March 12, 2014
The Pope's chalice: silver-made, austere and featuring Our Lady of Luján
By Pablo Jiménez
Sitting in his workshop in San Telmo, pencil in hand, goldsmith Juan Carlos Pallarols drafts one of his most meaningful works of art: a chalice that will be delivered to “Pope Jorge” on behalf of all Argentines.
Pallarols knows that this is not just another piece amongst his many other works that have earned him the reputation of being one of the best goldsmiths in the world. This is special.
“It’s a particular gift, it’s for a friend, for a good man, but this is not just a gift coming from me. It comes from the Argentine population,” he said, still moved by the news.
Unlike many of the great objects created by him and his goldsmith family, this one stands out for its simplicity. “It’s a simple chalice, like Bergoglio ism” he explains.
Years ago, the artist created a chalice for former Pop Benedict XVI with the help of Bergoglio himself, and they both delivered it in person to Ratzinger a few months after he was elected as the Vicar of Christ. “While creating the design, Bergoglio would give his opinion about it and I’m trying to bring that back to this new work,” he explains.
“It will be simple. It will feature images of Our Lady of Lujan and Mary Untier of Knots, whose first painting was brought into the country by him. It will also feature Jesuit symbols and Argentine icon. It will be made of silver, a metal that represents our country.”
For Pope Benedict’s chalice, the artist visited several areas of Argentina and allowed thousands of Catholic followers to chisel it once so Argentines could “be a part” of the work. This time the process will be similar.
“We began working on this new chalice in Argentina, but in the next few days we will exhibit it at the entrance to the Vatican - under close watch by the Swiss Guard – so people can leave their mark. It will also go to Barcelona since I’m currently working on a chalice for the Sagrada Familia, which was commissioned by Bishop Sistach.
Lluis Martínez Sistach was one of the cardinals close to Bergoglio who took part in the recent conclave that elected him as Pope.
But this isn’t the only object that Pallarols will be carrying to Rome. For the last four months, he has been working in an exhibit named “Argentina: the gaucho, art and faith”, curated by Roberto Vega, which will be opening in May in one of the galleries of the Vatican Museums.
A collection of 120 pieces will be exhibited.
Laughing, but respectful of the decision “coming from above,” he explains: “When we started working on the exhibit we wondered if it was a sign that the next Pope was going to be Bergoglio. What do you know, it ended up being him.”
But the two chalices are not the only objects created by the craftsman and being treasured by the Vatican. He once sent Pope John Paul II a mirror with a silver frame.
“During his papacy, they called me from the Vatican to say that His Holiness considered the mirror to be a real work of art and that he had placed it in his bathroom so he could shave himself everyday. Honestly, I couldn’t believe it.”
This new chalice will not be just another object. At some point of his creative process his artistic passion will intertwine that his love for his friend the Pope. That Pope that used to drink from a mate that he made for him and shared a plate of pasta.
Surely those memories will be impregnated in that noble “Argentine spirit” shaped like a chalice and that will be a part of the liturgy of this Jesuit father that is now moving from Buenos Aires to Rome to become a part of the world.