The photo found above was sent to me by a friend who was visiting Birmingham, Alabama for a work assignment. He is an architect and so he has a trained eye for creative and interesting photographs. He queried if I recognized this saint? I recognized her as Saint Kateri Tekakwitha. She was born in 1656 in a Mohawk village which today is near the New York hamlet of Auriesville. Adamant about being baptized by the Jesuits, she moved up near Montreal to a community of tribal members (including her mother’s best friend) who had converted and separated themselves from the tribal community, which did not approve of the conversions. Kateri is her Christian name she took in honor of Saint Catherine of Sienna. Tekakawitha, means “the one who bumps into things.” I wonder if she had poor vision? At a young age, small pox swept through her community killing her younger brother and leaving blister marks all over Kateri’s face. When she died, witnesses said that her skin became clean and they saw this is a sign that she was a saint, very holy.
As with saints, and I write with a little basic background since my specialty in graduate school was spirituality. Included in this area is hagiography, the study of saints. I am not an expert by any means, but one of the interesting things about saints is their iconography, how they are imaged in art. For this reason, I was intrigued by Saint Kateri Tekakwitha standing on a turtle. Research about her told me that she was a member of the Turtle Clan. You will also notice that Kateri is surrounded by lilies and plants while she holds a cross. The cross expresses, of course, her faith while lilies is a reference to her epitaph, which reads thusly:
Ownkeonweke Katsitsiio Teonsitsianekaron
The fairest flower that ever bloomed among red men.
She was informally called The Lilly of the Mohawks. Plants around her suggest her closeness to nature as a native Indian. Today, Kateri is patroness of ecology, and people who live in exile (which she did).
There is so much to learn about saints and one can extract a lot of information by learning about the artistic symbols that often are part of the artistic rendition. Find a saint and befriend him or her. They are great spiritual companions who can both challenge and console us. They are like our best friends who often do the same. The next question is, however, what is Kateri doing in Birmingham?