Friday, October 30, 2009

The Kitchen Madonna

by Rumer Godden
Finished October 31, 2009

When I was a kid we had a ceramic wall statue (what do you call those things?) of the Blessed Mother in a kitchen. She was the Madonna of the Kitchen. Recently, Julie found one at an estate sale. While looking for information about the piece, she found a mention of this book.

I know Rumer Godden mainly as a children's author, although she has written novels, non-fiction and poetry. Looking at a list of her works, I am anxious to read more.

The Kitchen Madonna is about a couple of children, Gregory and Janet, and their quest to find a "kitchen Madonna" for their housekeeper Marta. Marta is a refugee from the Polish Ukraine and, while she is grateful to be in London, living in a secure and loving home, she misses the familiarity of her own country. She tells Gregory and Janet that the modern, sterile kitchen has no "good place."

"No good... What do you mean?" Janet was beginning when Gregory kicked her under the table. "What is a 'good place,' Marta?" "In my home, Ukrainian home," said Marta, "we make a good place. In the corner, there," and she pointed to an angle of the room. "A place on top of cupboard perhaps, or perhaps on shelf. Little place but it holy because we keep there our Lady and Holy Child." "A statue?" asked Janet. "Not statue." "A picture then?" "Not picture." Marta struggled to find words. "Like picture, but more beautiful. They in our churches too. Pictures, but prickled with gold," said Marta in a rush.

Gregory thinks that Marta is talking about an Icon, but later he and Janet learn that Marta has described a picture adorned with cloth and beads and stones or jewels. They decide to make her one.
Gregory is an interesting character. He is a quiet, shy boy. His parents worry about the time he spends alone, lost in his thoughts and dreams. He finds a purpose and stretches himself to talk to shop owners and museum guards on his quest to find out more about the picture. He discovers a creativity he didn't know he had and promises to make more "Mary Jesus pictures."

I loved everything about this story. It was a slight story, but the characters touched me and the description of the picture intrigued me.

The picture that Gregory and Janet finally find in a church is called Our Lady of Czestochowa, Queen of Poland.

"Gregory suddenly stopped, his fingers digging into Janet's arm. Hanging against a pillar was a picture, 'Or not a picture,' whispered Janet. It was a Madonna and Child, a Jesus-Mary, in a heavy painted frame, but both Mother and Child stood out of the picture - 'Because they are dressed,' whispered Gregory - dressed as Marta had described them in cloth and gold. The crowns were gold lace, carefully cut; the veil and cloak were blue edged with silver and stuck with sequins and beads that glittered. The Mother's robe was red, patterned with silver, and the Child's small robe was red too, covered with silver and beads."
It's interesting that this picture of Our Lady is one of the Black Madonnas. I had just finished reading The Secret Life of Bees, in which a Black Madonna figures prominently. The Madonna in that book was a fictional one called The Black Madonna of Breznichar.

I'm not why I was so impelled to read these two books at the same time.

I've always loved the ceramic Madonna of the Kitchen that now hangs in Daddy's kitchen. I think for my own kitchen I'll make a portrait, like the one Gregory made in Rumer Godden's book.

1 comment:

mrshart said...

Be sure to read Traveling with Pomegranates by Sue Monk Kidd and Ann Kidd Taylor. There is a lot about Black Madonnas in that book. At first I had a hard time getting into the book, but once I got past Sue talking about turning 50 and into the parts of their travels to different sites in Greece and France - I could not put down the book. I will have to read the Kitchen Madonna. I want to find an appropriate Madonna and Child for my granddaughter that will be born this spring.