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Making Peace

Attributed to José Montes de Oca<br /> Spanish, 1675 –1764<br /><em>Saint Benedict of Palermo</em>, c. 1734<br /> Polychrome and gilt wood, glass<br /> Minneapolis Institute of Arts<br /> The John R. Van Derlip Fund
  Attributed to José Montes de Oca
Spanish, 1675 –1764
Saint Benedict of Palermo, c. 1734
Polychrome and gilt wood, glass
Minneapolis Institute of Arts
The John R. Van Derlip Fund


Are you, or do you know, a peacemaker—someone who takes action to make peace? St. Benedict of Palermo was such a person. Born in 1524, he is still remembered today for his peaceful ways.

The first Christian saint of African origin to be canonized in modern times, Saint Benedict of Palermo (1524–89) was born in Sicily (then part of Spain) to parents who were probably from Ethiopia and formerly enslaved.

Granted freedom at age 18, Benedict continued to work for his former master. He earned a meager wage, much of which he gave to people who were sick and in need. Nonetheless, he was often bullied for his black skin. He responded with peaceful actions and gentle words. He later joined a religious group called the Franciscans. He was admired as a model of religious devotion, wise counsel, and leadership. Benedict had a strong sense of community and referred to possessions as "ours" not "mine."

His death inspired a grassroots movement that resulted in his sainthood. By the early 1600s, Saint Benedict was widely venerated in Italy, Spain, and Latin America. Today he is considered the patron saint of African Americans.

When you look at José Montes de Oca's wooden statue, carved in Sevilla in the 1730s, what do you see that brings Benedict's peaceful, inspiring personality to life? Created to appear lifelike, his shining eyes made from glass paste look directly at the viewer. He seems as if to speak; his open mouth reveals teeth made from bone. The welcoming gesture of his spread arms, the gentle movement of his garments, and the turn of his body also show his vitality. Is he, with great emotion, asking us to follow his peaceful example?

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1. Danny Lyon, photographer and peacemaker, documented the American Civil Rights Movement in hundreds of photographs, including this one of peacemaker Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Danny Lyon, American, born 1942, Birmingham, Alabama. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., just before he spoke at the funeral of the four girls murdered in the 16th Street Baptist Church, 1963, gelatin silver print (printed 1999), Minneapolis Institute of Arts, The Alfred and Ingrid Lenz Harrison Fund
2. Bob Thompson celebrates his hero, Nina Simone, a singer, songwriter, and Civil Rights Movement peacemaker, in this colorful painting. Bob Thompson, Homage to Nina Simone, 1965, oil on canvas, Minneapolis Institute of Arts, The John R. Van Derlip Fund
3. Jizo Bosatsu, a divine being of infinite grace and compassion, offers peace to women, children, and others in need. Japan, Jizo Bosatsu, early 13th century; wood, lacquer, colors and gilt; Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Gift of funds from Anne de Uribe Echebarria in honor of her husband, Luis de Uribe Echebarria, Mary Livingston Griggs and Mary Burke Foundation, Mary Griggs Burke, The Putnam Dana McMillan Fund, and The William Hood Dunwoody Fund


November 2011