When a painting of Jesus carrying his cross was sent off for restoration in 2013, we little realised what it concealed. It was returned to us, beautifully restored, but having revealed that there was a second canvas stuck behind it, very badly damaged.
The restorer had carefully removed this other canvas, an image of a bearded man, probably a saint and by the markings probably a Jesuit. Other than that, owing to its poor state nothing firm could be identified or established. The restorer undertook to do some research and to see if it could be salvaged at all. Here are her images of the original separation of the canvasses and how the lower image looked at the time.
It was returned to us this week, just ahead of the feast of St Francis Xavier. Here is the result:
An amazing transformation! It shows, very clearly a saint carrying a staff and a lily, with the dove of the Holy Spirit above. These signify that this person was a confessor, rather than a martyr (the lily), and a missionary (the staff represents someone who journeys). The Holy Spirit suggests he was someone “inspired” and therefore holy, but the absence of any “book” in the image suggests it was not by his writings that he was best known. So far, it looks like it might be St Francis Xavier or one of the early Jesuit (non-martyr) missionaries. The saint is wearing the Jesuit emblem on his tunic. What confirms it absolutely as St Francis Xavier is the text which was uncovered beneath the heavy dark varnish and dirt: emerging from his mouth are the words “Satis est Domine Satis est” (“It is enough, Lord, it is enough”). These were reputed to be words St Francis uttered on a number of occasions in moments of ecstatic prayer (the dove suggests this experience too). In fact, these words are inscribed on the saint’s tomb in Goa, India, and appear in a famous 17th century paiting of him in Kobe, Japan.
There is mention of the College having had images of St Francis Xavier in its original home in Madrid, which were taken to Valladolid in 1771, but until now, we thought they were probably lost. Perhaps this is one of those, an image which has been part of the College for 300 years or so, but which is only now restored to its rightful place. St Francis Xavier, pray for us, and for all who follow your example of missionary zeal and enthusiasm for the Gospel.