Christ in a bottle

Christ in a bottle

Materials:  Glass bottle, painted wood, leather, marker pen, nails, cork
Dimensions:  17cm high
Place acquired:  Pernambuco, N.E. Brazil, 2002
Place of manufacture:  As above

Made out of an old screw-top bottle and various scraps of wood and metal, this little object can best be described as a crucifixion-in-a-bottle. It was made, probably in someone’s home or workshop, in the north east of Brazil and was bought in the market town of Caruaru. It was intended for sale to people from the Catholic community of the region rather than to tourists. It's a simple 'curiosity' ornament with a weighty religious theme which manages neatly to combine two traditions.

The first tradition is belief in the paranormal. Most religions feature the idea of divine intervention that can transcend the basic laws of physics governing our natural world – miracles, in other words. Christianity puts emphasis on the miraculous, and Catholicism in particular has a strong official and folk tradition of strange but significant miraculous events. Statues of Mary that weep; bodies of saints that do not decay; visions that appear in the sky to ordinary people; all underscore the presence of God in people’s ordinary lives and create a sense of awe.

The second tradition is more prosaic. In trying to create that sense of awe for the miraculous, the maker of this object has used an old folk craft tradition called the ‘impossible bottle’. This is where an object is contained within a narrow-necked bottle where the size and shape of the object is apparently impossible to fit through the neck. The best known example of this is the famous ship-in-a-bottle ornament.

With this object the baffling (and profane) question ‘How did they do that?’ is subtly and cleverly conflated with a more metaphysical explanation: ‘It’s a miracle’. It is not a devout object, either in its making or its viewing, but there is no joke or disrespect intended here. The object has been made to sell for profit, but it is a sincere statement. It was doubtless made by a Catholic person of modest means to sell to similar people who shared the same faith.