century laid the foundations of present-day Europe. It saw the rise of real
In 1793 French
revolutionaries had installed a naked woman as the goddess of Reason in the
middle of the Notre Dame of Paris. It formed part of a series of
atheistic and anti-Christian campaigns. The provocative deed sent cultural
shockwaves throughout Europe. The image itself was replicated in many forms. It
became the inspiration for the Statue of Liberty which the French Masons
presented to New York in 1884.
Making a woman the model of
reason contradicted the age-old prejudice that considered
intelligent than men. The implication was not lost on a first-wave of
feminists who called for better education for women. The symbolism spurred
Friedrich Nietsche to announce
the arrival of the
autonomous human (Supermensch) who has to create his/her own life
without God or religion.
The 19th century reformers
saw in particular the Catholic Church as the greatest obstacle to reason,
progress and reform. And this with some justification.
Pope Gregory XVI (1823-1846)
opposed basic technological innovations in the Papal States such as gas
lighting and railways, believing that they would increase the power of the
bourgeoisie, leading to demands for liberal reforms. He blocked schools in
Pope Pius IX
(1846-1878) condemned the view that each person enjoys freedom of conscience
and freedom of religious worship. He held that salvation is only possible
through the Catholic Church. He called socialism a 'pest' and declared that 'slavery itself,
considered as such in its essential nature, is not at all contrary to the law
of nature or the law of God'.
This century saw an
upsurge of spiritual dedication to Mary. Priests saw her as a model of the
priesthood which they aspired to follow in their own ministries. There was a
special ceremony of committing oneself to Mary's priestly care, with daily
prayers of devotion. Many priests offered the sacrifice of Mass with and
through her priestly mediation.
of Lisiseux (1873-1897) took a special interest in supporting priests
through her daily sacrifices and prayers. She did this in imitation of Mary,
her great example. She felt personally called to the ministerial priesthood.
The women leaders of this
period not only battled against the age-old prejudices that curtailed women's
lives. They also saw themselves at the forefront of liberal reform for the
whole of society. They understood that the cause of progress and the cause of
women were closely intertwined.
Regretfully, the Vatican was
experienced as a serious opponent. The early Italian photographer Guglielmo
Marconi (not to be confused with the inventor of radio) produced in 1870 a
series of photographs in the context of the war against the Papal States. The
woman depicts young Italy but also progressive forces in general who are in
'agony' about the conservatism of the Vatican. Notice St. Peter's and Castel
San Angelo in the background.