Guest Post: Alexandra Sailsman on Catholicism at the Met

A young man in a colorful galactic t-shirt gazes up at an ornate gilt and fresco ceiling depicting paradise, with Jesus Christ seated on a throne surrounded by a joyful crowd.

Photo by Joshua Earle on Unsplash.

When I came upon the news that the theme for the 2018 Met Gala was “Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination”, my thought process was as follows:

There’s ANOTHER self-aggrandizing celebrity award ceremony?

Wait. The Met’s an art museum. Proceed.

…and celebrities have been told it’s the theme for a red carpet affair. What sacrilegious horrors will they foist on us now?

As I scrolled through photo after photo of incredibly dressed figures whose faces I sometimes recognized, I must admit I was pleasantly surprised.

By and large, the attire was gorgeous. I’m a sucker for beautiful materials, and, let’s face it, celebrities can afford the best – from the lush and hefty to the delicate and diaphanous in a spectrum of rich  hues, you need a major budget to pull off these looks. The designs took a wide range of inspiration, from subtle to historical to flagrantly ostentatious. Gigi Hadid wore a stained glass inspired gown with incredibly detailed dye-work, metallic embroidery and structured draping which was one of my favorites. Joan of Arc, the Sistine Chapel, and many Medieval Madonnas all made an appearance through modern fashion house interpretations. I am all for headdresses (go big or go home, right?) but life-size arch-angelic feather wings are a tad much.

I mean, I want to be offended by the whole ordeal, the juicy potency of calling these people out on a smash – and – grab robbery of 2000 years of Catholic cultural curation, but I’m not. I’m thrilled people are even participating, particularly the trendsetters. (Well, mostly participating. Many of the men opted for classic black tuxes which doesn’t even qualify as imaginative.) But when the fever breaks in a day or so, will the trend last? I doubt it. The celebs will move on and a night of Catholic cosplay will fade into other glittery Gala memories.

But celebrity dress up is only one aspect of it. The Met Gala is an annual ball opening a premiere exhibit. “Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination” is that exhibit, rising above several other exhibits at the Met all opening this season. The exhibition itself is unprecedented – many of the pieces on display have never before left the Vatican. Museums frequently loan artwork to one another, but that shouldn’t dull us to the honor of hosting other nations’ treasures.

I initially bristled at the naming convention – “Catholic Imagination” – expecting museum directors to devolve the commentary toward mythology and fantasy. But they kept the original meaning, treating humanity and the material world as a reflection of the divine. Andrew Bolton, curator for the Costume Institute said, “I hope one of the takeaways from the exhibition is that Catholicism as a belief system has inspired some of the most extraordinary works of art.”

Catholicism as a belief system has inspired some of the most extraordinary works of art.

You can view the Church’s beauty through her teachings or her trappings and I’ve got to say, the trappings are glorious.

They say all roads lead to Rome. If celebrities need their road paved with gold to get there that’s fine by me. It’s a step in the right direction.

About the author: Alex is an engineer by day. Originally from Miami, Florida, she began serving in Catholic ministries in elementary school and hasn’t looked back. She loves fantasy novels, comics, cooking, and science! Alex lives with her loving husband, Chad, and cat Dory. Together they are renovating their first home.