Wednesday, April 7, 2010


In January a large statue of Saint Rafaela was installed in one of the niches by the entrance to the Vatican apartments in Rome. Amongst those making the journey was the sculptor Marcos Dueñas who crafted the saint’s image out of an 8000 kilo block of marble. He was accompanied by his British partner Kate Finlay, their three-year old son Marco and Kate’s mother Mary – all of whom were received by Pope Benedict XVI.

Saint Rafaela María del Sagrado Corázon, to give her her full religious title, was born Rafael María Porras Allyon in 1850 in Pedro Abad in the sculptor’s native Córdoba. She was one of 11 brothers and two sisters and after the death of their parents the two sisters passed to the care of an order of nuns and these sisters later formed the Esclavas del Sagrado Corazón de Jesús – the Handmaidens of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

Saint Rafaela was the first Mother Superior but at the age of 43 was unjustly forced to leave the sisterhood and became a menial at the order’s house in Rome until she died in 1925. This does not explain why Pope Pius XII beatified her in 1952 or why Pope Paul VI made her a saint in 1977. Nor do the few biographies of her life go in to any great detail.

However Mary Finlay did some reach in to what happened and said: “I have found out that it was her sister who did the dirty on her and she ended up being sent to Rome spending the rest of her life in household chores. She was made a saint for her forbearance in accepting the wrong she had been done instead of fighting back, thus causing her convent embarrassment.”

Now whilst the story of Saint Rafaela might end there the tale of her statue certainly doesn’t. It was commissioned from Marcos Dueñas by a businessman well established in Córdoban life, Rafael Gómez. He is popularly known as “Sandokán” because he resembles the Indian actor Kabir Bedi who played the part in the 1970s.

Well Marcos Dueñas had acquired his 8000 kilo block of stone and had been chipping away for two years at what would be a 5.5 metre high statue when “Sandokán” became embroiled in all sorts of mess. His Arenal 2000 construction company went bankrupt leaving many British buyers in the lurch. He was also arrested on June 27, 2006, in the ‘Malaya’ town planning scandal in Marbella. He was held in prison for three days being released when he’d posted 300,000 euros in bail. This case comes to court later this year and will be the biggest corruption trial in Spain’s history.

The result is that having commissioned the statue “Sandokán” now withdraws his support leaving Marcos Dueñas with a huge block of stone, the sisters in Rome without a statue and the Vatican with an empty niche. Luckily the Handmaidens of the Sacred Heart of Jesus are a resilient order. They raised the money for the statue to be finished then transported to Rome by selling replicas and no doubt some well practiced religious arm-twisting.

So Saint Rafaela stands in all her glory in the Vatican – a marked contrast to her raw deal in life. “Sandokán” awaits trial but will be judged by God over the statue fiasco. Meanwhile the sculptor Marcos Dueñas, who in the past has created works for the Royal Palace in Madrid and his native Córdoba, hopes to craft statuary and decorative items for the new cathedral in Madrid. I am sure as he works Saint Rafaela will be smiling down on him.

(Photograph is the copyright of Marcos Dueñas)

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