— Midweek Meditations:
thoughts, inspiration and encouragement
from ACF community members —
There are at least 12 original castings of Auguste Rodin’s famous sculpture, The Burghers of Calais. One was cast in 1925 and installed in 1929 in the Rodin Museum in Philadelphia, within walking distance from my second home. It is one of my favorite sculptures and I find myself returning to it again and again, trying to capture – and understand – the emotion it evokes.
Rodin had been asked by the city of Calais to design a sculpture commemorating the siege of Calais in 1346 during the Hundred Years’ War. The English king, Edward III, had held the city under siege. French attempts, under orders from the French king, Philip VI, to hold out, failed as the city was cut off from supplies and starving. Edward offered to spare Calais if six of its citizens would surrender themselves, leaving the walls with nooses around their necks and bearing the keys to the city. Led by Eustache de Saint Pierre, one of the wealthiest of the town leaders, five additional men volunteered. As they leave their families and homes behind them, they are convinced they will be executed.
So much for the history and Rodin’s commission. What fascinates me is the mixture of resignation, anguish, questioning (“Why me?”), and near pride at being able to do this act for their beloved city, their families. Starving and wretched, there is glory and hope.
The figures we see from the front are still wearing their once-lovely cloaks, yet they are barefoot. As we walk around the sculpture to the back, the contrast is even more remarkable. In threadbare clothes, they cower nearly naked….in cold northern France! No longer proud, but humbled; no longer strong but weak. What good are their riches in such despair? Now is the moment for redemption.
I am not an art historian nor an expert on the Hundred Years’ War. To me it is irrelevant whether the story is true and whether Rodin had the same emotions in mind as those I feel when I stand in front of this momentous work. Instead, I am reminded of the words of our hymn, “Come as you are, that’s how I want you…”
The story continues, however, with the intervention of the English queen, who asked her husband to spare the men, convinced that killing them would portend bad things for their unborn child. Did they return to their former lives? Were they transformed by this sudden reprieve? We’ll never know.
Starving and wretched, they came as they were. Is that also how we come to God? Desperate, sinful, in need of redemption? Yet, we too find glory and hope …. and love in His presence. We find in the moment of redemption that second chance.