Growing up in the house of Catholics that had left the church, there were only a few items that harkened back to the faith of my parent’s youth.  There was a crucifix and a matching pair of pictures of the Sacred Heart and Immaculate Heart.  For a time, there was a dried piece of palm leaf behind the pictures from some Palm Sunday of yore that the family had attended, but then, at some point, the palm leaf disappeared.  I didn’t even know what it was.  I only know it had been there and then it was gone.

And there was the concrete statue of Mary out in our garden.  (Until it mysteriously lost its head at some point during a party a sibling threw while my folks were out of town.  Also missing: my dad’s fish).

There was also a large family bible on the living room table and my mother had a giant rosary hanging from the mirror of her dresser that her sister had given to her.  And that was it.  Those were the only clues that our family had descended from the church Christ had begun nearly 2000 years before.

My grandmother was much more religious.  In fact, she was known in the family (maybe not so charitably) as a religious nut.  Average conversations with her involved subjects like statues of Mary crying blood and the visions of self-ascribed mystics that predicted the world was ending the next month, sometimes, conveniently, the same night as my 7th grade band concert.

She covered herself from neck to ankle and didn’t let us wear shorts when we visited her.  (She lived in southern Texas, which eliminated three quarters of the year for potential visits.)  We were also forbidden to wear Crocs because they were an agent of the devil.

As kids, when she took us some place, we’d get in her car.  Before we knew what was happening, our seatbelts would fling themselves over our laps and buckle.  And then we’d hear the doors lock and the windows close as she started the car and to our horror, she started saying a rosary in her creepy, monotone rosary chant.  That was her preferred method rather than asking us if we’d like to say a rosary with her and allowing us the free-will to tell her no.

She was always giving us and everyone she came into contact with, little plastic statues of Mary and little plastic rosaries.

And her house, my gosh that house!  It was a museum of religious kitsch!  Every shelf in the house was overtaken with plastic statues of saints and and plastic Jesuses hanging on plastic crucifixes and plastic Mary statues that came in every size.  

There were multitudes of holy water bottles, but no actual fonts to put the water in.  She had about forty votive candles and she must have had nearly every representation of (then) Pope John Paul II in existence.  She loved him because he was Polish.  (Decades later, after I’d read some of his writings, I found out he was actually a pretty brilliant theologian and a very good pope, in addition to just being Polish.)

There was a kneeler, millions of, what looked like, 50 and 60s era prayer cards strewn about and several prints of old renaissance art.

There was also an Infant of Prague statue that I found unnerving and that haunted my sleeping hours.

That was my impression of devout Catholic home decor.  It didn’t lift my senses up to God.  It mostly just creeped me out and I wanted no part of it.

After my reversion to the faith, once I’d grown older, I wanted to surround my senses with Catholicism.  I set out to decorate my own home in “Domestic Church” chic.  I wanted my house to come alive with the beauty of Catholicism.  I wanted holy water fonts, beautiful paintings, glorious crucifixes, maybe even stained glass if I could find it!

To my great dismay, however, the people who ran the Catholic gift stores I visited seemed to have the same taste as my grandmother.  It was as though at some point, (probably with the advent of mass production) the world of Catholic decor switched over to plastic and cheap and with a lot of glow-in-the-dark thrown in.

I found a few things here and there, including a set of the Stations of the Cross by Vincentini to put up in my hallway.  But mostly, I forced myself to make peace with the fact that I wasn’t going to find anything that appealed to my non-Greatest Generation senses and that my “Domestic Church” chic would just have more of an emphasis on “Domestic”.  Catholic home decor, it seemed, was not for me.

That is, until I set foot inside Dina’s house.

plastic statues
Some plastic mementos from my grandmothers. I’ve come to treasure these now that both of those crazy ladies have passed.

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