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Saint stops off in Aarau on his way to Rome

(swissinfo.ch)

A new five-metre high bronze statue of a third century martyr has proved to be one of the main attractions at a children's festival of a different kind on Sunday.

The festival in the traditional "bell" town of Aarau brought together church altar servers – boys and girls – whose patron saint is Tarcisius.

The bronze statue, which was on public display for the first time, is meant to remind children about his courage and is a "thank you" for their church work.

"The project is perhaps a little bit crazy but it's a sign of love for the altar children... It's a way to say to them: You and what you do are very important," Claudio Tomassini, a pastor in Aarau's Roman Catholic parish and the man behind the idea, told swissinfo.

It was cast over an eight-month period at the Rüetschi foundry, which has been making church bells in the town for nearly 700 years.

Jeweller and goldsmith Bernhard Lang, who was asked to come up with the design for the statue, was an alter server with Tomassini in Basel about 20 years ago.

"I was thinking back when I was young, when I was an altar boy. I was at a point where I had to decide: Do I want to serve here, does this mean anything to me?

Young person

"And I was quite young then. So I was very determined to create a statue representing a young person," he explained.

Not only does Lang's statue represent Tarcisius, who was stoned to death for his religious witness, it also represents a part of himself.

"St Tarcisius has something in his hand. We know from history that he brought the Eucharist to people who were imprisoned and to the sick in Rome. I just wanted him to hold something that is very precious to him, which is also a little bit in danger."

Lang said he wanted his statue to hold this secret "close to his heart".

"I think faith always remains a secret; maybe it's a different kind of secret for me than it is for you or others and that's why I didn't want to show it," he told swissinfo.

Challenge

Going back a year, Lang said it didn't take him long to accept the challenge of realising an idea that had come "out of the blue" and which touched him.

"It's been over a year since I was contacted for the first time. And since then probably my brain has been working hard and on overtime just for this single project.

"I was very much devoted to it. I could have worked three years on it, maybe even ten but I was under pressure to finish it on time."

To create his design, Lang started with photographic sessions of children of different ages before making models in all different materials to find out about the shape, the position, and gestures, before working larger and larger into the final size.

As Lang was putting the finishing touches to his statue, applying wax to prevent wind and weather causing instant deterioration, colouring and patination, he reflected on his work.

Excited

He admitted being excited about what had been achieved and how the public would receive it.

"I'm pleased but now I have to switch off because you could go on.

"Now it will be the climate that changes it and brings it to life."

After being dedicated and going on show in Aarau, the statue travels on to the monastery of Einsiedeln for a year then to St Gallen.

"Einsiedeln is visited by people who know already about the saints and they're interested in the stories behind them.

"Maybe it will also serve as an object of meditation. We will see," Lang said.

In 2010, the statue is expected to have its final resting place in Rome near the Catacombs of St Calixtus. St Tarcisius is said to have been originally buried there.

swissinfo, Robert Brookes in Aarau

St Tarcisius

A tradition dating from the sixth century says that St Tarcisius was an altar server whose fidelity and courage so impressed church leaders that he was entrusted with taking the Eucharist secretly to Christians who awaited martyrdom in prison.

He is said to have preferred death at the hands of a pagan mob, which used clubs and stones, than give up the Blessed Sacrament he was carrying.

His feast day is celebrated on August 15 but since the Assumption of Mary occupies that day, he is not mentioned in the General Roman Calendar, but only in the Roman Martyrology.

He was originally buried in the Catacombs of St Calixtus but today his relics are said to rest in the San Silvestro in Capite church in Rome.

The new bronze figure of St Tarcisius cost about SFr100,000 ($91,000) to produce, according to the Rüetschi foundry.

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Bernhard Lang

Lang, who hails from Basel, did an apprenticeship from 1988-1992 as a goldsmith at his father's jewellery shop.

He worked between 1994 and 1996 at the then Crown Jewellers, Garrards in London.

From 1997 he worked in his father's atelier on jewellery and silver work.

Since January 2004 he runs his own company, Bernhard Lang in Basel.

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