Updated: Aug 2, 2022
Just like many other Italian-Americans out there, I was raised according to the belief system of the Roman Catholic Church. Apparently, part of that belief system involved having pictures and statues of saints all over your house.
Rather than get into a whole history of the Saints in the RCC, let me quickly break it down for you according to how I interpreted their existence as a child.
This post is based on how I thought about things as a child. If this is a sensitive topic for you, please stop reading now.
I assumed we had saints because God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit were super busy and needed assistants for organizing and prioritizing prayer requests. I thought there was something like a "Holy Hotline" with a saint waiting at each prayer extension.
Pray #2 for St. Anthony.
Need help with a desperate, hopeless situation?
Pray #4 for St. Jude.
Want to sell your house quickly?
Pray #9 for St. Joseph and bury a statue of him upside down in the front yard.
It made me feel like I had a whole support posse up in Heaven. I know I'm not alone when I report that my family felt that the best way to honor them was to have pictures and statues of them placed strategically throughout their homes. Having a picture or statue of a saint, Jesus, or the Blessed Virgin in the home was not the issue. The issue was the mindset of "bigger is better" that was applied to these statues and pictures. Bigger is not better for a household saint. These things were so damn big that they looked like they should've been paying rent or buying groceries. Once you threw in dreadfully poor placement of these statues, it turned their presence into a bona fide nightmare.
When you entered my Grandma and Grandpa Buonomo's house, you first walked through a front porch and then you could either go upstairs or go left into the living room/dining room. If you walked into the living room and looked over your shoulder, you would see a 2-foot tall statue of the Blessed Virgin standing on white lace doily that covered a table in the corner. To one side there was a slightly smaller St. Anthony and, surrounding the feet of the bigger statues, smaller statues of other saints and the Infant of Prague.
The presence of these things are not problematic in and of themselves, but it brings me to the next issue. Along with being ridiculously large, the artists behind all of these creations decided that Jesus and the saints should all look annoyed, disappointed, or in agony and have big, crazy eyes. As a kid, I would literally run past the shrine table any time I had to go to the bathroom upstairs because I was scared that Mary would reach out and grab me. And I can't even count the times that the vibrations from us grandkids running around the house actually knocked Her off the table. I can hear Grandma Angie as I type this, yelling about how all the running around and knocking Mary over was the reason why she looked so disgusted.
Now let's talk about my Aunt Vee's house. It was your traditional Italian-American home: ornate lamps on top of interesting-looking side tables; a plastic-covered red sofa and arm chair; a crystal dish on top of the coffee table full of butterscotch or strawberry candies; family photos everywhere, and of course, Jesus and the saints. Whenever we would visit, and it was cold weather, we would lay our coats on my aunt's bed. Not a problem, except for when I had to go in there and get the coats at the end of the night. My aunt had a massive painting of Mother Cabrini hanging on the wall across from her bed and it's eyes felt like they were tracking me as I moved around the room. That painting had me asking for forgiveness for things I hadn't even done yet.
My mom recently told me about her most traumatizing saint experience. One night, when she was about 5-years-old, the neighbors were watching her while my grandparents were out. While the neighbor was changing her infant son in the bedroom, my mom wandered in after her. Lo and behold, Little Mom ran right smack into an enormous statue of St. Lucy, the patron saint of the blind...who was holding eyeballs on a plate. When Little Mom started screaming and crying, the neighbor told her, "No, Donna! They're not eyeballs, they're candy!". I don't know why the lady thought that was going to help the situation, because it convinced my mother that a saint was gonna' eat her eyes.
Maybe my family had the right idea. Their homemade shrines indirectly served as crowd control by terrorizing and traumatizing a bunch of loud, noisey kids.
**If you, or a loved one, have been traumatized by a huge scary house saint statue or portrait, please share your story in the comments below.