Art lovers won’t want to miss the beautiful sculpture of St. Paul the Hermit that’s on display — the right way now — at the Minneapolis Institute of Art.
The larger-than-life-size work of 18th century Italian artist Andrea Bergondi was acquired by the MIA nearly 40 years ago, but until this year the piece wasn’t displayed the way it is now, and presumed was originally intended. Credit goes to the folks at MIA for rediscovering the proper positioning and not only fixing it but being very public about the misplacement.
Read more details later on this page, but the short version is that, the way the piece was displayed before, it looked as if the bearded old hermit was diving off a cliff, as a wonderful display explained for several weeks. That display — now down — showcased the Bergondi work in a separate room, with the story of the statue’s restoration and realignment explained in storyboards along the walls of the room.
What the correction did was turn the statue so that the saintly one was seen to be praying upward to God — which seems more appropriate than for him to be going for a dip in a lake.
The back story behind the piece that comes to us from early church tradition is that St. Anthony Abbot found the body of St. Paul the Hermit frozen in prayer. That’s exactly what you’ll see today in the marble image on display at the Minneapolis Institute of Art.
About the saint
It is unclear what we really know of Paul’s life, how much is fable, how much fact.
Paul was reportedly born in Egypt, where he was orphaned by age 15. He was also a learned and devout young man. During the persecution of Decius in Egypt in the year 250, Paul was forced to hide in the home of a friend. Fearing a brother-in-law would betray him, he fled to a cave in the desert. His plan was to return once the persecution ended, but the sweetness of solitude and heavenly contemplation convinced him to stay.
He went on to live in that cave for the next 90 years.
A nearby spring gave him drink, a palm tree furnished him clothing and nourishment. After 21 years of solitude, a bird began bringing him half a loaf of bread each day. Without knowing what was happening in the world, Paul prayed that the world would become a better place.
St. Anthony of Egypt [Jan. 17] attests to his holy life and death. Tempted by the thought that no one had served God in the wilderness longer than he, Anthony was led by God to find Paul and acknowledge him as a man more perfect than himself. The raven that day brought a whole loaf of bread instead of the usual half. As Paul predicted, Anthony would return to bury his new friend.
Thought to have been about 112 when he died, Paul is known as the “First Hermit.” His feast day is celebrated in the East; he is also commemorated in the Coptic and Armenian rites of the Mass.
Where and when to see the statue
Andrea Bergondi’s “St. Paul the Hermit” is located in Gallery 330 of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts in the Baroque area.
MIA is located one mile south of downtown Minneapolis at the intersection of Third Avenue S. and E. 24th St.
Free parking is available in the ramps south of the institute on Third Ave.
Tuesday 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
Wednesday 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
Thursday 10 a.m.-9 p.m.
Friday 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
Saturday 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
Sunday 11 a.m.-5 p.m.