Propaganda & the image of Mary Baker Eddy
I was required to take an art history class for my major in college, it didn’t really pertain to my major, but it fell into some outdated requirements so I spent 50 minutes every morning for ten weeks in a dimly-lit, too-warm room, being lectured at (basically a review of the previous nights readings) by a flamboyantly dressed petite woman using staticy microphone. I think we were looking at slides of French impressionist art. We had to write a Big Paper (10 pages or so) for the class so I wrote about how Napoleonic art was state-sponsored propaganda. It was more about history than art, and it did not go over well with my professor. The teacher did not get a good review, I did not get a good grade, and it was the only art-related class I took at Principia.
If the Christian Science Church has an art-propaganda movement afoot in how they portray their Beloved Leader, the Discover and Founder of Christian Science, Mary Baker Eddy, I’m going to abide by Halon’s razor, and assume this is not a malicious plot, simply blundering on their part as there are many, many unflattering images of Ms. Eddy on the internet.
That said, I don’t doubt that there is a committee of some sort that carefully controls how Ms. Eddy’s image is controlled in official Mother Church literature, propaganda, and Branch Church activities.
One of the most common images of Ms. Eddy is one of her looking serenely off to the left, white hair neatly tucked away, like everyone’s kindly grandmother (fig 1). This image often hangs in Reading Rooms, Sunday Schools and the occasional church foyer or the preparation rooms of the First and Second Readers. As images of Ms. Eddy go, it is not unflattering, although I am left wondering who, or what she is looking at.
The other well-known images of Ms. Eddy come from book-cover art. Martin Gardner’s The Healing Revelations of Mary Baker Eddy uses the “determined yet serene woman” (fig. 2) while Stephen Gottschalk’s Rolling Away the Stone uses a variation of the commonly used kindly grandmother theme (fig. 3).
It is interesting to note, that in in fig. 3, one of the variations of the “kindly grandmother” theme, Ms. Eddy wears a small crown that was given to her by her students. MJSmith, at Ark of Truth-Mother’s Hood has several excellent pieces discussing the crown and it’s role, as well as other symbolism relating to Ms. Eddy, her role as the woman God-crowned in Revelation, and symbolism in Christian Science in general. MJSmith points out that in some copies of Fig. 3, the crown has been removed, however is wearing the crown in the image on the cover of Gottschalk’s book. MJSmith talks at length about the disappearance of Ms. Eddy’s crown in Deletion a feign to idolatry and the disappearing and reappearing images of Ms. Eddy’s image in Science and Health in More on Mary Baker Eddy’s picture in Science and Health. There are also excellent articles about the imagery in Christ and Christmas, the stained glass windows of the Mother Church.
The cover image of Mary Baker Eddy, by Gillian Gill breaks (fig. 4) away from the “determined yet serene woman” and “kindly grandmother” themes. Gill’s book uses a much starker, younger Ms. Eddy, shrouded in a thick black shawl, and oppressive-looking dress, a very different from the image of Ms. Eddy (fig. 5) in her finery. In fig. 5, Ms. Eddy does look like a bit like a leader, political figure, or the Pope greeting the faithful followers, above them all on a balcony, gracing them with her presence. Her hat looks like a crown, and her robes are vaguely royal in nature.
In my experience, figures 1 and 2 are the most commonly used by The Mother Church and the Branch Churches. Fig. 3 is a bit too Miss Havisham to be widely displayed. MJSmith would likely disagree, and scream conspiracy! but really, the image of Ms. Eddy with a crown in rather lavish surroundings may be a bit much for anyone but the most devout of Christian Scientist to handle. Fig. 4 has come into wider use solely because of the Gill biography – I will admit, even before my departure from Christian Science, the haunting eyes staring out from the cover have kept it from being added to my collection. Fig. 5 is rather grandiose, and not used quite as often. The Mother Church does their best to portray Ms. Eddy as a simple seeker of truth, inspired only by the Bible.
“The Bible was my textbook. It answered my questions as to how I was healed; but the Scriptures had to me a new meaning, a new tongue. Their spiritual signification appeared; and I apprehended for the first time, in their spiritual meaning, Jesus’ teaching and demonstration, and the Principle and rule of spiritual Science and metaphysical healing, — in a word, Christian Science.” (Retrospection and Introspection, p. 25).
That she went on to found a religion with headquarters that have prime Boston real estate, several grand homes, influential congressional lobbing group, and made quite a bit of money from her over 400 editions of her “divinely inspired” work Science and Health are unimportant. Fig. 5 shatters the image of Ms. Eddy as a simple seeker of truth, and reminds everyone of her “beloved leader” role.