“Beauty will save the world,” is the motto that Sarah-Marie Alimangohan lives by through her work at Tota Pulchra Vestments.
For Sarah, beauty isn’t merely an aesthetic – rather it is a form of devotion and prayer. Beauty, a reflection of the beauty of the Creator, is Sarah’s way of showing the love of Christ to all who see her work.
The techniques of Sarah’s work bring ancient medieval embroidery skills with fine textiles and imported gems. Some garments take months to complete. But each work is a unique reflection borne out of prayer after daily meditation in front of the Blessed Sacrament and the recitation of the rosary.
“I want to glorify God in the work. God is a source of creativity and that can only come through prayer,” she told The Catholic Weekly.
The name Tota Pulchra itself takes inspiration from Scripture in the books of Judith and the Song of Songs. For Sarah the name reflects also the grace of beauty flowing from Mother Mary.
The chasubles, which Sarah has been crafting since 2018, cannot be ordered in a business transaction. Instead, each prospective client must participate in Sarah’s prayer regime. Sarah also crafts bridal gowns and other fine textiles – all of which require clients to pray regardless of their faith life.
“Some priests ask for catalogues and prices. There is no catalogue,” she said.
“It’s really whatever we get in prayer. We pray a lot together. It is very important as an artist to be in that mode of prayer and listening to God helps me. In some sense I can also help the deacon ready for ordination through prayer.”
“Looking at her stuff, I was like ‘woah’ – something special is happening here” said Catholic Weekly photographer Giovanni Portelli who was impressed at the ordinations of Sydney’s new priests in September – where Sarah’s vestments were on display and worn by priests including her close friend Fr Noel Custodio.
Sarah’s journey into embroidery, however, was by no means ‘straight-stitched.’
Like her craft, the process was an inner journey through prayer and discernment. Having studied textiles at UTS, Sarah decided to embark on a missionary work in Tasmania. Yet upon returning to Sydney she began to pray for direction from God.
“I was praying in adoration and I fell asleep. I had this dream where I saw the Holy Eucharist in the Monstrance and there was a person under the Monstrance and the Lord said: “Find this person”.
“Soon afterwards at Australian Catholic Youth Festival Sydney in 2017 The Culture Project had a board saying ‘What is love? Draw it’ and people were drawing love hearts and I thought ‘no’ and started drawing a Monstrance and then someone picked up some chalk next to me to draw and it was Fr Jack [Green of the Parramatta Diocese]” she said.
“I immediately thought ‘okay this is the guy I am meant to help’. This was on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception on 8 December. Fr Jack didn’t tell me he was getting ordained but he had asked me previously about whether I was interested in making a chasuble.”
Fr Jack’s turned out to be the first chasuble made by Sarah. The rest is history.
Sarah’s advice to other Catholic artists? Pray.
“When you pray you have a fuller sense of your identity as an artist. In prayer you seek out the mind of God.”
By David Ryan. Reproduced with permission from The Catholic Weekly, the news publication of the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney.