Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Curiosities Uncovered on a Visit to the New York Public Library

I recently had occasion to browse through some copies of Ralph Adams Cram's apparently shortlived magazine Christian Art, something almost as entertaining, though more edifying, than browsing through back-issues of the later Liturgical Arts Monthly. In this later publication, glowing Romanesque designs mingled with manifestly awful modernist monstrosities, a sort of once-living symbol of the contradictions of the later Liturgical Movement. (Its low point came in the sixties, when one edition featured an article, I kid thee not, entitled "The Moon-People's Liturgy," the less said of which, the better.) Cram's publication was a little less freewheeling than its successors, and stuck pretty close to its Gothic Revival roots, chock-full of photographs of remarkable turn-of-the-century churches by Cram and Goodhue, Maginnis and Walsh, and their numerous disciples.

One exception to Cram's quasi-dogmatic pursuit of Gothic and Romanesque, as I have previously noted, was Spanish Baroque, especially in its most flamboyantly vernacular Latin American incarnations. I've posted Cram and Goodhue's proposal for an Episcopalian Cathedral for Havana, as well as a pro-cathedral and a parish church, Los Todos Santos [sic], but in addition to paging through Christian Art, I also came across some more photos in an old anthology of Cram work showing the pro-cathedral. Most interesting is this image of the then-unfinished reredos, with its "English-Use" setup of cross and twin candles in contrast with the unabashed Hispanidad of the rest of the composition, more Mexican Churrigueresque than the quieter and more canonical Spanish styles common in Cuba.

Unfinished High Altar, Episcopal Pro-Cathedral, Havana

Indeed, Cram and Goodhue thought so highly of this style of architecture that a Churrigueresque project by their disciple, the Irish-born American Catholic Charles Maginnis, shows up center stage in the first volume of Christian Art. Maginnis has yet to get Cram's exposure, but he was a middleweight master in his own right--the architect of the National Shrine in D.C. and a tireless provider of budget Cram Gothic to cash-strapped Roman parishes who couldn't afford Episcopalian prices. Maginnis has a funny way of cropping up all over the place. His firm did the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen in Baltimore--finished so late and in such a traditional liturgical arrangement for its time that one might well call it Gothic Revival Survival as well as Art Deco Gothic--much of Notre Dame's Collegiate Gothic work, and, it turns out, submitted a proposal at the beginning of the last century for Los Angeles Cathedral.

Proposed Cathedral of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Los Angeles

Yes, that Los Angeles Cathedral. Plans to replace St. Vibiana's, which culminated in the controversial Rafael Moneo pile looming over the north end of the Financial District, go back at least one hundred years. A rather handsome site was picked out on Wiltshire Boulevard, and plans drawn up for a church dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe that blended Spanish Baroque design with the latest theories of the nascent Liturgical Movement--a broad nave with good sight-lines, narrow side-aisles and a suitably spacious and long chancel with enough stalls for a proper compliment of priests in choir.

While too late to show up in Cram's magazine, there were at least two other proposals for Los Angeles Cathedral. First, there's a 1935 design by Lloyd Wright (Frank Lloyd's kid) in a modern style that is more bizarre than simply ugly: it resembles nothing so much as a cruciform high-rise built by Mayans. Then, as late as the 1950s, there was talk of doing a Spanish Gothic cathedral that turned out to be equally financially handicapped as the other proposals; on the whole the design was more inoffensive than truly beautiful, but certainly preferrable to Mayans or Moneo.

Besides Christian Art, I also came across a curious little bit of Papal memorabilia in a display case on an exhibit on male fashion through the ages. It was a little accordion-fold portfolio showing costumes of the pontifical court printed during the reign of Pius IX with his jolly hand-colored face on the front. Most of the vestments were fairly conventional, but two stuck out in particular. The first shows the Pope vested for what the caption seemed to indicate was Christmas, or possibly Christmas eve. I have a feeling that this bit of papal vesture is almost certainly apocryphal, but it's certainly intriguing, as it looks like Pius IX is shown wearing a Cardinal's winter cappa magna with ermine trim, the scarlet silk hood pulled over his head--an item of vesture unknown to the Pope, and worn in a way almost exclusively associated with Good Friday rather than Christmas. At the very least, perhaps our readership might be able to shed some light on this oddity, or at least explain where the error came from.

An accordion-fold of papal ceremonial postcards: the mystery vestment is first from the left.

More believable, but in many respects odder, was a drawing entitled, roughly, "house costume of Cardinals," showing what appears to be an eighteenth century layman's costume colored to approximate a prelate's abito piano, the black and red costume worn by present-day cardinals on solemn non-liturgical occasions. However, rather than a long cassock, this alternate version apparently featured a long black full-skirted tailcoat, knee-breeches and bright scarlet stockings. This is a strange costume to say the least--abito piano, from what I recall, only became formalized in the 1870s, when it replaced the scarlet cassock now associated with choir-dress, which was until then worn by Roman cardinals on both sacred and secular high occasions, including trips to the opera.

From left: a cardinal of a religious order; a cardinal's choir dress, the mysterious alleged cardinal's house dress, and possibly a bishop in cope and mitre.

Abito piano, named, in fact, for Pius, did indeed derive from a domestic costume worn by clergy at home, but it seems to have been a cassock rather than this distinctly secular-looking getup. The instances of clerics wearing lay costume along these lines that I know of were few and far-between: knee-length frock-coats were permitted for American clergy by one of the Councils of Baltimore, and the weathercock bishop Talleyrand sometimes wore his pectoral cross with a layman's tailcoat, but as far as I know these were the exception rather than the rule. Therefore, this costume at the very least does make me wonder--while it might be largely fanciful, it has to have come from somewhere, however inaccurately it was recorded. Anyone know?

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