Saturday, September 1, 2007
A Tale of Two Cathedrals
My wife and I just returned from vacation. While away, we got to visit the Basilica of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Baltimore, which had recently undergone a huge renovation. The last time I was there was to see the famous "Timla Relic" a few years ago. Unlike some horrific church renovations that have gone on in recent years that were supposedly meant to "update" the church, this restoration was meant to "return" the interior of the building to its original Federal-period design. And I must say that it a very tasteful renovation. They did a really good job. It looks almost like an old early Episcopal church - white washed interior, minimal designs, etc. The interior is now very bright because they removed the stained glass (dark blue Willet windows), and uncovered the original skylights in the dome. They kept all of the good stuff (the high altar, altar rails, etc.), and brought some cool old stuff back (e.g. the nation's first RC episcopal throne). The basilica (technically a minor-basilica) was designed by Latrobe, and is the nation's first catholic cathedral. It was built in the neo-classical style rather than the gothic because the former was seen as being enlightened and forward looking. It was the site of many famous plenary councils of the Roman church in America. They have a museum below in the newly designed crypt which includes vestments and appointments of many famous American prelates, such as Cardinal Gibbons (see picture of his vestments used at the 3rd Plenary Council above). All in all, it was a great place to visit, and if you are ever in Baltimore I highly recommend a trip.
The other cathedral we visited was the National Cathedral. It's always fun to visit that place and imagine that it is still the "good old days" in American Anglicanism. My favorite artistic part about the cathedral is - everything. The windows, woodwork, stonework, etc. is unparalleled in my opinion here in the USA. The bookstore had some nice titles, but also some weird, new age stuff as one would expect. The cathedral contains a number of wonderful stained glass windows and mosaics by Rowan LeCompte, who is one of my favorite church artists and a fellow "Balti-Moron".
Here is a picture of some of the great wood carving in the National Cathedral (from the choir). It shows an Anglican consecration (making a man a bishop). I couldn't find a plaque explaining if it was supposed to be a scene from history, or if it was just decorative.