For 500 years in Europe, there was a brotherhood that sought out those condemned to death. While spectators jeered or mourned, members of the brotherhood joined the crowds and aimed to catch the eyes of prisoners as they walked to the hangman or the guillotine. They held tavolette, which were wooden panels, mounted on a long post, depicting scenes from the Bible, most commonly the Holy Virgin or Christ Crucified.
The sentence had already been pronounced: death was at hand. This bitter time of total loss, of grief and terror, was the territory of the brotherhood. It was on this moment that they positioned themselves and aimed to catch eyes of the condemned. To catch their eyes and, in that flash, transform their minds.
The tradition ended in the 19th century, which seems to me most unfortunate, as we are now in most desperate need of it.
Thus, we move swiftly now to re-establish the tradition. In urgent need, we set to work. To renew and reinvigorate the tavolette, using images which will extend beyond the Christian fold. The public is hereby heartily beseeched to submit new images for the construction of new tavolette, new mental sparks for last minute transformation.
Traditional religious images are inescapably divisive. What is heartwarming to one person – rainbows, baby animals and broad smiles – is purgative and emetic to another.
One suggestion is that we greet each other with images of all else that is condemned, with images of the ibis and the manatee, the Yamada River, the Arctic glacier, the ladyslipper. Because there is no longer any meaningful differentiation between the spectators and the condemned. The sentence has been pronounced on us all. Upon our species. Upon many other species as well.
Thus do we greet each other, with our new tavolette, emblazoned with images of the Xerces Blue Butterfly, the Black Rhino, the Georgia Aster, as well as the Great Barrier Reef and the atomic structure of Antimony or Tungsten, all of which we are losing or have lost already, on all of which we depend. Reminded thus that our peril is shared with every living thing. Reminded that, at this time in history, it is in the very nature of life and beauty to be in peril.