Brazil Reflections: St. Francis and the Fiery Seraph Wings

When we were in Rio we visited Igreja da Ordem Terceira de São Francisco da Penitência (The Church of the Tertiary Order of Saint Francis Penitent). Along with the St. Benedict Monastery in Rio Igreja da Ordem Terceira de São Francisco da Penitência is a grand display of the full-on baroque style.

What struck me and the boys was the altarpiece, which showed the vision of St. Francis when he received the stigmata on Mount La Verna.

I thought I knew this story well. But when we looked at the altarpiece in the church we saw the crucified Jesus surrounded by six angel wings.

As we looked at the altar Brenden asked me, "What's the story with the six angel wings?"

 I didn't know.

My recollection was that Francis saw a vision of the crucified Jesus on the mountain, after which he received the stigmata, the wounds of Jesus upon his own body. But I didn't recall any angel wings.

So we did a little research.

Two years before Francis' death he went to Mount La Verna for a forty-day fast. On the mountain as he prayed Francis saw a vision of a seraph with six fiery wings. The seraph approached Francis and opened its wings, revealing between the wings the image of a man crucified.

The story I had recalled was Francis seeing the crucified Jesus, but the actual vision was of a six-winged seraph who opens its wings to reveal a crucified figure, presumably Jesus, but perhaps the seraph itself, or perhaps an image of Francis who upon seeing the vision received the stigmata.

So that's the story of the six angel wings.

All that to say, it was a stunning altarpiece.

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