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.


Adam said...

Those vestments are great. And probably never, ever worn. Sad.

Father Chad said...

Wonderful post! I believe the image of the episcopal consecration is that of Bishop Samuel Seabury at the hands of the Scottish hierarchy, 14 November 1784, which gave rise to the American Episcopate and the Anglican Communion. The eighteenth century dress portrayed in the carving suggests the possibility, but I am only guessing.

God bless you!

J. Gordon Anderson said...

Who knows, Adam... with the celebrated "motu proprio" maybe they will be using those things again! (probably not)

The crypt museum also has the chalice and paten used at the Third Plenary Council - very beautiful! Go cehck it out. I tried to take a picture of it, but it's in a glass case and the flash reflected off of it and ruined the photo!

The young fogey said...

I love both those cathedrals too, Father. Saw the Baltimore one 12 years ago and the DC one about 20 years ago.

Adam said...


I haven't been to the exhibits at the basilica. In fact, I didn't know they were there. But seeing as how I live two blocks away I will definitely have to go check it out soon!

An Anglican Cleric said...

The National Cathedral is by far the most beautiful church building I've ever seen. What breaks the illusion is that every time I've visited a woman has been celebrating the Eucharist, as though to put a thumb into the eye of everyone who may not have signed on to the new agenda. I've told some people that if I ever make it back to D.C. I will smuggle in a chalice, paten, bread and wine, and a 1662 or 1928 a start celebrating in one of the side chapels. I've found that there is no person less welcome in an Episcopal church (unless its part of the Network or FiF) than a former member of the Episcopal Church.


J. Gordon Anderson said...

That's too bad, father.

I have only witnessed one mass at the NC, and it was celebrated by a man - they must have slipped up.

The bookstore slipped up... they actually had a number of really good titles, and one, count it - one - 1928 BCP for sale.

An Anglican Cleric said...

When I was there I purchased an illuminated 1662 and a copy of the Anglican Missal. I wonder if those are still there or not.