Saying A lot in One Word

by | Mar 24, 2024 | 2024, Musings | 0 comments

In 1499, Michelangelo created a statue of Mary cradling the body of Jesus for a funeral monument of the French Cardinal Jean de Bilheres. It is an extraordinary sculpture depicting the scene right after the crucifixion. Mary is sitting on a rock with the lifeless body of Jesus draped over her lap.

This art chiseled out of stone is extremely lifelike, very expressive and quickly became one of Michelangelo’s masterpieces.

Even today, as you stand on the right-hand side of St. Peter’s Basilica, you will quickly become overwhelmed by the power of that white stone to impact your soul. After a while though, your eyes will be drawn to the sash across Mary’s body. It says, “Michael Angelus Bonarotus Florent Facieba.”

Tradition says that right after he finished the statue, Michelangelo overheard some critics discussing who the artist was. They were crediting a second-rate sculpturer named Gobbo with this magnificent work. And some think that Michelangelo couldn’t stand it! So he hustled back to his studio, grabbed a chisel and hammer and began to autograph his work.

It makes a good story, but we are not sure of his motive. What we do know is that Michelangelo felt the need to embolden his work with some biographical details.

Across the Mary’s sash, he indented his name, the fact that he was from Florence and then added “FECIEBA.” And that is the word that fascinates me this week. That one word says a lot.

Artists often used this Latin term to indicate they were finished with a project. But Michelangelo did not use the perfect tense, showing the completeness of the work, as an expression of his pride. Instead, He used the imperfect tense, meaning that the work was contemporary with other similar works, specifically that the project was incomplete.

That engraving across the sash translates into “Michelangelo Buonarroti the Florentine was making this…” Was making this, is engaged in this project, hasn’t already arrived at the finish line, is indicating there is more to come.

I think that one word, “FECIEBA” tapped across the folds of Mary’s gown is a statement of his humility. It was a grand work. He was proud of it. But he knew this was the beginning of his artist achievements. He would go on, try other mediums, stretch and develop, learn and try, always growing. Never arriving and taking full credit for the product.

If there is one word we ought to be focused on this Easter week, it is HUMILITY.  When humility shows up in our lives, it says a lot. It says a lot at our desks at work, it screams in the family minivan, it leaps off the couch in our home and impacts every relationship we have. So, this week, let’s think: FECIEBA. We are working on things. We have not arrived. Sin will keep us humble as we survey the cross.



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