16 April 2011


Locus Focus: Take Forty-Nine!

Fittingly enough, my "Places of Prayer" theme is about to give way to my annual Holy Week retreat from blogging. After Palm Sunday, comments will still be accepted, but will be moderated for a time. This is to make sure I read every comment I get and don't miss the chance to respond to anyone! I'm particularly interested in what everyone thinks of my proposed Theme Challenge for May:

May at the Movies

Locus Focus has had a number of "Movie Editions", but if everyone is okay with the idea, we will get to have a whole month's worth of posts about places in movies.

The Church High on the Bluff
The Black Pearl
by Scott O'Dell

My father always came here [to the church] before the fleet sailed to ask the protection of the Madonna against the sea's dangers. And when the fleet came home the first thing he did was to hurry here and offer thanks for its safe return.

The church was deserted, but we found Father Gallardo and roused him from his afternoon siesta. While he stood beside the virgin and held his arms outstretched in benediction we knelt and bowed our heads.

. . . I looked up at the Madonna as Father Gallardo finished his benediction. She stood calmly in her niche fashioned of seashells, dressed all in white velvet. She had the face of a child, but she was really a young woman, neither Indian nor Spanish, with broad Indian cheeks of a golden brown, and eyes of the women of Castille, large and shaped like almonds.
I discovered the great Historical novelist Scott O'Dell before I was even a teenager, and for over a decade afterward, I simply assumed that he was a Catholic. There was something of the weight of a great tradition on him. (Someone else who carries a similar air about him is the actor Jeremy Irons.) Well, I eventually learned that he and I never worshiped in the same communion--but long before I did, I might have figured it out from the telltale hint in The Black Pearl.

You see, the village's "church high on a bluff" isn't given a name.

And Catholic churches are all about their names. When I lived in New Zealand, there were a couple of politically correct maps of the city which identified my parish church as "Karori Catholic" (with Karori Baptist Church--it's real name--up the road from it and "Karori Methodist" a good distance further up the same). But who needs a map when every Catholic in Wellington could tell you exactly how to find St. Teresa's church? (Well, okay, you'd probably need a map just to find another Catholic in Wellington, so point conceded.)

When a church is named for a patron saint, its parish goes all out in a fiesta on the saint's feast day. But it's not just about a big annual celebration: the whole place's sense of identity comes as much from its devotion to its patron as to its main source of livelihood. And sometimes the patron himself puts down cultural roots in a community, finding new emblems and figuring in new stories. We see this in the village's devotion to Mary, whose image among them is half-Indian, half-Spanish and whom they honour with a grotto of seashells and processions to the sea's edge. So it's quite odd that our young protagonist, Ramon Salazar, who is as devout as he is hardworking and ambitious, never tells us Mary's special title and his village church's name.

In this coming-of-age novella, we see Ramon following closely in his father's footsteps. As the senior Salazar makes sure to bracket every sea journey with stops at the parish church, so does his son start and end his transition into manhood before the statue of this Madonna of the sea. And it is good to think that the Mother of God is watching over his quest for the "Pearl of Heaven" and his struggle with the great ray, the Manta Diablo, which guards it as his treasure.

Now it's your turn!
Leave the link to your Locus Focus post in the linky
and take some time to check out and comment on those of others.
I can't wait to read what everyone has to say! =D

This Week's Other Locus Focus:

Michael Koryta's Southern Indiana @ What Kate's Reading

Image Source: The Black Pearl by Scott O'Dell


Kate said...

Great post! I remember reading Scott O'Dell when I was a kid, but I think it was Island of the Blue Dolphins, and I don't remember too much about it.

I really love your musings on place too, thanks for sharing. Happy Palm Sunday (in advance.)

Enbrethiliel said...


Although the sun has yet to rise, it's technically Palm Sunday where I am now. =)

Island of the Blue Dolphins is one of my all-time favourites. I would have done that "Sue" thing we were talking about and inserted myself into the story, except that even I could tell that Karana had to be alone. So I just pretended I was her and read the book over and over and over.

I've also read Sing Down the Moon, but it's The Black Pearl that is my second favourite. I wish I had read more of Scott O'Dell as a child, but his YA Historicals were very hard to find unless they had won some prestigious award. =( Things seem to be a bit better now; at least the Book Depository seems to have copies of the titles I struggled to find. Now that I'm no longer so sweet on Gary Paulsen, I'll love to immerse myself some more in O'Dell.

By the way, if you run into The Black Pearl, you should totally read it, too. It's pretty short (I finished my reread in less than two hours), but it packs a lot into its few pages.

joan said...

thanks for visiting and leaving comment on my blog

lisa :) said...

Sounds like an interesting book and great commentary and observations about names of places - especially churches. It reminded me of when in my city several Catholic churches opened a school that would serve multiple parishes but there was a lot of debate over what they would call the school. Eventually they chose the name All Saints to fittingly encompass all the Saints that the different churches were named after. :)

Wishing you a lovely Holy Week and a very blessed Easter!

Enbrethiliel said...


Joan -- You're welcome! =)

Lisa -- LOL! I'd say that was win-win, but I'll also bet the rivalry among parishes continued--albeit in a friendlier manner. ;-)

Happy Easter to you, too!