Annunciation

Annunciation by Hermann Josef Runggaldier. Image courtesy of Shemaiah Gonzalez.

San Fermo Maggiore Church in Verona, Italy, features foundation stones from the fifth century, so I was quite surprised to find, tucked behind one of the central pillars bearing the weight of the upper church, an exquisite modern sculpture of the Annunciation. Sometimes modern art in ancient places is jarring. It doesn’t fit quite right. Yet this piece took my breath away.

Annunciation by Hermann Josef Runggaldier depicts the Virgin Mary and the Archangel Gabriel in two life-sized sculptures. Their elongated, manneristic bodies and simplistic, seemingly otherworldly clothing made me wonder if these art pieces might be older than imagined, but a placard let me know the work is from 2009.

Annunciation by Hermann Josef Runggaldier. Image courtesy of Shemaiah Gonzalez.

Mary and Gabriel appear immobile and hushed. This is not the convivial, jovial manner in which the Annunciation is often portrayed. Gabriel has no wings. Nothing marks him as a heavenly being. He could be a man walking by as Mary purchases food in the marketplace or makes her way to the temple. It is as if all sound and movement around them stops as Gabriel leans forward from behind Mary to whisper, “Hail, Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee.” It is a quiet, frozen moment. Mary hears the still, small whisper, echoing the still, small voice of the LORD that Elijah heard in the Old Testament. But this message is for Mary alone.

This unusual depiction of a scene which I thought I knew and was familiar with captured my attention. The two figures are in a conversation. Each is very aware of the other, even though they are not facing one another.

The Virgin Mary’s ear is bent toward the angel, listening. Her left hand seems instinctively to move to her belly, to guard and protect the child in the very moment he is taking shape. She has already said yes. All happens in a split second. We are seeing that moment captured; the moment she hears God’s call and the moment she says yes are within the same frame.

Annunciation by Hermann Josef Runggaldier. Image courtesy of Shemaiah Gonzalez.

Reflecting on this sculpture, I think how quickly Mary says yes. Fear or questions of doubt seem not to flood her. Only peace.

“Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word,” (Luke 1:38) Mary says to the angel Gabriel. Then Scripture says he departed from her. He was gone.

That’s the next frame in this sculpture. Mary turns around finally to see where the voice has come from, but Gabriel is gone.

I long for faith like Mary’s. To say yes, so quickly. To move in peace and in the security of her relationship with God. And yet this is the invitation each Advent: to answer the call God has for us. Will we, too, respond quickly and eagerly?

“Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”

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Shemaiah Gonzalez
Shemaiah Gonzalez is a freelance writer who holds a B.A. in English Literature and a M.A. in Intercultural Ministry. She thrives on moments where storytelling, art, and faith collide. Published on Busted Halo and America Magazine among others, she is obsessed with being well-rounded as she jumps from Victorian lit to Kendrick Lamar, from the homeless shelter to the cocktail party. A Los Angeles native, she now lives in Seattle with her husband and their two sons.

9 COMMENTS

  1. I was there today and after seeing a many great works of art in Verona, I was amazed by the power of this work. I was stopped in my tracks by the wonderful reworking of a familiar theme but somehow this new insight has stayed with me and I think it will for a long time.A quite wonderful work of art. I was going to say modern art but that would be wrong. It is is a work for all time.

  2. Shemaiah – I love this both the sculpture and reflection. It is so beautiful and touching. It really hits home. Like the Angel of God with Elijah in the small whisper near the cave, the Angel asking Mary and her yes, and God at work in our world quietly but profoundly. All the more reason to stay awake and listen.

  3. It is quite a captivating set of statues. However in the photo, the statue in the back has circular design right where we might imagine the fetus to be. Also the statue has a more pronounced feminine body. This may just be a question of shadows and a photo that cannot transmit the mystery which one can see in person . At any rate it is spell binding.

    Diane B

  4. Shemaiah,
    Thank you for sharing this beautiful sculpture with us! I have never seen anything quite like this. It brought such emotion to me, as you described it with your eloquent words. Thank you for always sharing your faith with us. My prayer this Advent is that I, too, will listen, hear, and “keep the faith”.

  5. Beautifully written and thank you for sharing this art work for reflection and contemplation.
    Blessings to you and your family.

  6. Your beautiful meditaton and pictures touched me deeply. Thank you for this. I will always think of the Annunciation differently and also think of how God whispers to me and my desire to respond with “yes” as Mary did.

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