ArtWay

The way to avoid blandness in religious art is immersion in Scripture. Jonathan Evens

Artists

El Salvador - VM - Saskia Ossewaarde

El Salvador: Woman, get up! Mulher levanta te!

Maria Cristina Gómez

by Saskia Ossewaarde

This wooden cross was made in El Salvador to commemorate the life of Maria Cristina Gómez (1942-1989), who was a Baptist primary school teacher and community leader in El Salvador. A member of Emmanuel Baptist church in San Salvador, Gómez was a national leader both of Baptist women and in the teachers' union. She was a founder of the National Coordination of Salvadoran Women (CONAMUS), an organization of women founded in 1986. Since then CONAMUS has addressed the issues which directly affect poor women in El Salvador, including domestic violence and rape, economic survival, lack of political participation and social inequality. In her spare time Gómez went out into the local villages and taught the peasant women how to read.

However, some in authority became concerned that the previously illiterate peasants would now be able to read about their rights and would begin to demand them. She was found dead on the side of the road after being abducted. After her death her church commissioned a local artist to paint a wooden cross with scenes from Gómez's life, portraying her work among the poor women of El Salvador.

El Salvador is a country where many of these crosses are being made. They are painted with bold colors in light relief. Usually they show scenes of daily life: houses, people, animals, clouds, the sun. Sometimes a Christ figure is portrayed in the center, crucified or sometimes as the Good Shepherd. 

In this cross, arms raised, María Cristina Gómez is in the center and with her women across the world in general. It is the most well-known of these Latin-American crosses. It shows the development and new situation of blossoming of women. They used to only take care of the cows, without any opportunity to get an education, only ‘meant’ to be mothers and child raisers. But then – it literally starts at the bottom – they go to school, reap its benefits, develop into articulate citizens, straighten their backs and take in their places as full members of society.

For ten years ‘Mulher levante te, woman get up!’ was one of the themes in the programs of the World Council of Churches, intended to stimulate the development of peoples, starting with women as the heart of their societies. For a long time they lived lives of suffering and still their lives are often too hard to bear. But when life is lived in faith of the Resurrected One, then the vista of a worthy human future is born.

*******

María Cristina Gómez (5 May 1942–5 April 1989) was a Baptist primary school teacher and community leader in El Salvador who was abducted and murdered on 5 April 1989. After her death her church commissioned a local artist to paint a wooden cross with scenes from Gómez's life, portraying her work among the poor women of El Salvador. Images of this cross have become internationally recognized, as they are used by churches and schools around the world to tell the story of Gómez's life and death.

Saskia Ossewaarde is a Reformed Dutch church minister who taught religious studies at the Lutheran College for Theology in Säo Leopoldo, Brazil from 1986-1996. She translates Brazilian poems, songs and prayers.

ArtWay Visual Meditation 9 February 2020