Easter is a time for lambs. That must be where the joy comes from -they bring delight in different ways. My Aunt Bridget declared at 87, that there was no joy like that of delivering a healthy lamb, even at dead of night in freezing January weather. Then later on, when they are out in the fields with the flock, lambs have a unique ability to spring straight up in the air, apparently just for the fun of it. To achieve this feat, they curve their spines, while gathering all four feet together, beneath them. This manoeuvre propels the lamb off the ground in a gratuitous leap, the delight of which is not lost on any observer.
In the west of Ireland village of Knock in 1913, a Lamb featured in the vision reported by the local people. This was the Lamb of God and they said that it stood on an altar, at the foot of a tall cross. On the left of the altar stood Mary, the Mother of Jesus with St Joseph and St John. The visionaries reported that all these figures wore white. Hence the tableau of statues at Knock, with which we are familiar today, is cast entirely in Carrara marble. This was selected by the celebrated sculptor, Professor Lorenzo Ferri, for its snowy white quality. Indeed the two figures of Mary and the Lamb were carved from the last block of original Michelangelo marble.
However the professor’s early draft model of the Lamb did not fit local descriptions at Knock. His animal was a bit scrawny apparently and too Italianate looking! So a search was instituted for a more cuddly, Irish-looking model. Eventually an elderly woman, who had a flock of sheep in the hills outside Rome, was found to have a suitable lamb for the purpose. She willingly accepted lire equivalent to thirty shillings for the 3-week old little creature. And once arrived in Rome, he adapted well to bottle-feeding and life in a busy studio! During modelling sessions he was held standing on a table. His likeness can now be appreciated in the famous gable shrine at Knock, where he looks remarkably at home.
Back in Rome, when the real lamb outgrew studio life, it was suggested that he be presented as a gift to the Pope. But for whatever reason, he never achieved Vatican status. Instead he was given to the sisters of the Little Company of Mary, who took him to the Fiesole convent. Here he lived out his life in their beautiful garden, spoiled by all and sundry. His regular visits to the kitchen for tasty tit bits, may perhaps have shortened his life somewhat, but certainly it was a happy one.
Many Irish farm children have happy stories of pet lambs, reared in or beside Aga cookers in Irish kitchens. Eventually however, parting with them was traumatic. Lambs have a way of getting under your skin!