Monday, November 30, 2009

Advent Wreath

Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis, in Saint Louis, Missouri, USA - Advent wreath

Advent wreath, at the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Conditor Alme Siderum

ADVENT BEGINS tonight at First Vespers. Following is an Advent hymn, Conditor Alme Siderum:

CONDITOR alme siderum,
aeterna lux credentium,
Christe, redemptor omnium,
exaudi preces supplicum.
CREATOR of the stars of night,
Thy people's everlasting light,
Jesu, Redeemer, save us all,
and hear Thy servants when they call.
Qui condolens interitu
mortis perire saeculum,
salvasti mundum languidum,
donans reis remedium,
Thou, grieving that the ancient curse
should doom to death a universe,
hast found the medicine, full of grace,
to save and heal a ruined race.
Vergente mundi vespere,
uti sponsus de thalamo,
egressus honestissima
Virginis matris clausula.
Thou camest, the Bridegroom of the Bride,
as drew the world to evening tide,
proceeding from a virgin shrine,
the spotless Victim all divine.
Cuius forti potentiae
genu curvantur omnia;
caelestia, terrestria
nutu fatentur subdita.
At whose dread Name, majestic now,
all knees must bend, all hearts must bow;
and things celestial Thee shall own,
and things terrestrial Lord alone.
Te, Sancte, fide quaesumus,
venture iudex saeculi,
conserva nos in tempore
hostis a telo perfidi.
O Thou whose coming is with dread,
to judge and doom the quick and dead,
preserve us, while we dwell below,
from every insult of the foe.
Sit, Christe, rex piissime,
tibi Patrique gloria
cum Spiritu Paraclito,
in sempiterna saecula. Amen.
To God the Father, God the Son,
and God the Spirit, Three in One,
laud, honor, might, and glory be
from age to age eternally. Amen.
Advent begins a new liturgical year. ‘Advent’ comes from the Latin word adventus meaning ‘coming’ or ‘arrival’, and the word was most specifically used to describe a visit by a king or emperor. The end of the liturgical year invites us to consider the Four Last Things of Death, Judgement, Heaven and Hell, and recognizes the Kingship of Christ over all creation. We wait in fear and hope for the Return of the King who will judge the nations: this theme is continued at the beginning of the new liturgical year; only later does the emphasis changes to the first Advent, the coming of the Christ Child in Bethlehem.

A Forest Road

Forest road, at Rockwoods Reservation, in Saint Louis County, Missouri, USA

A forest road, named “Christy Avenue”, in Rockwoods Reservation, in Glencoe, Missouri.

This is a hand-held photo, taken in near darkness.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Photo of the Christian Brothers Retreat House, in Glencoe, Missouri

La Salle Institute, retreat center of the Christian Brothers, in Glencoe, Missouri, USA

A photo of the La Salle Retreat Center, located in Glencoe, Saint Louis County, Missouri. From the center's website:
La Salle has been the home of the Christian Brothers since 1886. Until 1977, it served as the provincial Motherhouse with the house of formation and studies for young men discerning to become Christian Brothers. It also housed the Brothers on staff & faculty and a retired community of Brothers as well as the provincial offices. Since then, smaller communities of Christian Brothers have lived at La Salle and several Brothers now serve in the ministry of retreat work here.

The De La Salle Christian Brothers are a group of lay religious men devoted to education. They trace their beginnings to John Baptist De La Salle, a French priest, who established their society in 1680....

The retreat house has a beautiful hilltop site in the Ozarks, and is close to Rockwoods Reservation, a tiny steam railroad open to tourists, the Al Foster Trail, and a Marianist retreat house. The La Salle center is located near the Meramec River:  click here for some of my photos taken nearby.  Click here for a painting of this area, done in the Hudson River School style.  Click here for a history of Glencoe.

An old vocational postcard from the Christian Brothers describes its Ozark setting in flowery fashion:
What sight is so rare as Glencoe in spring! Then the gay landscape is arrayed in virgin green, and from uplands to bottom lands flowers heavy with sunshine climb and descend, as bright a vision as Jacob's ladder of angels. And what charm to eye, ear, and nostril are wasted on earth and air! A wealth of promised glory blossoms forth in the orchard, swollen brooks rush and grumble, gorgeous spectacles of rosestrewn morning on dewy hilltops and of changeful evening glory bathing western heights put the mind into a golden doze. With blankest unconcern one stands a gaze, drinking in the beauteous display of one of the most charming scenes on God's earth. The mellow glory of fall's yellow afternoons, when the air is crisp and a golden haze hangs over hill and glen, also makes the heart leap up and life merry as the music of the sapless leaves. "October's holocaust" in Glencoe, "Burned gold and crimson over all the hills, the sacremental mystery of the woods," cannot be surpassed for regal richness anywhere else on this beautiful globe. Glencoe is a highland village, imposing in its share of tilled and wooded hills and valleys, decked with flowers and waiving harvests. It is a village of hills within hills. To one standing in the lowlands, the whole has the appearance of an immense amphitheatre, Again, so many eminences are here huddled together that one is curiously reminded from higher points of observation of a herd of mammoths. the scene is one of wild irregularity . Vain is the search of uniformity and likeness. No hill has a fellow in outline, slope or crest. It is the same with the narrow strips of valleys: There is no feature of family resemblance. All about is a mad riot of rugged grandeur and picturesque pell-mell, a happy disorder of craggy summits and rounded tops, of grassy knolls and rocky descents, of park like plateaus and jagged ledges. Here climbing the heights is the unconquerable oak, there beneath is the chill cave of mystery; here under a shelf of protecting rock is the den of wild beast, across the way, the impetuous creek hews a circuitous path over stony channels, Everywhere nature is gay with wildest grandeur. Glencoe is a miracle of repose. Brooks whisper in the voice of dreams and the moist scent of flowers and grass and leaves is wafted in a fragrant chorus. Such is the solemn stillness in this sanctuary of silence, and as the eyes feast on the tranquil landscape or gaze on the far-off horizon one is moved to speak, to commune with the Creator of all things. No one returns from a visit to Glencoe without being impressed that this is the place to take sanctuary from a world of spiritual assassins. It is choice out of ten-thousand for a Novitiate, Fitter spot the most fastidious fancy could not picture for the formation of those who would run in the ways of God and escape the small economies and blighting scandals of a grinding world, where strength is taxed to little purpose and where even rare spirits often lower to the level of their labours. How different it is at Glencoe. There the environment has the virtue to lift "a man to match his mountain, not to creep dwarfed and abased below it".

Click here for another postcard.

Click here for a map of the area.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Month of the Holy Souls

READERS UNFAMILIAR with The Lion and the Cardinal, the blog belonging to Daniel Mitsui, may want to take a look at his remarkable series of postings for November — the month of the Holy Souls in the Catholic liturgical year. Included are photos of Requiem vestments, the Dance of Death, tombs, bone chapels, and other art to remind us of the Four Last Things: Death, Judgement, Heaven, and Hell.

A Proclamation of Thanksgiving

By the President of the United States of America. a Proclamation.

Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor--and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me "to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness."

Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be--That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks--for his kind care and protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nation--for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his Providence which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war--for the great degree of tranquillity, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed--for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted--for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed; and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us.

and also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions--to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually--to render our national government a blessing to all the people, by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed--to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shewn kindness onto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord--To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the encrease of science among them and us--and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.

Given under my hand at the City of New-York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789.

Go: Washington

— George Washington, first President of the United States. From the Papers of George Washington at the University of Virginia.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Mosaic of Christ the King

Mosaic of Christ the King, at Resurrection Cemetery, in Shrewsbury, Missouri, USA

Mosaic of Christ the King, at Resurrection Cemetery, in Shrewsbury, Missouri. Christ is shown in royal scarlet garments, which not only symbolize his kingship, but also his passion. In the background are shown the Old Cathedral and Old Courthouse in downtown Saint Louis, which symbolize his kingship over the Church and the world.

The Feast of Christ the King only dates from the early 20th century, and nowadays is mainly observed on the last Sunday before Advent. As the liturgical texts at the end of the church year emphasize the end of times, this feast nowadays has a mainly eschatological character; however, the original feast emphasized Christ's Kingship in his Passion and the here and now. Here is the original hymn from the Office of Matins for the feast:
Lord of the ages evermore,
Each nation's King, the wide world o'er,
O Christ, our only Judge thou art,
And Searcher of the mind and heart.

Through Sin with rebel voice maintain,
We will not have this Christ to reign,
Far other, Lord, shall be our cry,
Who hail thee King of kings most High.

O thou eternal Prince of peace,
Subdue man's pride, bid error cease,
Permit not sin to wax o'er-bold,
The strayed bring home within the fold.

For this thou hangedst on the Tree
With arms outstretched in loving plea;
For this thou shewedst forth thy Heart,
On fire with love, pierced by the dart.

And yet that wounded side sheds grace
Forth from the altar's holy place,
Where, veiled 'neath humblest bread and wine,
Abides for man the life divine.

Earth's noblest rulers to thee raise
Their homage due of public praise;
Teachers and judges thee confess;
Art, science, law, thy truth express.

Let kings be fain to dedicate
To thee the emblems of their state;
Rule thou each nation from above,
Rule o'er the people's homes in love.

All praise, King Jesu, be to thee,
The Lord of all in majesty;
Whom with the Father we adore,
And Holy Ghost for evermore. Amen.

This mosaic dates from 1974 and was made by the Ravenna Mosaic Company of Saint Louis, and is one of a series of outdoor mosaics located between two chapels in the cemetery.
red berries

Grape leaf in Autumn

The gray days of winter have not arrived yet. These photos were taken on Saturday.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Sunset over Washington, Missouri

Washington, Missouri, USA riverfront at sunset

Sunset over Washington, Missouri, taken from the Highway 47 bridge over the Missouri River.

Dusk over Pacific, Missouri

Sunset over Pacific, Missouri, USA - view from top of sandstone bluffs

A view of Pacific, Missouri, during dusk, taken last Saturday evening. This is the view from the top of the sandstone bluff on the north side of town, as seen in my photos of Saint Bridget Church.

“The Revival of Flannery O'Connor”

KANSAS CATHOLIC links to a video, in the article The Revival of Flannery O'Connor.

The celebrated American literary writers of our past and present are very far from the orthodoxy of Christ's Church, and are far even from the uncertain faith of the bulk of the American people. Flannery O'Connor (1925-1964) is one of the very few orthodox Christians among the great American literary writers, but her success is due to following the example of Christ.

A writer who proclaims the Gospel plainly will often be merely “preaching to the choir”, which is not a bad thing, but the world will not listen. Instead, the writer who wants to preach to the world must follow the example of Our Lord and speak in parables: straightforward stories with a literal meaning that also have deeper moral and spiritual meanings.

O'Connor was a Catholic who lived in Milledgeville, Georgia, in the deep American South. Her stories of the distinctive people of that region are parables that have a spiritual meaning that might not be obvious to the worldly reader, and therein lie their success.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Happy 101st Anniversary!

101st Anniversary of the Dedication of the Church
 The present church building of St. Francis de Sales was completed and dedicated in a solemn ceremony on Novermber 26, 1908. This photo of the church appeared in the Golden Jubilee Souvenir Book published  in 1917.  (The first church building was erected in 1867, and destroyed by a tornado in May, 1896.)
The following message to the parishioners of St. Francis de Sales was recorded in the Jubilee book:
We congratulate you to-day for the harmony and unexcelled co-operation that you have in the years gone by ever shown in the interest of your church.  May this grand spirit that to-day finds a place in the heart of every parishioner, continue in the years to come. May we in the future work together as we have done in the past, so that the next Jubilee of St. Francis de Sales church may find, if possible, even greater reasons for rejoicing than the past fifty years have offered.  Our parish to-day, on the day of its fiftieth anniversary, stands pre-eminent among the parishes of our diocese. The spirit of religion, the frequency with which our parishioners approach the Sacraments, your devotedness to your church, your sacrifices in her behalf, your real, genuine Catholic Faith stands as a shining example to all who have occasion to know the inner life of our parish. This it is, after all, which carries greatest weight before the Eternal Judge. Our good wishes to you to-day are that these grand and noble conditions may continue in our parish, and that each succeeding year may find you more worthy of the name you bear. That you continue walking in the footsteps of those noble men and women, who, by their sojourn in St. Francis de Sales parish, have merited the “Crown of Glory.”

— From Tradition for Tomorrow.

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Manhattan Declaration

SEE THE ARTICLE Unprecedented coalition of religious leaders call Americans to stand for sanctity of life, marriage, and religious freedom. Quoting the article:
An unprecedented coalition of prominent Christian clergy, ministry leaders, and scholars has crafted a 4,700-word declaration addressing the sanctity of life, traditional marriage, and religious liberty. The declaration issues “a clarion call” to Christians to adhere to their convictions and informs civil authorities that the signers will not “under any circumstance” abandon their Christian consciences.

The statement, called “the Manhattan Declaration,” has been signed by more than 125 Catholic, Evangelical Christian, and Orthodox leaders, and will be made fully public at a noon press conference in the National Press Club in Washington DC on Friday.

“We are Christians who have joined together across historic lines of ecclesial differences to affirm our right—and, more importantly, to embrace our obligation—to speak and act in defense of these truths. We pledge to each other, and to our fellow believers, that no power on earth, be it cultural or political, will intimidate us into silence or acquiescence,” the statement says...

"We will fully and ungrudgingly render to Caesar what is Caesar’s, but we will under no circumstances render to Caesar what is God’s."....
See also:

“The St. Louis Downtown Holiday Historic House Tour”

HISTORY FANS in Saint Louis may want to attend the St. Louis Downtown Holiday Historic House Tour, to be held on Thursday, December 3, 2009 from 3:00 to 8:oo p.m.

Tickets are $15 or $25 including bus transportation.  For additional information call 314-421-4689.

The tour includes some of the very few historic buildings to survive redevelopment in the downtown area. The homes which comprise the tour are:

Click here for my photos of the DeMenil House.

Photos of the Former Saint Joseph Lithuanian Church

HERE ARE PHOTOS of the former Saint Joseph Lithuanian Catholic Church, in the Lafayette Square nieghborhood of Saint Louis. It was opened in 1915 and closed in 1970.

Former Saint Joseph Lithuanian Catholic Church, in the Lafayette Square neighborhood of Saint Louis, Missouri, USA - 2

This former church is located at the corner of Park Avenue and MacKay Place. Park Avenue is named after Lafayette Park, which is opposite to the church, while MacKay was named after an early fur trapper whose maps were used by the Lewis and Clark Expedition of 1803-1806. Mackay Place was at one time called Anderson, possibly after one of the founders of the Saint Vincent de Paul Society.

The Baltic country of Lithuania suffered greatly due to its location between Germany and Russia, having been often taken over by its neighbors. Lithuanian immigration to the United States was very strong from the late 19th century to the post-World War II era. Until the establishment of this church, local Lithuanians attended nearby Saint John Nepomuk.  By 1970 the Lithuanians had become prosperous and moved out of the neighborhood, leading to the closure of this church.

The church was named after Saint Joseph, foster-father of Our Lord Jesus, and patron of the Universal Church.

Former Saint Joseph Lithuanian Catholic Church, in the Lafayette Square neighborhood of Saint Louis, Missouri, USA - 1

Now, and at the time of its founding, Lafayette Square was mainly wealthy, Liberal, and Protestant, but during the time of this church's existence, the area was an impoverished slum. By 1970, the impetus behind “urban renewal” — which had already leveled square miles of the city — was ending, and the Lafayette Square area was spared, along with its excellent Victorian architecture.

This church is for sale: look for its listing here.  It includes an attached rectory, and has stained glass windows.

I would think this church would make a fine little oratory or chapel of ease, or perhaps as home for one of the Eastern Rites or for a new traditional religious community: it has enough attached land to construct a small convent or monastery.

Click here for my photos of the Lafayette Square neighborhood.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

A Marian Garden

Saint Nicholas Roman Catholic Church, in Saint Louis, Missouri, USA - Marian garden

At Saint Nicholas Church, in downtown Saint Louis.

This garden is still lovely, due to our mild November weather. The church's nearby vegetable garden is finished for the year, resting until Springtime.

Click here for newer photos of the church.

At the Riverfront

Riverfront in Saint Louis, Missouri, USA - bronze sculpture Captain's Return and Eads Bridge at high water

The bronze sculpture, The Captain's Return by Harry Webber, is largely submerged in the Mississippi River as the water approaches flood stage.

The statue dates from 2006 and commemorates the 1803-1806 Corps of Discovery expedition through the newly purchased Louisiana Territories.  In the background is Eads Bridge, completed in 1874; although a financial failure, constructed at great personal cost, the bridge is noted for its many innovations.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

“way of beauty”

The Gothic cathedral translates the aspirations of the soul into architectural lines, and is a synthesis between faith, art and beauty which still raises our hearts and minds to God today. When faith encounters art, in particular in the liturgy, a profound synthesis is created, making visible the Invisible, and the two great architectural styles of the Middle Ages demonstrate how beauty is a powerful means to draw us closer to the Mystery of God. May the Lord help us to rediscover that way of beauty, surely one of the best ways to know and to love Almighty God.
— Pope Benedict XVI, November 18th, 2009

Click here for video.

Sleepy Kitty


Photo of Saints Peter and Paul Church, in Saint Louis, Missouri

Saints Peter and Paul Roman Catholic Church, in Saint Louis, Missouri, USA - exterior view

On this feast of the Dedication of the Basilicas of Saints Peter and Paul, I offer this photo of this church, which is named after the Apostles and founders of the Church in Rome.
“Awesome is this place: it is the house of God, and the gate of heaven; and shall be called the court of God.”
This is also the feast day of Saint Rose Philippine Duchesne, whose relics are entombed in nearby Saint Charles, Missouri. Click here for photos of the convent where she lived.

Some Photos of Fountains

FLOWING WATER is appealing. It can move our sensible appetites, since water is a good required for preserving life, and especially since flowing water is likely to be more healthy than stagnant water. The varied forms of flowing water can also move our intellect, as we discern the order in water's motion and intuit its governing laws. So we ought to expect that flowing water is attractive, and that viewing it causes pleasure.

I am fascinated with flowing water, and it is often a subject of my photography. In particular, I've long enjoyed natural springs, but the delight I find in these usually cannot be seen in my photographs. Rivers can be good camera subjects, but smaller water features such as creeks can be more suitable due to their more-human scale. But the most reliably photogenic water features are artificial decorative fountains, since these are objects of human art, specifically designed to delight the senses.

I take photos of fountains whenever possible, and following are some of my photos from this past year. Most of these pictures are unfortunately of low quality, since these photos were unplanned and spontaneous. I took them with little of my usual care, but maybe my readers can enjoy a few of them. As a fountain's delights are best experienced in the height of Summer, this posting is perhaps too late; but it is getting colder here, and soon the fountains of Saint Louis will be turned off for the winter, so these photos may serve as a reminder of warmer times.

Fountain at the Compton Hill Water Tower, in Saint Louis, Missouri, USA

Taken from the top of the Compton Hill Water Tower. This fountain is new, and it was turned on for the first time just a few hours before this photo.

The English word ‘fountain’ derives from the Old French fontaine, which in turn comes from late Latin fontana, a grammatical form of the word fons which means fountain, well, spring, or source. From the Latin fons we get the baptismal font and holy water font.

The use of fountain to describe a natural spring is now rare, but can be found in some old geographical names. We also have drinking fountains, but these rarely have monumental architectural quality — one exception being found at the Saint Louis Zoo.

Fountain in Kirkwood, Missouri, USA

Kirkwood. I stood on the edge of this pool for the photo.

Fountains require a source of pressure to propel the water into the air. Nowadays, this pressure is provided by mechanical pumps, located either in the fountain itself, or at the municipal water utility. But fountains have existed from antiquity.

Ancient fountains required a water source that is higher in elevation than the spout, with gravity naturally providing the water pressure. First-century Rome had over 600 public water fountains, which were fed by a system of aqueducts bringing water from the hills. The water was directed into sealed lead pipes, and gravity provided enough pressure for even large monumental fountains. An original Roman fountain, the Fontana della Pigna, can be found at the Vatican.

For good primary documents on Rome's water supply, read Frontinius, who also wrote on the art of war, and the architectural book by Vitruvius.

Greek cities had a similar water supply for their fountains, although they used bronze pipes. They also used siphons: pipes could carry water over large hills and down valleys as long as they were well-sealed and with the source being higher than the exit.

Large public fountains were also found in Persia and Byzantium. The Muslim conquerers continued the tradition of fountains, and particularly developed symbolic water gardens.

Apparently, the Egyptians did not have spouting fountains in their cities. Their water supply was brought up from the Nile by water-wheels driven by the flow of the river itself, and the water pressure generated was small.

By the way, lead is a good metal for piping, as it is easy to work and is flexible enough to absorb some abrupt changes in pressure: its poisonous nature was known to the Romans, but that is mitigated by the patina that builds up over time. The Latin word for lead, plumbum, is where we get the English word ‘plumber’.

Fountain 1 in Creve Coeur, Missouri, USA

Creve Coeur.

The fountains of antiquity had the utilitarian purpose of providing water for drinking, watering animals, cleaning, bathing, and sanitation. However, the ancient fountains were by no means utilitarian in design, but rather were delightful to look upon. Our modern drinking fountains are utilitarian in design while decorative fountains retain the sense of visual delight.  Our contemporary division between utility and aesthetics is problematic, and can even be deadly to our souls.

Fountain 2 in Creve Coeur, Missouri, USA

Near the previous fountain.

The use of fountains declined during the Middle Ages in the Latin West, although they did not completely disappear. With barbarian invasions and the plague — and a moral opposition to slave labor — large cities were unsustainable and mostly abandoned. People lived in smaller towns and monasteries, often located in more defensible locales, and any public water works were on a far more modest scale. Medieval fountains continued the ancient tradition of being decorative, often depicting Saints, scenes from Scripture, and the seasons.

The Cistercians, a religious order who adhered to the original Rule of Saint Benedict, and who highly regarded manual labor, were particularly known for their elaborate water projects and fine architecture in general.

Westport Plaza

Courtyard fountain at Westport Plaza, in Maryland Heights, Missouri, USA

In a courtyard at Westport Plaza in Maryland Heights.

During the Avignon Papacy, Rome was reduced to little more than a collection of villages among ruins. When the Popes returned to Rome, they started rebuilding public works, including the aqueduct system that once fed the fountains. This return led to an interest in pagan antiquity which became the Renaissance. But this worldliness on the part of the higher ranks in the Church led to laxity and a greater desire for money, which was often used to produce neopagan monuments, opposition to which helped spark the Reformation and the wars of religion. The iconoclasm of the protesters eventually spilled out into the secular world, leading to our current divorce between aesthetics and utility, which even entered into the Church in the 20th century.

A divorce between the people and the political class continues down to our present day: the unity of society is lost. Rarely do contemporary public monumental works reflect the ideals of the people. I am reminded of the monumental fountain, originally titled “The Wedding of the Rivers” by Swedish sculptor Carl Milles, located in Aloe Plaza in Saint Louis. This pagan-themed work was put into place despite strong public opposition; the nearby sculpture “Twain” was — and is — perhaps the most-despised monument in the city, yet it remains. The artistic sentiments of the people are degraded and are becoming even more tasteless; this fact encourages the highly-educated curators of public art to diverge even further from the populace, who too often expresses disdain or hatred of the masses, which in turn drives the people even further away, increasing polarization.

Courtyard fountain at Westport Plaza, in Maryland Heights, Missouri, USA - detail

A closer view of the previous fountain's water jet.

While a sculptor may make an image of a venerable Saint or a despised tyrant, the fountainist is more directly working with nature herself.  The subject of fountains is water, which has its own being apart from the works of the artist or architect who design the fountains. Designers can impose form on solid materials like stone or metal, but liquid water does not stay put. Water can be directed, but its flow can be only be shaped to a rough degree. Water follows its own rules, which cannot be ignored in a successful fountain design.

Pool fountain 1 at Westport Plaza, in Maryland Heights, Missouri, USA

At Westport's pool. Fountains and swimming pools are natural allies.

Swimming pools are good for keeping cool on a hot day.  It take a lot of heat to evaporate water, more than many other common liquids, and the water vapor is then taken away by the wind.  Fountains in pools are both decorative and help increase this desired cooling: they are also fun to play in.

Large bodies of water also useful for warming in winter.  As water freezes, it liberates heat.  Unlike most other substances, frozen water is less dense than liquid water, and so ice forms on the top, and does not sink to the bottom.  This prevents water bodies from freezing solid, and helps retain warmth in the water under the ice.

Fountains hereabouts are usually turned off in the wintertime, and thoroughly drained of water.  As noted, water expands upon freezing, which exert enormous pressure that will burst anything it may be sealed in, including expensive water pumps and pipes.  However, I have seen fountains still working in the wintertime:  click here for a picture of one.  If care is taken against freezing of the mechanisms, these frozen fountains can produce delightful and unpredictable ice sculptures.

Pool fountain 2 at Westport Plaza, in Maryland Heights, Missouri, USA

Also in the pool.

Blue fountain at Westport Plaza, in Maryland Heights, Missouri, USA - night

Human vision has a latency of somewhere between 1/15th and 1/30th of a second — a phenomenon that makes video possible — but this means that a camera's shutter speed ought to be within that range to give moving objects their visually expected blur. Longer shutter speeds give water a not-unattractive dreamy blurred look, while shorter speeds often make the water look like ice. As I didn't use a tripod on most of these shots, hand-holding the camera meant that I had to use shorter shutter speeds than are typically desirable

If you click on any photo, you are taken to Flickr; there you can click on “More properties” to discover the shutter speed used.

Our Lady of the Snows

Marian fountain, at the National Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows, in Belleville, Illinois, USA

Fountain in the Annunciation Garden at the National Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows in Belleville, Illinois. The water here is fittingly dyed a royal Marian blue. In the pool are bells which strike the hour.

The Sacrament of Baptism effects the spiritual cleansing of the soul, which is signified by the material cleansing of water. The essential life-giving property of water is a natural symbol of God's grace which sustains us spiritually. We ought not be surprised to find fountains, springs, and wells commonly mentioned in the Scripture and the Tradition of the Church, which often prefigure Baptism, or symbolize the source of Divine Grace.

Artificial waterfall, at the National Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows, in Belleville, Illinois, USA

Artificial waterfall, also at the Shrine.


Bronze sculpture, "Eros Bendato" (Eros Bound) by Igor Mitoraj, with scrim fountain in foreground, at the Citygarden, in Saint Louis, Missouri, USA - view at night

A sheet fountain.

The “Citygarden” is a new sculpture and fountain park found in downtown Saint Louis, Missouri.  The  bronze sculpture Eros Bound seems to be excessively horrific, especially in a park designed largely for children.  The garden designers recognized this, and specifically placed the sculpture behind a scrim or sheet fountain which softens the effect.  The water flows down a gentle slope, where it disappears into a narrow groove.

Fountain, at the Citygarden, in Saint Louis, Missouri, USA

Children's splash fountain.

Quite admirable is this splash fountain, also found in the Citygarden.  Water from the jets quickly flow back underground through narrow seams between the paving stones, preventing the water from pooling.  Each jet of water is individually controlled by computer, as are the multicolored lights at their base.  The sprays turn on at various heights and in many patterns.  On a hot day, large numbers of children play here; and there were some running through the water as I was taking this photo, but they cannot be seen due to the long exposure time.

Controlled fountains have existed for a very long time, but they required people to manually open and close the water valves.  Nowadays, programmable logic controllers can vary fountain displays, which are limited only by the imagination of the programmer — or as they are sometimes called — the choreographer of the fountain.

Waterfall, at the Citygarden, in Saint Louis, Missouri, USA

Waterfall at the Citygarden.

Central West End

Fountain at the Chase Park Plaza, in the Central West End neighborhood of Saint Louis, Missouri, USA

At the Chase Park Plaza, in the Central West End neighborhood; this building has another decorative fountain at its pool.

Fountain in Maryland Plaza, in the Central West End neighborhood of Saint Louis, Missouri, USA

Centerpiece fountain in Maryland Plaza.

This fountain is fairly recent, and is choreographed to flow according to a soundtrack played on a number of adjacent speakers.  Click here for my video of this fountain.

This is by the firm WET Design of California, which specializes in dynamically controlled fountains which emphasize the water itself rather than the sculptural elements usually found in fountain design.

Fountain in Maryland Plaza, in the Central West End neighborhood of Saint Louis, Missouri, USA - detail of laminar flow nozzles

Close up of some of the fountain's laminar-flow water features.  Eliminating the usually chaotic nature of flowing water takes a carefully-designed nozzle; although these streams seen here were somewhat buffeted by the wind.  One of the founders of WET Design created a large-scale laminar flow nozzle while he was an undergraduate engineering student. Later he was hired by Disney and used his technology to create the famous Leapfrog fountain at Disney World in Florida.  Laminar flow nozzles remain a common feature of the firm's works.


Fountain, in Clayton, Missouri, USA

One of the many fountains in downtown Clayton.

Fountain 2, in Clayton, Missouri, USA

Forest Park

Fountain in front of World's Fair Pavilion, in Forest Park, Saint Louis, Missouri, USA

A fountain at the base of Government Hill, with the World's Fair Pavilion at the top.

Fountain in the Grand Basin in Forest Park, in Saint Louis, Missouri, USA

In the Grand Basin, with Art Hill in the background.  This and many of the fountains shown here were designed by the local firm Hydro Dramatics.

Rustic fountains

Small domestic fountain, in the Saint Louis Hills neighborhood of Saint Louis, Missouri, USA

A tiny domestic fountain in the Saint Louis Hills neighborhood, done in Japanese naturalistic fashion.

Japanese Garden waterfall, at the Missouri Botanical Garden (Shaw's Garden), in Saint Louis, Missouri, USA

Artificial waterfall at the Japanese Garden at the Missouri Botanical Garden.

Water is a natural symbol of purity, and so it is also a symbol of purity in Japanese culture.

Fountain, Babler State Park, in Saint Louis County, Missouri, USA

An appropriately rusticated fountain at Babler State Park, in Wildwood, Missouri.

All these photos were taken in 2009.

Monday, November 16, 2009

A Walk Around Downtown Saint Louis, in the Rain

RAINY DAYS are not the best for taking a walk, nor are they good for photography. But the city lights at dusk, reflecting off of the wet pavement, are photographically interesting.

Sometimes I need an excuse to get some exercise, and taking a long walk can be more interesting if I bring my camera along. Here are some pictures I took in downtown Saint Louis on October 27th. I hope you enjoy them.

Renaissance Grand Hotel, in downtown Saint Louis, Missouri, USA - at dusk in the rain 1

I walked around 8th and 10th Streets, between Washington Avenue and Market Street, a small part of downtown, but this includes the Convention Center and the Old Post Office. The photos presented here are in the order that I took them.

Downtown Saint Louis, Missouri, USA - at dusk in the rain 1

This is my favorite photo of the batch. There was a bit of fog, as you can see. City lighting is often photographically poor, and the harsh shadows during a sunny day often make it difficult to find a good camera angle to photograph tall buildings: but dusk is a delightful time of day to take pictures.

Washington Avenue, in downtown Saint Louis, Missouri, USA - at dusk in the rain

A look down Washington Avenue, towards the west. The building on the right, the old Lammert Building, houses the offices of the American Institute of Architects, who have a fine architectural bookstore on the ground floor.

Convention Center, in downtown Saint Louis, Missouri, USA - at dusk in the rain

The convention center, which is connected to the football stadium.

Renaissance Grand Hotel, in downtown Saint Louis, Missouri, USA - interior staircase

Escaping from the rain for a little while, I went inside. This is at the Renaissance Grand Hotel.

Rolls Royce Automobile, in downtown Saint Louis, Missouri, USA - in the rain

A Rolls-Royce. This kind of automobile is a rare sight in Saint Louis. This scarcity, I think, is not due to a lack of wealthy Anglophiles, but rather because of a certain Midwestern practicality.

Parking sign, pedestrian with umbrella, in downtown Saint Louis, Missouri, USA - at dusk in the rain

A woman with an umbrella walks down 9th Street.

These photos were basically taken without much planning or technical care. Especially as the evening got darker, these pictures have more problems with digital noise, poor focus, and blur due to slow shutter speeds. Also, highlights are overexposed, and the shadows lack much detail. So basically I took these partly as a technical challenge: what could I successfully photograph in the dark without a tripod?

For specific technical details, you can click on any photo, and then click “More properties”. While you are in Flickr, you can also get larger sizes and a map showing where I took each picture.

Washington Avenue, in downtown Saint Louis, Missouri, USA - at dusk in the rain 2

Further down Washington Avenue; this was once called the Garment District, a major center of clothing manufacture in the United States. After the factories closed in the 1960s, this area went into decline, and became quite seedy. It has been largely redeveloped in the past ten years.

But this neighborhood is generally speaking only suitable for those who are young, hip, and childless. Catholics have long formed the core of the population of Saint Louis, but Catholic schools here are still closing with alarming frequency and few are within a reasonable distance from downtown, while the city's public schools have a terrible reputation.

The City Fathers, understandably, want to keep their elective offices, patronage jobs, and contracts, but this means only attracting voters who are happy with the political status quo. Saint Louis experienced severe population decline since 1950; in the decades since then, the city greatly depended on the taxes paid by those who worked in or visited the city but lived elsewhere. But with economic development in outlying areas, this proved unsustainable, with many local employers moving operations to lower-tax areas nearby. This led to the widespread development of residential entertainment districts in the city like this, with new loft apartments and many restaurants and nightclubs. But club kids are not very likely to have children, and this neglect of the schools may make this area even worse for families.

Policemen, in downtown Saint Louis, Missouri, USA - at dusk in the rain

Policemen on 10th street.

Downtown Saint Louis, Missouri, USA - alley at dusk in the rain 1

There are not too many dark alleys in downtown Saint Louis, and this one is not particularly dark.

Old Southwestern Bell Building, in downtown Saint Louis, Missouri, USA - at dusk in the rain

The old Southwestern Bell building, completed in 1926, is by the firm Mauran, Russell & Crowell. This building was the first in the city to incorporate setbacks; this innovation, originally developed in New York City, prevented tall buildings from blocking too much of the sky. The firm was responsible for many other monumental buildings in Saint Louis, including the Federal Reserve Bank, Soldiers Memorial, the Statler Hotel (now Renaissance Grand, seen above), and others.

Downtown Saint Louis, Missouri, USA - pedestrians at dusk in the rain

Old Courthouse, in downtown Saint Louis, Missouri, USA - at night in the rain

The Old Post Office.

I like that you can actually see that it is raining in this photo; some streaks can be seen at the upper right corner. I kept my camera dry that night by keeping it under my jacket, and by taking photos while standing under overhangs. Fortunately, I was wearing some wool clothing that were warm even when damp.

Downtown Saint Louis, Missouri, USA - at night in the rain

These photos are maybe a bit more human interest than my normal subjects. There is actually a whole genre of picture taking, called urban street photography, which specializes in candid photos of people going about their ordinary business.

Old Courthouse and new construction, in downtown Saint Louis, Missouri, USA - at night in the rain

A new tall building is going up behind the Old Post Office. Will it be completed any time soon in this poor economy?

Downtown Saint Louis, Missouri, USA - at night in the rain 1

Tall buildings, or at least their upper stories, were once relegated to the poor until the invention of safe elevators. Ancient Rome was filled with insulae, highrise apartment buildings, whose upper stories were very undesirable places to live.

Americans, generally speaking, are excessively optimistic, short-sighted, and have a terrible grasp of history, and the skyscraper is a prime symbol of these characteristics. Forgetting the moral sense of the story of the Tower of Babel, our tall buildings seem to be the result of pride in our own progress: the heresy of Pelagianism is rampant in our culture. While tall buildings afford great views, they are absolutely terrifying for occupants if anything goes wrong: and history tells us that things often go very wrong.

But I am all for tall spires and monuments, things that make you look up heavenward from ground level. Looking down from a tall building makes everyone below look like ants, which in the long run may be psychologically unhealthy, since you may think that they deserve to be treated no better than ants.

However, the moral and artistic error opposite from these tall buildings is the trend of large single-story generic pre-fabricated steel buildings. While tall buildings usually are showcases of architectural talent, these big box buildings are representatives of the lowest form of architecture.  Tall buildings attempt to house too many people per acre, while the others do the opposite. I think the optimal size of buildings is two or three stories, with a basement, and with the most important public areas on the ground level: this is more on a human scale, and allows easy walking to all parts of the building for most people.  These more human-sized buildings are also more amenable to traditional decorative and architectural styles.

Downtown Saint Louis, Missouri, USA - turning car at night in the rain

You don't need an exceptionally high-quality or expensive camera to take good pictures, especially if you use care in setting up the shot, know the characteristics and limits of your camera, and are able to do suitable image corrections on the computer afterwards.

However, you need to be able to get a shot in the first place, and in the dark, without supplemental lighting or a tripod, you need to have a shutter speed fast enough to actually get a picture without excessive blurring. And in this case, what camera and lens you use really does matter a lot.

Downtown Saint Louis, Missouri, USA - alley at night in the rain

The same alley as above, looking from the other end.

Downtown Saint Louis, Missouri, USA - at night in the rain 2

I took these photos with my Nikon D40, which is inexpensive and has good low-light capability; however, the lens that comes with the D40 kit is not fast enough to work at night without a tripod. For these photos, I used a cheap but good 35 millimeter focal length lens; it has an aperture of f/1.8, which brings in between four and nine times the amount of light as does the kit lens. Prime lenses — those with a fixed focal length — are typically faster, lighter, higher quality, and much cheaper than their zoomable equivalents.  Generally speaking, most all current cameras with interchangeable lenses have sufficient low-light capability. Compact camera models usually have too much noise to produce acceptable hand-held images at night.  Many old interchangeable-lens film cameras are also excellent for this purpose.

Lobby of the Paul Brown Building, in downtown Saint Louis, Missouri, USA

Lobby of the Paul Brown building, seen through a window.

Downtown Saint Louis, Missouri, USA - at night in the rain 3

Downtown Saint Louis, Missouri, USA - pavement at night in the rain

Wet pavement.