Bedecking the Bride of Christ at the Met
"The best plaque at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s exhibit Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination has little to do with the fashionable ensemble it accompanies. It instead takes the fact that designer Rossella Jardini is riffing on the starched cornette of the Daughters of Charity (think The Flying Nun and you’re on the right track) to launch into an anecdote about Charles de Gaulle. Apparently, the statesmen felt such affection for the Grey Sisters’ traditional habit that, when he heard the order was changing its headgear from that wing-like wimple to a soft veil, he declared, “One might as well suggest changing the French flag!”
De Gaulle’s consternation is droll. But for those with some knowledge of history, there’s irony to juxtaposing the French flag and the religious attire of the Daughters of Charity. The Revolution that raised that Tricolour also threw those sisters from their motherhouse and forced them to swear an oath to the Revolution. Those who refused were publicly executed. As four of these sisters awaited the guillotine, their guards confiscated the sisters’ prayer chaplets. Unsure of what else to do with them, the guards dropped the chaplets onto the sisters’ heads, anticipating the crowns of martyrdom they would shortly wear.
The fact De Gaulle could, less than 200 years later, see the sister’s headwear as quintessentially French is a testament to… something. Certainly to the devotion of the Daughters of Charity in their charism of service to the poor through works of mercy. But also to the way the radical strangeness of the Church can permeate and leaven a culture that never quite understands it.
Which brings us back to Heavenly Bodies."