Sunday, March 31, 2013

Happy Easter

Holy Cross Roman Catholic Church, in Cuba, Missouri, USA - stained glass window of the Resurrection

Stained glass window of the Resurrection, at Holy Cross Catholic Church, in Cuba, Missouri.

From the Exsultet for the Easter Vigil:
It is truly fitting and just to proclaim with all the affection of our heart and soul, and with the sound of our voice the invisible God the Father almighty, and his only Son our Lord Jesus Christ.

Who paid for us to his eternal Father the debt of Adam: and by his sacred blood canceled the guilt contracted by original sin.

For this is the Paschal solemnity, in which the true Lamb was slain, by whose blood the doors of the faithful are consecrated.

This is the night in which thou formerly broughtest forth our forefathers, the children of Israel, out of Egypt, leading them dry-foot through the Red Sea. This then is the night which dissipated the darkness of sin by the light of the pillar.

This is the night which now delivers all over the world those that believe in Christ from the vices of the world and darkness of sin, restores them to grace, and clothes them with sanctity.

This is the night in which Christ broke the chains of death, and ascended conqueror from hell.

For it availed us nothing to be born, unless it had availed us to be redeemed.

O how admirable is thy goodness towards us! O how inestimable is thy love! Thou hast delivered up thy Son to redeem a slave.

O truly necessary sin of Adam, which the death of Christ has blotted out!

O happy fault, that merited such and so great a Redeemer!

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Holy Saturday

Saint Patrick Roman Catholic Church, in Grafton, Illinois, USA - XIVth Station of the Cross, Jesus is laden in the Sepulchre

Jesus is laden in the Sepulchre, at Saint Patrick Church, in Grafton, Illinois. Photo taken in October, 2010.

God is dead. We killed Him.

He is in hell because of us.


Recall what Our Lord said before his Passion:
“This night all of you will have your faith in me shaken, for it is written: ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be dispersed’”
All of the men turned and fled, in fear of their lives; only the women — and one boy — had the courage to remain. Imagine how the disciples might have felt on that first Holy Saturday: lost, betrayed, confused, fearful, distrustful, full of doubt, full of rage. Was their faith in vain? To whom shall they go? But their shepherd was killed, and one of their own betrayed Him. Surely His mother Mary knew better?

Christ in the Tomb, based on a image from the Shrine of Our Lady of Sorrows, in Starkenburg, Missouri, USA

Christ in the tomb, at Shrine of Our Lady of Sorrows, in Starkenburg, Missouri. Photo taken in February 2012.

But we are told that Christ had a new flock to minister to, those who had gone before us, all the souls of the righteous who were waiting in the darkness of Hades. Iconography of the ‘Harrowing of Hell’ for Holy Saturday shows Christ, triumphant, rescuing these souls, including Adam and Eve, who got us into this predicament.

Christ Leading the Patriarchs to Paradise, by Bartolomé Bermejo (or Bartolomé de Cárdenas), ca. 1480. [source]

Friday, March 29, 2013

Good Friday

GOOD FRIDAY, the most solemn and bleak day of the liturgical year, a day of bitter darkness, for we have crucified Our Lord, and so are guilty of the crime of Deicide. During the Office of Tenebrae, the readings warn us impending chastisement and destruction, due to our evil, unrepentant ways, particularly in the books of the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah, and in the choice of Psalms. Over the course of the liturgy, the many candles we find near the altar are snuffed out, one by one, symbolizing this greatest of crimes, increasing our fear of just judgement upon us. Do we really want justice? Rather, we should tremble with fear knowing that true justice would require a severe punishment that we could not bear.

Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis, in Saint Louis, Missouri, USA - view of crucifx in the darkness

Crucifix, depicting Christ dead on the cross, at the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis, illumined by the flame of a single candle, after the office of Tenebrae for Good Friday. There was hardly any light to take a photograph, and so this photographic image itself is battered and ugly. 
Your wickedness will chasten you, and your apostasy will reprove you.
Know and see that it is evil and bitter for you to forsake the Lord your God; the fear of me is not in you, says the Lord God of hosts.
For long ago you broke your yoke and burst your bonds; and you said, ‘I will not serve.’
Yea, upon every high hill and under every green tree you bowed down as a harlot.
Yet I planted you a choice vine, wholly of pure seed.
How then have you turned degenerate and become a wild vine?
Though you wash yourself with lye and use much soap, the stain of your guilt is still before me, says the Lord God…

Why do you complain against me? You have all rebelled against me, says the Lord.
In vain have I smitten your children, they took no correction; your own sword devoured your prophets like a ravening lion.
And you, O generation, heed the word of the Lord. Have I been a wilderness to Israel, or a land of thick darkness?
Why then do my people say, ‘We are free, we will come no more to thee’?
Can a maiden forget her ornaments, or a bride her attire?
Yet my people have forgotten me days without number.
How well you direct your course to seek lovers!
So that even to wicked women you have taught your ways.
Also on your skirts is found the lifeblood of guiltless poor; you did not find them breaking in.
Yet in spite of all these things you say, ‘I am innocent; surely his anger has turned from me.’
Behold, I will bring you to judgment for saying, ‘I have not sinned.’…

— from Jeremiah 2; (RSVCE)
Then, as now, we say ‘I will not serve’ God and ‘I have not sinned,’ and we have shed the “lifeblood of guiltless poor.” Contemporary man lacks the fear of God and His justice, we believe that we are immune from God’s wrath:
The Lord has destroyed without mercy all the habitations of Jacob; in his wrath he has broken down the strongholds of the daughter of Judah; he has brought down to the ground in dishonor the kingdom and its rulers.

— Lamentations 2:2 (RSVCE)
That will never happen to us, we believe. But we forget that the ‘unintended consequences’ of our sins serve to punish us also: “Your wickedness will chasten you, and your apostasy will reprove you.” We break the laws of God, of our human nature, and of our relationship with Creation, and are surprised that this does not make us happy, but rather miserable. And so we create new laws, systems, technologies, and propaganda campaigns to overcome these, which leads to more consequences that lead to greater misery.
Be appalled, O heavens, at this, be shocked, be utterly desolate, says the Lord, for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns, that can hold no water.

— Jeremiah 2:12,13 (RSVCE)
Man, without God, is nothing, and left to his own devices, man reshapes himself into a vessel that is even incapable of sustaining himself, a ‘broken cistern.’

In the Office of Tenebrae, the candles are snuffed out one by one, until the final candle, representing Christ, is taken away for a while. Our Lord has been taken away and it is our fault. But the candle is brought back while it continues to burn. This tells us that while we ought to tremble in fear of God’s justice, we still have a glimmer of light to give us hope.

Ierusalem, Ierusalem, convertere ad Dominum Deum tuum! Jerusalem! Jerusalem! Return to the Lord your God!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Saint Francis de Sales Oratory, in Saint Louis, Missouri, USA - High altar on Palm Sunday

High altar at Saint Francis de Sales Oratory, in Saint Louis, Missouri; decorated for Palm Sunday.

Relic of Saint Mary Magdalen

A RELIC OF SAINT Mary Magdalen was venerated last week at both Magdalen churches in the Archdiocese, and also at the new Dominican Priory in Saint Louis.

Dominican Priory, in Saint Louis, Missouri, USA - relic of Saint Mary Magdalene

Fragment of a tibia. Saint Mary Magdalen is one the great Saints of the early Church, as evidenced by her titles of Equal-to-the-Apostles, and Apostle-to-the-Apostles, among others. This was taken at Saint Dominic Priory in Saint Louis.

Monday, March 25, 2013

A Question for my readers…

MARSHALL McLUHAN, the famed media theorist of the 20th century, who coined the phrases "the medium is the message" and "global village," studied and taught at Saint Louis University.

Does anyone have any information regarding McLuhan's time at Saint Louis University?

What is not generally known is that McLuhan was a faithful Catholic, a convert and daily communicant, whose ideas regarding the media were informed by the Catholic sacramental and iconographic systems, where signs and symbols represent greater realities.

His work is still widely regarded today, especially in the fields of cinema and television, although no doubt his ideas are poorly understood.

If anyone has information regarding his stay at SLU, I would appreciate it. I think this would make a good article here.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Newsletter from the Oratory


2653 Ohio Avenue
Saint Louis, Missouri 63118
March 20, 2013


Dear Faithful and Friends of Saint Francis de Sales Oratory,


In thankgiving for the election of His Holiness, Pope Francis, the clergy and faithful sang the Te Deum after Mass last Sunday.  The Te Deum is the great hymn of thanksgiving attributed to Saint Ambrose, a fourth century Doctor of the Church.  We offer our new Holy Father our prayers, as he begins his Petrine Ministry.  Viva il Papa!


*Confessions 30 minutes before all Masses and Devotions

"But our mother [Holy Mother Church] asks something more of us than compassion and tears; she would have us profit by the lessons we are to be taught by the Passion and Death of our Redeemer.  He Himself, when going up to Calvary, said to the holy women who had the courage to show their compassion even before His very executioners: 'Weep not over Me; but weep for yourselves and for your children.' It was not that He refused the tribute of their tears, for He was pleased with this proof of their affection; but it was desired, above all, to see them appreciate the importance of what they were witnessing, and learn from it how inexorable is God's justice against sin." --Dom Gueranger, Liturgical Year.
March 24th - Palm Sunday - 8am Low Mass; 9:30am Blessing of Palms & Procession followed by High Mass
March 28th - Holy Thursday – 5:30pm Confessions; 6:30pm High Mass with Procession to the Repository and Adoration until Midnight

March 29th - Good Friday – 8am Stations of the Cross and Confessions; 2pm Confessions; 3pm Liturgy of the Passion and Death of Our Lord

March 30th - Holy Saturday – 8pm Confessions; 9pm Easter Vigil followed by Blessing of the Easter food (Bread, Eggs)

March 31st – Easter Sunday – 8am Low Mass; 10am High Mass
"The Pasch of the Lord! Easter! Again Easter in honor of the Trinity! It is the feast of feasts, the solemnity of solemnities which is grander than all of the others, just as the sun over the stars." Saint Gregory of Nazianze 

“I will sing praise to Thee in the sight of the angels: I will worship towards Thy holy temple, and I will give glory to Thy name.” Psalm 137: 1-2
Since their creation from the loving hands of God, the angels have worshiped and adored Him. In the heavenly liturgy, they minister before Him and offer the prayers of Christ’s faithful before the throne of the divine majesty. “And the smoke of incense of the prayers of the saints ascended up before God from the hand of the angel.” (Apocalypse 8:4) Angels are purely spiritual beings, and therefore cannot be perceived by the senses. We know by faith that they are there adoring our Lord, but like many things that we cannot see, we easily forget this.

Therefore Holy Church, since time immemorial, has utilized the arts to make the invisible visible and to bring the divine realities closer to us. Often times we find in churches images of angels in adoration near the Blessed Sacrament altar. They are there to remind us of the presents of angels and our own duty to adore God.

Many years ago, a pair of adoring angel statues was given to Saint Francis de Sales parish. They were in need of repair and sent to a local company for refurbishing. However they were then forgotten, and the years passed by. Today, with the charitable help of generous benefactors, we are happy to announce the triumphant return of these beautiful works of art to St. Francis de Sales Oratory.

About 5 years ago, these statues were discovered by accident while looking for other liturgical items at Restoration Plus. According to records they were sent there by a previous pastor of the former parish for repairs in the early 1990s and never retrieved.

Restorations Plus, a long time staple of South Saint Louis City, is a company dedicated to restoring Church Art. Taken from their website, “Our first love is the Restoration of lovely old Religious Art. We repair and restore pieces to their original palette or to your particular artistic preference. We also have conservators in the fields of: Fine Art Paintings, Clock and Bell Restoration and Artglass Artists on hand for your special needs.”

We are truly thankful to Ms. Michelle Bowman-DuMey for her expertise and long hours of dedicated work to truly bring these pieces back from a state of disrepair.

The winter weather limits the work of maintenance and improvements to inside projects. The volunteers continue to provide a very valuable asset to this work. Some of their work includes:
  • Phil Roussin and Phil Winslow finished the repainting of the Co-op entrance to the 1888 building.
  • Painting the walls and woodwork in the Rectory basement has been an on-going improvement project undertaken by Chris Koziatek, who has been devoting many Saturdays to this effort.
  • In the church hall, Phil Roussin and Chris Petersen have wired and installed a media facility in the stage area with projector, sound and screen to show videos and movies via computer.
Our charter school tenant, KIPP, through a funding grant, has provided padding in the gym along the walls and columns to improve safety for the children’s activities.


The much needed tuck-point work on the steeple is scheduled to start as soon as the threat of freezing weather has passed.

A recent development is the roof leak in the church near the south confessional. We have had a restoration company investigate the origin of the leak and they have promised an expedited repair, since the ceiling plaster has been damaged.

Wishing a blessed Holy Week and Easter!
In Christo Rege et Maria,

Canon William E. Avis, Pro-Rector
Saint Francis de Sales Oratory

Some Images of Saint Joseph at Saint Joseph Church in Clayton

YESTERDAY, on the Feast of Saint Joseph, I visited Saint Joseph Church in Clayton, Missouri. This century-old church building serves the oldest parish in central Saint Louis County, dating from 1842. Built atop the highest hill in once-rural Clayton, this church now has tall office buildings as neighbors. Once the parish of French pioneers and their descendants and Irish immigrants, this now-urban parish is noted, among other things, for having well-attended weekday noon Masses and devotions, along with daily confession.

Here are some photos of statues and images of Saint Joseph, foster-father of Our Lord and patron of the Universal Church.

Saint Joseph Roman Catholic Church, in Clayton, Missouri, USA - bronze sculpture of Saint Joseph and the Christ Child - in garden

This bronze statue of Saint Joseph and the Christ child was cast in 2011, by Ivo Demetz.

Saint Joseph Roman Catholic Church, in Clayton, Missouri, USA - statue of Saint Joseph in side narthex

The original Greek texts of the Gospels tell us that Saint Joseph was a τέκτων (or tekton), and he trained his adopted son Jesus in the same trade. Tekton is a general term for craftsman or builder, and from tekton we get our words ’technology’ and ‘architecture.’ However, Saint Justin Martyr tells us Jesus made yokes and plows, and the early tradition says that Joseph specifically was a carpenter.

Saint Joseph Roman Catholic Church, in Clayton, Missouri, USA - statue of Saint Joseph and Christ child

This charming statue was carved from linden wood by the Demetz Art Studio, in Ortisei, Italy.

Saint Joseph Roman Catholic Church, in Clayton, Missouri, USA - print of Saint Joseph by Siegfried Reinhardt

The label reads:
“Saint Joseph the Carpenter” print
by Siegfried Reinhardt (1925-1984)
Prolific artist + teacher based
at Wash U from 1955-1970
Saint Joseph Roman Catholic Church, in Clayton, Missouri, USA - Saint Joseph's Day poster 1994

A Saint Joseph’s Day poster from 1994.

There are more depictions of Joseph in this church, including many of the stained glass windows, such as this one of the Presentation:

Saint Joseph Church, in Clayton, Missouri - stained glass window - 1

The Cross is Planted in Clayton

While at the church, I got a copy of the book, “The Cross Planted in Clayton: A Centennial History of St. Joseph Catholic Church,” a new book, by the Rev. Msgr. John B. Shamleffer, JCL, which covers the history of the parish and architecture of the church. This book is available for sale at the churches rectory: 106 North Meramec Avenue, Clayton, Missouri 63105, at a cost of $35. I contributed a number of photographs for this book.

Saint Joseph Roman Catholic Church, in Clayton, Missouri, USA - exterior front at night

Photos of this church are also found in the book Clayton Missouri: An Urban Story, which you can purchase from Amazon here:

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Press Conference with Archbishop Carlson about the election of Pope Francis.

The Archbishop of Saint Louis, the Most Rev. Robert Carlson, with the V. Rev. Douglas W. Marcouiller, Provincial of the Missouri Province of the Society of Jesus.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Habemus Papam!

POPE FRANCIS, Jorge Mario Bergoglio of the Society of Jesus, age 76, Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Argentina.
O God, who in your providential design willed that your Church be built upon blessed Peter, whom you set over the other apostles, look with favor, we pray, on Francis, our Pope, and grant that he, whom you have made Peter’s successor, may be for your people a visible source and foundation of unity in faith and of communion.

Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, forever and ever.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Live Video Feed of the Conclave

From Vatican Radio, in English.

While no photos will be taken within the conclave, the election being secret, you can view an interactive, spherical panoramic photograph of the 500 year-old Sistine Chapel, where the voting will be taking place, here.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Photos of the Former B’Nai Israel Synagogue, in Cape Girardeau, Missouri

NEXT DOOR TO the old Saint Vincent de Paul Church, in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, is the former B’Nai Israel Orthodox synagogue, constructed in 1937, and made in a Spanish Colonial Revival style with Moorish elements.

B'Nai Israel synagogue, in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, USA

This building was designed by the Saint Louis architect Thomas P. Barnett Jr. who also designed other buildings in Cape Girardeau: he came from a prominent family of architects, his father having designed the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis. Reportedly, this synagogue has not been altered since its construction, and the interior remains intact. You can read its nomination for the National Register of Historical Places here.

B'Nai Israel synagogue, in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, USA - gate with Stars of David

While we might consider such a style of architecture to be more Islamic than Jewish, understand that the history and art of Spain, which inspired this building, is complex and non-intuitive to those of us more familiar with northern European styles. The New Liturgical Movement tells us of a similarly-decorated ancient Catholic church, in the article Mozarabic Potentialities for Contemporary Church Architecture? This style is largely derived from the arts of the late Roman and Byzantine Empires, and in turn, it inspired the Gothic.

The synagogue closed because the congregation was unable to maintain a quorum for licit liturgies; this in turn was due to the changing economy (most congregants owned their own businesses, but were unable to compete with the suburban malls), and most critically, because of the inability of the youth to find suitable spouses in the region. You can read about its history here.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Photos of Old Saint Vincent's Church, in Cape Girardeau, Missouri

HERE ARE PHOTOS of the old Saint Vincent de Paul Church, in Cape Girardeau, Missouri. A part of the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau, this is now a chapel of ease in the historic riverfront district of that city. Dating from 1853, this English Gothic Revival church is located about 115 highway miles south of downtown Saint Louis.

Old Saint Vincent's Catholic Church, in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, USA - exterior front

Old Saint Vincent Catholic Church, in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, USA - tympanum above front door

Wood carving over the main entrance.

Old Saint Vincent Catholic Church, in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, USA - nave

From the church's website:
1825: Fr. John Timon, A Vincentian priest, was assigned to serve the population of Perry & Cape Girardeau counties.

July 8, 1833: Fr. Timon celebrated Mass in the first temporary church which was a warehouse of Don Louis Lorimier. It was close to the riverfront and near to the Red House, Lorimier's home.

April 30, 1838: Cornerstone of the first church was laid by Bishop Joseph Rosati, C.M. This stone structure distinctly resembled the Old Cathedral on the St. Louis riverfront.

1850: First church of native stone destroyed by a violent tornado.

1851: Within six months construction began on the present church. The stone of the original church was used for the new
foundation. The church was designed by a noted Missouri architect, Thomas Warying Walsh. The church is in the style of Renaissance architecture in which architects refer to the style of the church as English Gothic Revival.

1900: A spire of undetermined height was erected on the occasion of the golden jubilee.

1905: The spire was struck by lightning.

1912: Lightning again strikes the spires and it was destroyed by fire. The present steeple was constructed in 1912.

1926: The vestibule at the front entrance was added sometime after 1900. The shape of the church is cruciform; shape of a cross. There are nine arches intertwined in the choir loft. Architects' speculation is that the arches were designed to support the tall spire in the original design. Pews show evidence of originally having gates (doors) as well a partitions. There was a pedestal which gave evidence of a pulpit near the front of the church.

December 1977: Old St. Vincent Church was declared a Chapel of Ease. Restoration begins. It has remained a place of worship since Father Timon came to this area in 1833.

April 1982: Old St. Vincent Church was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

1997: Exterior and interior restoration completed.

Present: Old St. Vincent Church continues to serve the Cape Girardeau community as a Religious & Cultural Center.
Fr. Timon, the first parish priest, was a missionary along the Mississippi River and in Texas, and later became Coadjutor Bishop of the Diocese of Saint Louis, then Apostolic Prefect of the Republic of Texas, and then Bishop of Buffalo.

The architect Walsh, who was born in Kilkenny, Ireland, and lived in Saint Louis, also designed the old Cathedral (Saints Peter and Paul) in Alton, Illinois, Du Bourg Hall and Saint Francis Xavier Church at Saint Louis University, and Saint Alphonsus Ligouri Church in Saint Louis.

These interior photos were taken in April of 2012.

Old Saint Vincent Catholic Church, in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, USA - sanctuary

The stained glass window in the sanctuary depicts Saint Vincent de Paul giving bread to a poor child; the inscription reads “In memory of John Pointer.”

Old Saint Vincent Catholic Church, in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, USA - altar

The old high altar. Deus is Latin for God.

Old Saint Vincent Catholic Church, in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, USA - baptismal font

Baptismal font, with sculpture depicting the baptism of Our Lord in the Jordan River by Saint John the Baptist.

Old Saint Vincent Catholic Church, in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, USA - statue of Saint Vincent de Paul

Statue of Saint Vincent de Paul. He was a French priest, ordained in the year of Our Lord 1600. Captured by pirates, he was sold into slavery but later assisted in the reversion of his apostate master, and succeeded in freeing himself and his fellow slaves. While he was a friend of kings and aristocrats, he worked especially with poor peasants, convicts in slave galleys, and spiritually supporting his fellow priests. He was founder of the Ladies of Charity, co-founder, with St. Louise de Marillac, of the Daughters of Charity, and founded the Congregation of the Mission.

Old Saint Vincent Catholic Church, in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, USA - cabinet with memorabilia

Charming memorabilia.

Old Saint Vincent's Catholic Church, in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, USA - exterior side

Old Saint Vincent Catholic Church, in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, USA - "Cape La Croix Creek" monument

This monument is near the church.
In 1699, Fathers Montigny, Davion,
and St. Cosme, French missionaries
erected a cross where this stream
entered the Mississippi and prayed
that this might be the beginning of
Christianity among the Indians.
The stream has ever since
been known as


Across the street from the church is Murtaugh Park, “named for Rev. James A. Murtaugh, C.M., commemorating his civic efforts,” and the Red House, a fairly recent building, constructed to resemble the French colonial architecture of this region, and commemorating Louis Lorimier, an early settler who set up a trading post here:

Old Red House, in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, USA

The former B’Nai Israel Synagogue, which has an unusual Spanish-Moorish design, is located next door to the church.

William and Main Streets
Cape Girardeau, Missouri 63703

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Ornament at the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis

, in Saint Louis, Missouri, USA - mosaic details 2

Ornament at the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis.

Architectural ornament was for decades a lost art in the West, which is a shame because it is beautiful, giving rest and pleasure to the eye, and it links us to cultures far into the past and across the continents. This loss is also unwarranted, because the principles of making traditional ornament are actually relatively simple — at least compared to figurative art. But perhaps the most important consideration is that the beauty of ornament flows from the underlying truth that it expresses, and so ornament can lift our minds upward towards more spiritual things.

Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis, in Saint Louis, Missouri - communion rail detail.jpg

I've long wanted to do an in-depth photo essay of the ornament at the Cathedral, largely because it is close to ground level and so easy to photograph. The figurative icons that are located 50 feet or more above are hard to capture because they are usually seen at odd angles from the floor, and so would likely need expensive equipment and intrusive camera work to photograph well. My problem was that the ornament here is found in such a bewildering variety that I had little idea as to how to approach it.

Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis, in Saint Louis, Missouri, USA - decorative stained glass window detail, in west transept

Fortunately, I found out that there is a mathematical classification of ornament based on its symmetry. These designs can be classified into groups, including symmetries of reflection about a line, rotation around point; frieze groups which exhibit symmetries along a line; wallpaper groups which have symmetries across a surface, helical symmetry on a cylinder, and so forth, in a logical, understandable, and orderly framework.

Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis, in Saint Louis, Missouri - Our Lady's Chapel - column detail.jpg

Nowadays, mathematics and art are opposed to each other — “drawing on different sides of the brain” according to a popular but discredited theory. But at one time it was not so.

It is surprising, perhaps, to learn that ancient and medieval art has a mathematical foundation, which reflects the mathematical order of the cosmos. Recovering this mathematical understanding is needed before we can recover the good use of ornament in architecture, based on first principles and not mere copying.

Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis, in Saint Louis, Missouri

Dr. Brian Clair, who teaches mathematics and computer science at Saint Louis University, has web pages at, which illustrates the various classes of symmetries of ornament found at the Cathedral Basilica. Please note that the classification is quite abstract, and ignores the specific colors and the materials used in the ornament, but instead emphasizes their form. Recall Aristotle's four causes: the most important are the formal cause, or design of an object, and the final cause or purpose for the object; modernity, on the other hand, emphasizes the material and efficient causes, which relate to the composition of an object and how it is made. It is easy to see how the modern emphasis can overlook ornament and its importance.

Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis, in Saint Louis, Missouri, USA - pulpit detail

I frequently attend Mass and Confession at the Cathedral Basilica, and typically there are numbers of visitors there, for it is a popular tourist attraction. Invariably, these people are awe-struck at the massiveness and beauty of the interior, and we should not be surprised, because Catholic churches  are intended to edify the masses.

These tourists snap innumerable snapshots, but alas, their photos are likely to be disappointing. In my early days of photographing the cathedral, I learned two important lessons in photography: subtracting out the color of the lighting from the image, and harmonizing the position and orientation of the camera with the subject. Some of these photos are old and aren't quite as harmonious as I would like.

Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis, in Saint Louis, Missouri - Our Lady's Chapel - ambulatory ceiling 1.jpg

The Jewish Temple in Jerusalem had lush vegetative ornament, being reminiscent of Eden and the promised restoration of the garden of paradise at the world's consummation. Ancient synagogues often followed this pattern, as did the early Christian churches.  Here we see peacocks, symbols of immortality, and two doves at a fountain in each corner, which among other things is a symbol of fidelity and baptism. We also have crosses.

Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis, in Saint Louis, Missouri - Our Lady's Chapel - windows.jpg

Plainness and lack of ornament is associated with unorthodox sects, from radical denominations to Wahabbism in Islam, which tend to deny the value of the intellect and beauty, or which denigrate the value of the material world. Plain meeting-houses offer nothing for visitors, other than implying “Begone! There is nothing for you here.” Their churches are necessarily uninviting, and they have few willing converts, for they do not “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.”

But a traditional church is inviting, asking visitors to stay for awhile, perhaps to pray, or even only to contemplate the beauty within, and so such a church ought to be open to visitors at all times.

Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis, in Saint Louis, Missouri - Our Lady's Chapel - mosaic detail on altar.jpg

Mathematics is traditionally seen as an important step towards enlightenment. Recognizing the underlying unity, order, and causes of things, rather than merely the immediate appearances of things is essential for intellectual — and ultimately spiritual — development. Expressing the mathematical order in works of art inspires not merely the passions, as is found in so much of contemporary art, but also inspires and helps to form the intellect.

Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis, in Saint Louis, Missouri - Our Lady's Chapel - chapel ceiling 3.jpg

The ornamentation at the Cathedral Basilica has a logical arrangement. The parts of the nave nearest to the main entrance and closest to ground level are more worldly, abstract, and more local, while as we rise upwards, and towards the sanctuary, the ornament is more heavenly, theological, and Christological. Finally the eye is drawn towards the high altar, depicting Christ suffering on the Cross, our salvation. But visitors to the nave are first presented with patterned geometric art, which lifts them above the mundane, ever-changing world, but in a manner that is perhaps gentler than Christ's battered and bloody corpus.

Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis, in Saint Louis, Missouri, USA

Ornament serves many uses. As the most important church in the archdiocese, it is fitting that it is most richly ornamented, and we would also expect fine ornament in a pilgrimage church, and so the amount and complexity of the ornament tells us of a building's importance. The ornament — including the iconic art — specifically tells us what this building is, that it is a place of Christian worship. The ornament is festive and solemn, reflecting the liturgy offered here.

Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis, in Saint Louis, Missour

Mosaic work is a popular craft, but it is often done these days in a primitive style, lacking in geometric precision. Adding a basic knowledge of the various orders of symmetry, coupled with good skill in measurement and layout could easily restore this art, at least on a basic level.

More complex figures, such as the vegetative ornament as seen here, require a knowledge of proportion that is hard to find these days, and this may tempt artists to merely copy existing forms for new work. The problem with simple copying is that some designs, especially those that are highly ordered, are largely specific to the surface upon which they ornament. A different proportion of wall, for example, will require a different design pattern to keep a harmonious appearance, even if the basic elements of the design remains the same. The ability to adapt a type of pattern to new circumstances would require greater knowledge than the simple symmetries mentioned here. See the article Abstraction and the “Grammar of Ornament” for some clues on how to do this.

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Relic of Saint Mary Magdelen to visit Saint Louis

MARY MAGDALEN — whose titles include Myrrhbearer, Equal of the Apostles, and Apostle to the Apostles — is not only famed in the New Testament, but also, according to tradition, was a missionary to the Roman province of Gaul, or modern-day France.

Saint Louis Art Museum, in Saint Louis, Missouri - painting of Saint Mary Magdalene.jpg

Painting of Saint Mary Magdalen, at the Saint Louis Art Museum.

The Saint's missionary journey has not ended, for a major relic of the Magdelen will be visiting Saint Louis. From an article in the Saint Louis Review, here are the locations for public veneration of the Saint:
Thursday, March 21:

• St. Mary Magdalen, 4924 Bancroft Ave. in south St. Louis; 7:50 a.m. candlelight procession carrying the relic into the church, followed by Mass; 9:15 a.m. Chaplet and Litany; 9:30-10:30 a.m. spiritual talk; 11:30 a.m. Mass; 1 p.m. relic departs. Call (314) 352-2111.

• St. Mary Magdalen, 2618 South Brentwood Blvd. in Brentwood; 2 p.m. candlelight procession carrying the relic into the church; 2:15-3 p.m. Confessions, followed by Mass; 4-6 p.m. Confessions; 4:30 p.m. Chaplet and Litany; 5 p.m. Rosary; 5:30-6:30 p.m. Blessed Sacrament exposed for spiritual talk, followed by 7 p.m. Mass; relic departs at 8 p.m. Call (314) 961-8400.

Friday, March 22:

• St. Dominic Priory, 3407 Lafayette Ave. in St. Louis; 8 a.m. Morning Prayer with preaching; 11 a.m. Mass, with veneration throughout the day; 2 p.m. Rosary or Chaplet to St. Mary Magdalene; 4:30 p.m. Evening Prayer with preaching. Call (314) 678-9427 for more information.