The Lost and Found Saint
I have promised you, dear reader, an account of the fascinating history of the painting that was stolen and then found again. What follows here is what I have learned from persons working in the church where the painting hung, and whom I know to be trustworthy people.
In the early 1990s, I did a painting commission sponsored by an anonymous lady for her sick husband. The motive was of St. Anthony and it was to be given to the Catholic Church in Gothenburg, Sweden, as a votive offering; eventually it was placed to the left of the entrance, inside the church.
The husband became better, I heard later, but the lady was still anonymous.
One day, years later I learned that the painting was stolen. I was intrigued by why anyone would like to steal my painting; I mean, I am not famous or something like that.
Sometimes, I thought about where he was; what adventures he was having; who had taken him, and why. St. Anthony is the saint for lost things, and here he was himself missing. I thought it thus most proper that he at some point was found again, totally in character of the saint, so to speak.
Not surprisingly, a year ago, I learned that the painting had been found; and that there was a rather exciting story to tell of how it was retrieved. At that time, I did not know how this was achieved, but now I have learnt at least part of the colorful story.
The vicar of the parish in question had since some time stopped answering telephone calls in the evenings when he could not see the number of the one calling. This was a resolution he had made after for some time having endured a rather trying variety of conversations, even in the middle of the night.
However, this particular evening, by a reason he couldn’t explain, he picked up the phone, even if he could not see who was calling. To his amazement someone on the other end told him that she had found the stolen St. Anthony. The woman in question had actually spotted the picture standing against the wall in the apartment of someone as exotic as a lapsed Muslim turned Satanist. Anthony stood there surrounded by bizarre artefacts as cats (I presume dead) nailed to the walls, crucifixes turned upside down and so forth; she confronted the thief and learned that he was on the verge of doing dark things against the saint; she scolded him (not the saint that is) saying that the painting did not belong to him; and then she resolutely took it with her. I do not know who this woman is, but I must really thank her for her resourcefulness and decisive action.
She handed over the painting to the vicar, who didn’t know what to do with it. A reproduction was now hanging in the place where St Anthony previously had been; and who knows what the painting had already been exposed to in that chamber of darkness.
Not long afterwards, as Anthony, presumably, wanted to get back to normal, things began to fall into place; first, the one who had loaned the reproduction to the church wanted it back. Second, the diocesan exorcist performed the appropriate rituals to rid the painting from all evil influences.
So, now St Anthony is back in his old place.
When I see old ladies coming into church touching the picture, praying, and putting a coin in the moneybox beneath the Saint, I cannot but think that this is sacred art alive; it should be thus felt, touched and kissed. It is not idolatry, but, I must admit, piety far removed from the ordinary Swedish reality of rational, organized life; where middle class perfection requires distance; and please no touching.
Perhaps the old lady didn’t know it, but the money goes, without overhead, to a convent of sisters in Bethlehem, who help families in need. Up to now some tens of thousands of dollars have been sent.
So, if you I have a need to find something missing or lost, I think you should go to the Catholic Church in central Gothenburg and stop by St Anthony; the saint who was himself lost and then found again.