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Savannah Georgia’s Cathedral Church

March 12th, 2012, Promulgated by Bernie

Can you stand a peek at another cathedral?

(See a video that I made of the Cathedral, here.)

I was fortunate to visit the cathedral church of Savannah, Georgia (St. John the Baptist) a couple of weeks ago and was delighted with what I saw.

(click on photos to see larger images) 

(1)

The Cathedral has published a book that displays the art of the Cathedral and provides interesting historical background as well as religious definitions and explanations.2 I’ve reproduced several of the book’s photographs for this post.

Savannah Cathedral (3)

The first thing that struck me about the decorative program of this church appears high up in the clerestory, above the nave. The murals there led me to ask if there was a book available that would explain not only the personages in those murals but also the subjects and symbols that were in abundance throughout the rest of building. A beautiful book it is.

Those murals in the clerestory, along each side of the nave and on each side of the transept(s), depict a celestial procession of saints realistically portrayed against a regally patterned, flat, pinkish, wall paper-like, background. I immediately thought of the tapestry procession of saints in the controversial Los Angeles Cathedral.

Los Angeles Tapestries (4)

 

5

A celestial procession of saints as part of the decorative program of a church goes way back to the earliest Christian churches. The only surviving ‘house-church’ (ca. 243), at Dura Europos in Syria, shows a procession, in the baptistery, of the three women to the tomb of Christ.

Three women at the tomb. Dura Europos, Syria (243) (6)

Sant'Apollinare Nuovo (7)

Probably the best known example is in Sant’Apollinare Nuovo (561) in Ravenna, Italy where processions of saints line the clerestory walls of the nave (see a clip here). Processions of 22 virgins appear below the saints on one side of the nave and 26 martyrs, on the opposite side.

I don't think churches "in the round" work because they focus inward on the community too much and not enough on the Lord. But, I give this parish credit for including the saints above and around them. (Photo has been edited to emphasize the 'clerestory.') (8)

A program of saints hovering above the nave of a church is an excellent way to reinforce a congregation’s sense of the communion of saints (a ‘Catholic’ concept). The saints, as well as the congregation, are participating in the liturgy from heaven, represented by church imagery high up on the walls of the nave. In my opinion, the suggestion of timelessness (‘God’s time’) is an important goal for church architecture. It is impressively achieved in a traditionally arranged long nave which leads to -and ends at- the altar where a strong eschatological image is displayed behind/above the altar.
Psalm 84, the first in today’s morning prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours,  suggests that  processional imagery in the nave of a church is most approriate:
“My soul is longing and yearning,
is yearning for the courts of the Lord.”
                               +
“They walk with ever growing strength,
they will see the God of gods in Zion”
And, from Revelation 15:4 of today’s morning prayer:
“All peoples shall come and worship in your presence”
Liberals, progressives (or whatever the term should be) often invoke the image of journeying but it is interpreted in their ‘creative’ liturgies and church environments as ‘wandering.’ It never seems clear to me as to where they are journeying to, except inward toward the earthly confined community. In an environment like the Savannah Cathedral the journey is clearly to Zion and to the celestial celebration. The saints have successfully gone ahead of us -that’s why they are depicted in a higher register, above our heads. They encourage and help us by accompanying us; journeying, not wandering aimlessly.
Let’s also remember that Biblical history -salvation history- has an absolute beginning and an absolute end. Like an arrow it flies straight to the target from a definite starting point.

John points to the Lamb of God. Apse window. (9)

The Savannah Cathedral’s decorative program follows one type of Catholic tradition that emphasizes eschatological treatment of a scriptural scene; in this case, the Baptism of Christ and the story surrounding St. John the Baptist. It is in the nature of stained glass to transfigure even realistically rendered imagery into a vision of sanctification.  And so it is in the situation here: the saints of the murals in this Cathedral process toward the chancel (toward the altar of sacrifice and the table of the celestial banquet) in which are three luminous windows each proclaiming around the head of St. John “Behold, the Lamb of God”. (You recall, I hope, the image of the Agnus Dei -the Lamb of God– we saw in the chancel of the Washington Cathedral.)

10

Overlooking the altar, on each side, are the four evangelists participating from their box seats in the clerestory.

Transept window. (11)

The windows of the transept in St. John the Baptist are also quite beautiful and symmetrically programmed opposite each in the transept. In the north is depicted The Ascension of Our Lord and in the south, The Assumption of Mary. Both hopeful images for the successful completion of our journey. Below the transept windows are lancet windows of saints, the Christ Child, and the Holy Virgin.

12

There are Stations of the Cross, of course. These were made in Munich, Germany and installed in 1900. You can’t get to enjoy Easter without enduring Good Friday. Appropriately, these are located just slightly above eye level.

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1 -by Bernie

2, 3, 9, 11 -Aviles, Suzanne, Art and Symbols of the Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist, (2007) Diocese of Savannah, 222 Harris Street, Savannah, Georgia 31410. www.savannahcathedral.org The book is available for $20 and includes photographs of nearly all the works in the church as well as a wealth of information both historical and religious.

7 Sant’Apollinare Nuovo Tango7174

4 Los Angeles Cathedral

Tapestry Saints

8 Anne Spenny (original photo has been altered) Corpus Christi University Parish, Toledo, Ohio

10, 11 -Bernie

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One Response to “Savannah Georgia’s Cathedral Church”

  1. avatar Ben Anderson says:

    Excellent take on the liberals use of their “journey”. These posts are very informative. I think I need to re-read them every few weeks because I know I don’t digest it all the first read. Thank you for taking the time to do it, Bernie!

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