by reflecting light from simple surfaces. That is why I made the garments so smooth.”

“But the light was in waves and gave the impression of a gar­ment with folds” (literally an undulated garment), she said. “She was surrounded by light and she was in the middle of light,” she went on, confirming the truth of my previous observation about brilliance. (p. 62)

Irmã Dores further elaborated, “The light was in waves and gave the impression of a garment with folds.”  Fr. McGlynn then tried subtle technique to bring out the garment’s folds and approximate an illuminating quality.

Two things seemed to be important in interpreting this description: One was that, although there was a suggestion of folds, the folds could not be realistic; they should not appear to be actual folds of fabric, but rather in some manner to suggest folds.  The second was that the folds should have the vibrant character of the light that she described.  Therefore, in making the lines of the tunic as I drew the tool down for each line, I moved it from side to side rapidly with each downward stroke.  The action resulted in a basically straight line that, however, was broken with slightly scooped and concave forms.  I asked Irmã Dores if this treatment suggested the “waves of light.”  She said, “Yes, it does very well.”

But she had a change to make.  I had made the folds, or these waves, continuous lines, starting from the top of the tunic and ending at the hem.  Irmã Dores insisted that they be broken at the waist, alternating, so that the ridges of the folds falling from the waist corresponded with the hollows of the folds above the waist.  She explained that this resembled the apparition in that, while there was no sash or visible cord drawing the waist in, there definitely was a break of the form at the waist.

She made me add clay at the right side of the tunic, eliminating the curve that I thought balanced well with the movement of the left leg.  She insisted that the drapery should fall down straight and that the underlying shape of the body should not be at all obvious.  Nor could the folds reveal the form of the breasts more than by a slight curving of the bosom.  (p. 101)

And if the folds weren’t difficult enough, the mantle presented a still more difficult problem.

Returning to the more important elements, I asked if there was any difference between the mantle and the tunic. “The mantle was a wave of light.”

“Wasn’t the tunic?”


“What then was the difference?”

“There were two waves of light, one on top of the other.” Puz­zling about the possibility of suggesting the lucidity of the appari­tion while making folds in the drapery, I became rather insistent on the necessity of keeping the drapery simple. I explained that each fold would create a shadow and that the cumulative effect of many shadows would be to darken the figure generally. Her reply was, “No matter what you do, you won’t give the impres­sion of the reality.” (p. 64-65)

This was true.  I don’t believe Fr. McGlynn solved the problem of two distinctly different illuminations between the tunic and the mantle, if that is even possible on a sculpture.  Still I think it he did a magnificent job with the garments.  Here are a couple of close ups.

Fr. McGlynn Our Lady of Fatima Statue, Upper Half

Fr. McGlynn Our Lady of Fatima Statue, Lower Half

There is a glimmering shininess to the surface.  I don’t know if the folds are gilded with a golden material, but there is something that highlights each fold and matches in color with the star, pendent, and the thorny stem of the immaculate heart.  I like the way the folds wrap at the bottom of the statue’s right side.

On top of the garments there is a star and a hanging pendant as accessories.  The star was apparently always known but the pendant turned out to be a new piece of information concerning the apparitions.

Next, an omission was observed: “She always had a star on her tunic.” I had thought that was one of the mistakes in the conventional image. Well, that would easily be remedied. But then she added another detail, one I had not heard of:

“She always had a cord with a little ball of light,” she said, indicating an imaginary pendant around the neck falling to about the waistline. It was this detail that was mistaken for a cord and tassel after the first investigations in 1917. (p. 62-3)

The pendant too was altered from Fr. McGlynn’s original conception: “I had placed the “little ball of light” directly at the waist.  Irmã Dores noticed this and made me raise it about a quarter of an inch to its present position” (p. 101). 

Now the shape of the star was one detail that Irmã Dores lacked vision.  She had not noticed how it was shaped in the apparition. 

I had asked Irmã Dores how many points there were in the star.  He answer was, “I don’t know.  Does it make a difference?”  Then she inquired about the meaning of the different numbers of points on stars.  Not an authority on this subject, I merely joked about it.  I said, “Well, the Star of Bethlehem has five points; the Star of David, crossed triangles, has six; and if you want to bring in Saint Dominic, he has a star with eight points.”  She left the decision entirely up to me by saying, “I don’t know.”

Without consciously making a decision, I made a five-pointed star.  It later occurred to me that this is the number of points in the Soviet star.  A fitting symbol, I thought, of the conversion of Russia that the Blessed Virgin had prophesied… (p. 103)

Yes, how perfect that the star is shaped exactly as in a soviet flag.  Compare the star on the tunic with a soviet star.

When it came to the formation of the Immaculate Heart, Irmã Dores had a direct hand in the handiwork.

In order to clarify the appearance of the heart and thorns Irmã Dores went out into the garden and came back soon with branches of thorns.  She joined the ends of one them together to show how the thorns encircled the heart vertically and the approximate number that fastened into the heart.  Incidentally, she said that of the entire apparition only the thorns were not made of light; they were simply burnt-out, brown, and natural in quality.  She herself placed the heart surrounded by thorns in its right position after I had put it a little more than she wished toward the center.  (p. 102)

Concerning another element of foliage, it came as a shock to Fr. McGlynn that our Lady’s feet rested on the branches of the azinheira tree and not on some vaporous puff.  “Her feet rested on the azinheira,” she said.

This was a shock. Was there no cloud? Every account and ev­ery image had indicated that there was. The problem of designing the cloud had been especially vexing during the modeling of this statue — how to make something that would suggest vapor and still be integrated in a solid composition. I had thought, finally, that I had solved the problem quite well in the little carpet-like cloud that had emerged beneath the feet of the figure. Did Irmã Dores now mean that there was no cloud? I asked her.

“The people spoke of a cloud, but I saw none. Our Lady’s feet rested lightly on the tops of the leaves.” I told her I was disappointed because I thought the cloud a very pretty form.  (p. 62)

This made the billow on which the Blessed Lady’s feet rest more distinct, the azinheira leaves also gilded. 

Fr. McGlynn Our Lady of Fatima Statue, Close Up, Azinheira

And it appears that Fr. McGlynn also gilded her toenails.  They must have pedicures up in heaven!  Seriously, I can’t imagine how a simple cloud would have turned out better than that.

Perhaps the most difficult part of artistic creation was the formation of the face and hair, or, in this case, the lack of hair.  Irmã Dores was adamant about how the face and the covering of the hair were embodied. 

I came back then to the problem of showing or concealing the hair. Irmã Dores again declared that the hair was not visible.

“But,” I argued, “if the mantle falls from the hairline, it will conceal not only the hair but the profile as well.”

“Whatever the difficulties may be in representing our Lady,” Irmã Dores replied, “I never saw the hair.”

So Fr. McGlynn capitulated, and he asked, “What was our Lady’s expression?”  And Irmã Dores  responded with, “Pleasing but sad; sweet but sad.” (Agradável mas triste; doce mas triste.)  But it was clear that sculptor and visionary had very different ideas about the aesthetics of a face, and it was of critical importance to Irmã Dores.

The face and hands of the figure were her chief concern and mine also.  It was not too long before she became satisfied with the position of the hands and of the figure generally, but for a time I feared that the face would never satisfy her.  Her criticisms were endless; she kept making me change the forehead, now the cheeks, now the mouth, chin, and eyes.  Mother Cunha-Mattos scolded her for being too particular.  She warned that I would never finish the statue if she did not finish her criticisms.  Irmã Dores’s answer was, “I can’t tell him I like it if I don’t.”

After a day that I devoted almost entirely to the modeling of the face, Mother King wondered if I would be hurt by her telling me what Irmã Dores had said.  I assured her I wanted to know.  Then she quoted Irmã Dores as saying, “He has the position of the hands right but the face is not yet beautiful enough.”  This made me concentrate with almost furious activity on the alteration of the features for a possible improvement before Irmã Dores arrived.  When she came, she expressed her feeling that the face was better.  But this implied that it was not quite good enough.  “Mais pequena, mais pequenai” (smaller, smaller), she kept saying of the mouth.  I kept obeying against my will until I thought the mouth too small.  Then she studied it carefully, and I was afraid she was about to say smaller again when instead, and much worse, she said, “Mais alta” (higher).  Well, one does not just raise up a mouth.  That meant I had to make a new one.  There were times like this when annoyance nearly took the place of reverence in my feelings, when I could forget that Irmã Dores was Lucy dos Santos of Fatima.

Mother Cunha-Mattos sympathized with my near desperation and told me not to worry too much about the criticisms that Irmã Dores made.  She startled me by adding, “Your ideas of beauty may just be as good as hers.”  I hastened, with tones of ultimatum, to have Mother King convey to Irmã Dores the following question:

Are you basing your criticisms of the face upon your conception of what is beautiful or upon the apparition?”

Irmã Dores replied, As far as I am able, I am trying to show you what I saw.”

This gave me patience to carry on until at last Irmã Dores expressed her satisfaction and ceased firing corrections.  I must admit that, although it is a face that I would never have made without her direction, I much prefer the face of this statue to that of the one I had first made.  (p. 104-105)

And so, here is the face, first in the context of her upper body and then up close.

Fr. McGlynn Our Lady of Fatima Statue, Upper Half

Fr. McGlynn Statue, Close Up, Face

Personally I adore this face.  It looks so real to me and not some artificially constructed template of a face, as in the one on the more common statue of Our Lady of Fatima.  And so this comes back to how I started this post.  The statue is the vision that a little girl named Lúcia dos Santos had from witnessing the apparition of our Blessed Mother at Fatima some thirty years prior and which she kept in her heart all those years until God could bring about a sculptor that could make manifest that vision into a physical entity.  When the work had been completed, Fr. McGlynn wanted and sought some acknowledgement from Irmã Dores.

I had formally accepted as quite sufficient the expression of satisfaction evident in [Irmã Dores’s]attitude toward the work and also in her statements made to others concerning the statue.  But now I wanted some word of final approval from Irmã Dores directly.  An important word I had learned was the verb gostar, which means “to like” or “to be pleased with.”  Gosta? suffices for asking, “Do you like it?” and Gosto means “I like it.”  Now, with unprecedented daring, I enquired of Irmã Dores: “Gosta?”  She replied with a smile and the greatest compliment ever given to the statue: “Gosto.

Yes, me too, GostoEu gosto muito dissoNossa Senhora deve estar muito satisfeita.  This statue is how I will forever envision the apparition of Fatima.  This is the defining statue for me. 

So if you have the opportunity to be in New York City, I highly recommend you take a little pilgrimage to the Church of St. Vincent Ferrer in Manhattan at 869 Lexington Avenue (between 65th and 66th streets) and view this most beautiful statue of Our Lady of Fatima in person.  Read Fr. McGlynn’s book on the making of the statue.  I could not cover everything here, and his journey is also fascinating.  Both the book and being in the statue’s presence will give you as many graces as it has given me.


  1. Wonderful posts, Manny. What a trial the sculptor went through! I agree, she looks much more like a real person,and nobler, rather than a doll, as in most statues. I like the one in my home church,though it is not the same level of art. When I get home from Michigan I must show you. And yes, St. Vincent Ferrer is an incredibly beautiful church.

    1. Yes, doll like is how to describe the common statues of Our Lady of Fatima. This is superior as a work of art. Thanks for reading Kelly.

  2. Thanx for this article, Manny. The traditional statues show the Virgin Mary with hands joined in prayer.

    God bless.

    1. My pleasure. This is how the last remaining child of the Fatima apparition saw her.

  3. We have a similar envelope donation scheme in our church - as explained on my blog.

    God bless.

  4. This is so interesting! Thank you for taking the time to share. God bless you. :)

  5. Thank you for visiting me again, Manny. I have replied about Fr Francis Maple on my blog.

    God bless you and your family.