Thursday, April 1, 2010

Bathtub Marys and a New Header

Growing up in a Kosher-Catholic household in New Jersey, (mom's family were practicing when convenient Jews and dad's family were staunch Roman Catholics -- no one does guilt like me) I was surrounded by a bathtub Jesus or bathtub Mary or any number of saints that were important to the homeowner in our neighborhood.  These little front yard shrines were often decorated with the finest plastic artificial flowers you could buy at the local 5 & 10 cent store and always decorated with big, gaudy Christmas lights during the Advent/Christmas season and covered in purple during the Lenten season.  
I always wondered what possessed my neighbors and my dad to sink a bathtub into a yard and place a statue of Jesus or His Blessed Mother or St. Francis in it.  Usually a big, gazing ball was on  a pedestal near it...again, I had my questions.  Nobody seemed to have the answer to why and its purpose other then be told I should go out and hose the dirt off our shrine and replace the flowers.  Dad only placed live flowers in our bathtub Mary so I was kept busy all year 'round.
Flash forward nearly 50 years and I'm in Italy visiting my granddaughter and we are walking around Vicenza and then Florence and what do I see but street shrines to the Blessed Virgin, Jesus and a myriad of saints.  Everywhere, in little grottos and frames. My answer to "why a bathtub Mary" was answered.  Nearly every street corner or residential area had a small grotto or shrine filled with flowers and other personally placed items.

My sweet granddaughter in front of the street shrine outside her home in Vicenza.

A lovely shrine high on top of a local building upheld by cherubs.

A local residential street grotto.

Notice the bathtub shape.  This is where the use of a bathtub sunk into the ground would become an artificial grotto for Mary and Jesus throughout America.  I was beginning to understand the correlation.  Italian and German immigrants brought their Catholic beliefs with them and set up grotto shrines with what they could find in America.  A bathtub sunk into the ground halfway became an instant grotto.

Painting shrines abound everywhere as well.  I am fond of this one as it reminds me of a cameo upheld by a cherub.  Lovely. 

As I strolled around the streets of Vincenza I would find these shrines on nearly every street corner and always with some sort of lighting for the night.  They all brought a comforting smile to me and I liked the feeling of knowing that their was a good soul watching those who passed by.   This feeling of safety is only enhanced by the lighting at night which lights the corners and alleyways ensuring safe passage.

A shrine in the wall of a large residence.

A painting shrine high above the local street.

Am I now ready to run out and sink a bathtub in my front yard. eeehhhhhh, not so much.  But I would put a wall shrine on the side of my residence. 

  You may have also noticed that I just changed my header again and is a photo of a young, Big Eye Squirrel fish.  I like these fishes as they look like the punk rockers of the sea.  Large, spiney mohawks and big eyes and a brilliant orange and silver body. 

This image from

They go by other names but are most commonly known as the squirrel fish because of their big eyes and they make a chirping sound like a squirrel.  The header shot was taken about 10 feet of distance from the fish so I was unable to capture the brilliant orange color of the body.  (no flash unit yet)  Still, the blue overtone lends itself nicely to the background for the blog. 
Blessings to you all on this lovely day and wishing all those who practice a peaceful Passover and Easter.  Sea Witch


Tristan Robin said...

Absolutely love the street shrines and grottos in Venice ... I spent several months there during my junior year of college. They are just exquisite - and many are very very old.

I must admit that I'm not that big a fan of the half-buried bathtub shrines in the U.S. ... at least your father put real flowers in his. That is NOT the case of most I've seen LOL.

Seawashed said...

I love all those street shrines...I would love to see them in person. My hubby is Catholic, but has been 'out of the church' these 21 yrs. we've been married. I was unchurched, raised in a hippy home...but 'found Jesus' at age 17. During my prayer time last November the Lord whispered in my heart to attend the Catholic church. Now hubby and I have been attending these past 4mos. It has truly much peace. And reconciliation has taken place with his family. So, I am new to learning all these Catholic traditions and I am fascinating. There is so much depth in such simple faith. I am now wanting to find a Mary statue...the older the better. Thank you for sharing...this post is lovely to me.

Doris Sturm said...

Having been raised Roman Catholic in Germany I miss all that gaudy statue and religious stuff. I miss the big cathedrals, getting lost in their mighty bellies behind some giant pillar feeling tiny and insignificant like the miserable sinner that I am. I love it all, bathtub or not ;-) I think it's it's kind of cute how they improvised, although I have personally never seen a half-buried bathtub in anyone's yard. Living here in Bible belt of the deep south, I think they'd burn me on a stake if I did that seeing how Catholics are almost looked at as a cult...lovely post.
Thanks for sharing and Happy Easter to you and yours.
Doris :-)

seanymph said...

lol Im laughing here cuz you brought back memories. I remember seeing those too with tons of tacky plastic flowers. Even tackier now is plastic flowers covered with a plastic bag to protect them (insert eyerolling here lol).

Pat @ Mille Fiori Favoriti said...

The "bathtub" statues are still popular here in Brooklyn, Sea Witch, but I think they will fade away with this generation f Italian Americans.

I'm Catholic, and while the church still reveres Saints, statues used as a reminder or statement of faith is no longer stressed as much as they were years ago. Some modern Catholic churches have no statues at all!

Your Italian photographs are exquisite!

Grandma Yellow Hair said...

Oh my goodness I love these pictures of Italy...I so want to take my daughter there before I get to old to walk the streets. lol
Love that you shared this story with us and I too believe your right with this connection to the shrines and the ones over here.
Hope your doing well...I like your new header

susan said so said...

these shrines are lovely! and the connection to the bathtub shrines is a logical one; thank you for pointing it out!

i still see plenty of bathtub mary's here in KY/IN. often the inside of the tub is painted blue.

love the new header; why is it called a squirrel fish?


Jacque said...

Good morning Witch,

I would love to see those grottos in person too!

I've not seen a "bathtub" Mary either but have seen the little grottos. Here in East TN they use bathtubs for water troughs for the animals to drink from--but at Campagne Maison, we use bathtubs to bathe in...I guess it is whatever floats your boat...(and, that is suppose to be funny as I would never make a derogatory comment about anyone's religion).

I love your new header. You have so many gorgeous pics of your underworld adventures. Thanks for sharing them with us.

Have a blessed Easter weekend!

Kathleen said...

I loved the tour of the shrines, they are just beautiful. Being Catholic, I am oh so familiar to the bathtub in the ground thing, and have seen more than I can count. Don't people do the most interesting things? Hugs, Kathleen

deb christensen said...

love your new heasder - beautiful. i have always secretly wanted a bathtub saint of my very own. without the plastic flowers. so i loved your post. have you read The Mermaid Chair by sue monk kidd? i think you would like it.

yuliaaaa said...
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