Last month, Anchorage’s St. Patrick Church unveiled a large bronze sculpture of David — the fourth statue installed in the parish’s outdoor cloister by the renowned sculptor and painter Roberto Santo. Santo creates original work as well as fresh interpretations of classical works by much older masters.
In this case, Santo’s newly unveiled version of “Bernini’s David” is an homage to 17th century sculptor and architect, Gian Lorenzo Bernini, whose works grace the likes of St. Peter’s Basilica, Trevi Fountain, St. Peter’s Square and many museums, churches and galleries around the world.
In contrast to Michelangelo’s well-known masterpiece, Bernini’s David captures a dynamic moment in the future king’s encounter with the Philistine giant, Goliath. In this version, David’s body, conditioned and confident in its stance, turns and crouches, his right hand pulls the slingshot, his left cradles the stone that will dispatch the hapless warrior. His gaze is trained on his target. His poise, Santo said, “represents David in a moment when he realizes God is with him.”
True to the Baroque master’s work, Santo’s rendition of this pivotal moment evokes, from those who encounter the piece, the truth of God’s fidelity and protection.
Deacon Mick Fornelli, who serves at St. Patrick, said the statue evokes the idea that, “God is with us to take on whatever we have to do.” David’s eyes, he pointed out, appear to look in the eyes of the observer, as well as those of Goliath.
This latest installation of sacred art is one piece of a visionary endeavor that began in 2003. In literature provided by the parish that details and explains the multi-decade project, Father Scott Medlock, the pastor of St. Patrick’s wrote, “The Holy Spirit has called the people of St. Patrick’s to undertake a major building project.”
Father Medlock described The Cloister at St. Patrick’s as, “a place of prayer and pilgrimage.”
The new 5-foot-7-inch, 300-pound sculpture is part of the Court of Kings. This is one of 10 courts in the walled environs of the cloister, which, through artwork eventually installed in each, will proclaim both Old and New Testament salvation history. The developing structure also houses a columbarium — a repository for the cremated remains of the beloved dead.
Roberto Santo, as artistic director for the ongoing project, will create all the works housed there. Of Santo, Father Medlock said, “We are humbled that God has chosen him to create all of the art in The Cloister. God will be glorified through Roberto’s artistic genius because Roberto understands that every space, every piece of art, every texture of stone and every color of glass is intended to draw pilgrims more deeply into a personal encounter with the love and the glory of God.”
Santo spent nine months creating the David statue at his studio in northern California. Inspiration comes in his dreams, Santo said.
“I just see the sculpture,” he said. “It starts with a dream where I feel like God speaks to me.”
He often wakes up at 3:33 in the morning with new ideas and insights, he added.
Many biblical discussions with Father Medlock help to shape the image the sculptures and other art works eventually take.
“I dig deep into my soul,” Santos said of his creative process. The crafting of a given piece occupies not just his labor, but also his thoughts throughout the day and long into the night, he explained.
Santo’s work, which is featured in many sacred settings as well as galleries and private collections around the world, has been and will be financed through private donations, with none of the money coming from St. Patrick’s operating budget. Reportedly, a much larger sculpture unveiled in 2015, the “Pieta,” cost $235,000. The cost to acquire the David statue was not ascertained.
Every element to be installed in the cloister is another chapter in the biblical account of salvation. Eventually, a covering will be installed to protect the artwork and to ensure this place of peace and pilgrimage may be enjoyed year-round.
In the shorter term, Santo has begun the challenging task of creating his next sculpture for the cloister — a depiction of Michelangelo’s painting “The Creation of Adam.” The form it will take is currently the stuff of Santo’s dreams and occupies his waking hours. It will be the focal point of what can be considered the beginning of the cloister walk — a pilgrim’s journey through the sacred space — in the Court of New Creation.
As the work continues on the cloister, parishioners and other visitors come to enjoy the serenity and beauty of the space, which is graced with fragrant and colorful garden plots, expertly tended by Jean Watson. Water streams and bubbles in four separate fountains, each unique in meaning and symbolism.
Pastoral associate and relative newcomer, Caroline Eddens, said of the cloister, “As a whole, it’s a blessing to walk in here every day. We see people coming and praying at different shrines.”
Longtime parishioner Rosemary Storr was impressed by Santo’s latest creation for the parish.
“I think it is gorgeous,” she said. “It’s spectacular.”
As for Santo, he said he is grateful for the chance to create something for God and his church.
“I feel very fortunate to do something that moves people,” he said. “God has an incredible vision and I am so proud to be a part of it.”