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Historic Church Displays Men’s Underwear to Showcase ‘Human Dignity’

Updated: May 17

Iranian artist's exhibition follows blasphemous "oral sex" crucifixion painting

A historic Italian church is triggering outrage among faithful Catholics after it displayed 207 pieces of men’s underwear sculpted by the Iranian-born artist Reza Aramesh.


Included in the exhibition are the sculptures of two men — the first, blindfolded and stripped almost naked down to his underwear and the second, bare-chested, but revealing his boxer shorts by dropping his trousers to his thighs.


The exhibition at the Church of San Fantin in Venice is being held in collaboration with the Latin patriarchate of Venice, governed by patriarch Francesco Moraglia — appointed by Pope Francis to the Dicastery for Culture and Education in 2023.


Sweatcloth as an Object of Desire

Aramesh’s exhibition, titled Number 207, is part of a series of artworks exploring the “Sweatcloth as an Object of Desire,” made up of men’s underwear sculpted from Carrara marble and arranged on the church floor.


“These humble garments, stripped of the body that wore them, become tangible symbols of identity and loss, highlighting the body as a political site and humanizing the invisible lives affected by war and terror,” states a press release explaining the artwork.


“This harmonious exhibition in the spaces of the church of San Fantin offers a profound and provocative look at the nature of the human being, asking questions about dignity, autonomy and individual responsibility,” the statement notes.


Millennium-old Church Profaned

The church of San Fantino is around 1000 years old but has not been used for worship in recent decades. In 1807 Napoleon suppressed the parish and its chapter, turning it into a site for his scientific-cultural academy, Ateneo Veneto di Scienze, Lettere ed Arti.


In April 2023, the Patriarchate of Venice announced that the church had reopened as “a place of prayer.”


“On one of the side altars there is a valuable and ancient Marian icon which over the centuries was considered to bring spiritual and material graces,” the archdiocese noted.


In his foreword to the exhibition’s catalogue, Fr. Gianmatteo Caputo, architect and delegate of the Patriarchate of Venice for cultural heritage, defends the artwork as “an experience that goes beyond the pre-understanding that everyone may have of what the space of the church is and what emotions can be experienced there.”


“The horror of humiliation is sublimated, but still remains the loss of humanity, which is symbolized by the worn clothing scrap referring to Christ’s loincloth on the cross,” the priest adds.


Italian Catholics Slam Desecration

Slamming the inappropriateness of the exhibition in a consecrated building, Italian Catholic online journal La Nuova Bussola Quotidiana asked: “Why do we always take so much liberty with Catholic churches and never with places of worship of other religions?”


“Why do other religions seem to care more than us about the sacredness of their places of worship?” the editorial asked, reversing the question. “And let's add: why don’t we learn from them?”


The exhibition opened on April 16 and will continue through October 2 as part of the 60th edition of the Venice Biennale international art exhibition.


The Vatican has erected its own Pavilion at the exhibition and works of art will be on display in the Giudecca Women’s Prison, illustrating the ability of inmates to welcome art to transform their lives, Vatican News reported.


Pope Francis will make a one-day pastoral visit to Venice, where he will stop at the exhibition, making him the first Pope in history to attend the Venice Biennale.


Patriarch Accused of Gay Clergy Cover-ups

Archbishop Francesco Moraglia has been accused of covering-up multiple priests alleged to have frequented homosexual clubs, stripped naked with boys, hooked-up with other homosexuals using the gay app Grindr, and hosted a boyfriend in the rectory.


According to Venetian media, the scandal-plagued prelate is also reported to have promoted a priest who is accused of having sex with two of his classmates during his formation as a seminarian.


Capri Church Exhibits "Oral Sex" Crucifixion Painting

In March, the diocese of Capri was forced to defend its exhibition Gratia Plena by the artist Andrea Saltini at the diocesan museum church of St. Ignatius after Italian Catholics complained that the paintings of Jesus, Mary and Magdalene on display were “blasphemous.”


The painting that provoked the most indignation portrays Jesus on the cross with a man bent over Christ’s groin with his face peering closely at Our Lord’s genitals. The body of Jesus is not even covered with a rag. The man’s is putting his right hand behind the Savior’s thighs, while his left hand reaches out to press Jesus’ ribs.


While Catholic observers lambasted the painting for its suggestiveness of oral sex, the exhibition’s organizers defended the painting as the Roman centurion Longinus, who stabbed Jesus in the side with a spear after his death, breaking one of Jesus' ribs in this painting.


The diocese was forced to shut down the exhibition after protests and a scuffle in which an unidentified man slashed the offensive painting with a knife and covered it with black spray paint. The protestor struck the artist on his neck with his weapon before fleeing the church.


More than 30,000 Italians signed a petition calling for the show to be closed.


On March 15, advocate Francesco Minutillo filed a complaint to public prosecutors in Modena, accusing the archbishop of Forli, Erio Castellucci, of vilifying the Catholic religion, blasphemy and display of blasphemous images in a sacred place.

Dr. Jules Gomes, (BA, BD, MTh, PhD), has a doctorate in biblical studies from the University of Cambridge. Currently a Vatican-accredited journalist based in Rome, he is the author of five books and several academic articles. Gomes lectured at Catholic and Protestant seminaries and universities and was canon theologian and artistic director at Liverpool Cathedral.

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My God, help us. Becoming more and more difficult to identify as Catholic.

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