I encountered my first statue of Our Lady of Lourdes when I was a child in the house of some Rhenish winemakers. My parents were taste-testing from bottle for sale in the kitchen, while the daughter of the owners, who was my age, showed me around upstairs through the rooms of the house. Her parents' bedroom opened to me in fresh and festive stillness – enormous flat duvets, pillows softly separated like rabbits' ears, and there on the dresser in front she stood, a princess of ice with the cold all around her, strangely alive, her doll-like face so delicately depicted. My mother smiled with a hint of humour when I told her that this beautiful figure appeared to me: she was a "saint of the night-stand".
It was my mother's sarcastic smile that made me understand: in our world, among intellectuals, scholars, art experts, Our Lady of Lourdes was not taken seriously. She was kitsch. Yet look at the fact that in the whole of the 20th century there has been no artistic creation so clear, comprehensible, capable of speaking across cultural boundaries, so meaningful for liturgically and so identifiably Catholic as the Madonna of Lourdes. Her anonymous maker must have had a stroke of genius like the designers of Mickey Mouse and whoever came up with the Coca Cola logo. Where there is Our Lady of Lourdes, there is the Catholic Church. Faced with such intrinsic power any aesthetic judgment is reduced to an insignificant statement of personal taste.
It is astonishing: the statue from Lourdes, an industrial product, corresponds to the founding image of Christian iconography. And this is thanks not to the creativity of an artist but to the vision of a saint, who described as in a grotto "a white lady" introducing herself, in the Pyrenees dialect, as the "Immaculate Conception": not as the immaculately conceived, but as an abstract concept in human form, the incarnation of a word. Later, one or more modellers in a factory for devotional objects, whose names probably no one remembers, listening to the story of the little shepherdess produced a statue: a true icon, a true image of the apparition, which now has passed countless times on the conveyor belt. Left unpainted, with her features unpersonalized, like a doll, like each one and like none, as befits the first creature of the new creation, the perfect new Eve.