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to take an art history class for my major in college, it didn’t really pertain to my major, but it fell into some outdated requirements so I spent 50 minutes every morning for ten weeks in a dimly-lit, too-warm room, being lectured at (basically a review of the previous nights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.
7 thoughts on “Portraits of Our Beloved Leader”
In 2005 when I was a member of an ex-CS writing group a friend sent me a link to an amusing cartoon picture of MBE. Unfortunately it is no longer available. It depicted in quite lurid colours Mrs. Eddy — with a mean. determined expression on her grandma’s face — rocking at great speed in an old-fashioned rocking-chair, holding a copy of Science and Health with the title showing to the viewer; lightning-like flashes are aiming at her bosom but seemingly being deflected. Over the chair are hovering lightly delineated human faces with miserable expressions; peeking out from under a corner of the rug on which the chair stands are several revisionary manuscripts of Science and Health. Our Beloved Leader is wearing a long dress that does not quite cover her feet. A member of the group asked me to provide a spiritual interpretation of the picture – which follows here:
I am Cedric Withington-Smythe, co-moderator with Gihon Galvan (alias Nancy Maddigan before her spiritual encounter with MBE in a near-death experience : “Go back, Nancy! You are now Gihon, and have much work to do combating the claims of the red dragon, electricity and magnetism. The race needs you!”) [FYI: Cedric is 93; Gihon 84 y.o.]
Concerning the picture of our beloved Leader that is shown on our
little group’s home page. It was lovingly sent to me by a dear
friend in New Zealand (not a maori) who had espied it at an
exhibition of students’ work in an art school. The painter is
unknown, but my friend did say it was an exclusive art school
attached to a Protestant college, and therefore would have taken no
students from minority groups (I think we can be certain that it
was painted by a student whose roots were firmly from British soil and who had some grasp of the simple truths of protestant Christianity).
At first I was unsure about the picture — the Withington-Smythe
collection is dominated by N. European and British works of portraiture and
religious subjects of a Protestant, pietisic nature and no modern
works — but Gihon and I have decided that it has much spiritual
import. Our beloved Leader was well aware of the possibility of
Truth being conveyed through the medium of the artist’s talent, for
did she not help James Gilman to illustrate the wonderfully pregnant
tome, Christ and Christmas — Mrs. Eddy, of course, executing the
most meaningful and spiritually elevated parts of each sacred scene.
The picture’s spiritual interpretation, which came to dear Gihon and
myself one evening after much exhaustive metaphysical intercourse is this: Our
beloved Leader is shown sitting in her favourite chair, rocking at a
high speed The motion of the rocking chair is likened unto a
grinding-stone, and Mrs. Eddy in moving back and forth, back and
forth, is grinding the material basis beneath her feet into a powder
(Matthew 21:44), the last level before its degradation into its
native nothingness. This shows her total dominion over matter.
The yellow flashes illustrate electric sex-friction; although Mrs.
Eddy holds Science and Health in her holy hands she does not use the
textbook to deflect this materia electrica, but allows it to strike
her breast which is so firm and calloused by the armour of spiritual
purity that it is impervious to the attack and shall surely
utterly destroy the flashes of electric sex-friction of human immorality.
Over Mrs. Eddy’s head hover the ghosts of her enemies, who have
passed on before Her whom they had sought to destroy, and are now
seen as wretched sinners in the hell of their own making, even
suffering that probation after death of which she averted them. Mrs
Eddy’s stalwart yet kindly gaze is fixed ever Christ-ward and we are
sure than when these erring ones acknowledge her supremacy in all
matters spiritual, she will once again speak kindly to them and
lovingly teach them the Truth that will release them from their earth-bound
The black thunder-like bolts are the artist’s attempt to depict
malicious animal magnetism. But, look! It is afeared to touch Mrs.
Eddy; the impression is that it is retreating away from her rather
than approaching her. It has realised its own lack of power – its
impuissance – in the proximity of Her who is the most scientific
woman to have ever trod the globe.
Beneath the rug — in a secret place of the Most High — Mrs. Eddy
has prudently hidden, for protection from the onslaughts of the afore-
mentioned enemies, likened unto thieves that come in the night,
revisions of Science and Health, on whose clarification she worked all
the while she lovingly allowed herself to tarry on this plane for the
betterment of the race. Mrs. Eddy’s spiritual language was so
elevated above human understanding, that she constantly had to revise
the text-book in her attemps to make its meaning clearer to such as were
not yet able to grasp some of the more elevated concepts that she
Science and Health and the Cross and Crown, of course, occupy a
central position in the portrait, and thus show their crucial importance
in the salvation of humanity. Mrs. Eddy is holding the textbook with
its title towards the observer: The world needs its guidance for the
destruction of sin, sickness and death. She who realises that She
has never sinned, never been sick and never shall die offers this
precious gift to the race, hungering for spiritual nourishment and
liberation from the fetters of gross materialism; waiting for
enlightenment in the journey from sense to Soul!
I asked dearest Gihon why Mrs. Eddy’s beautiful feet are shown when
it would have been easy for the artist to have covered them with the
simple yet elegant dress that our Leader is wearing. Gihon replied
immediately with the spiritual impartation that came to her from
Mind: How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of
peace, and bring glad tidings of good things! (Romans 10:15).
Let the sense-dream vanish and reality appear!
now I really want to see the cartoon so I can share it with your commentary!
The picture depicted in Figure 5 (on the Pleasant View balcony) always makes me think of Mussolini on the balcony addressing the adoring crowds back in his heyday.
It reminded me of Madonna playing Ava Peron in Evita.
Very insightful discussion of the Eddy images and how they are used a vehicle for promoting an aura about her. However, the crown (which I never knew about and I’m sure most CSists don’t) and its removal speaks volumes. Thanks!
The crown surprised me too. MJSmith is a wealth of assorted information, I highly recommend checking out her blog: thearkoftruthmothershood.wordpress.com I don’t necessarily agree with the positions she takes, but she does offer a very unique perspective on Christian Science!
MJSmith takes mariolatry to new heights…
Comments are closed.