Tuesday, November 18, 2008

A Chapel Renovation at Seton Hall

Via Fr. Zuhlsdorf, I recently ran across these images of a striking chapel renovation at Seton Hall College in New Jersey, replacing the somewhat maimed post-Conciliar fittings with vividly painted and gilded Gothic furniture, and a new rose-colored marble altar. On the whole, they are some of the more convincing Gothic furnishings I have seen in recent years; I do not know the manufacturer or designer but I detect the hand of Granda's artisans.

A number of the details feel nonetheless somewhat stilted, with a certain pre-assembled quality to them. I wish a greater effort had been made to harmonize the new furnishings to the existing items, or even conserve more of the older elements, which, while sadly reduced by the previous renovation, still had some life in them. The remnants of the old furnishings had a distinct early twentieth-century Gothic feel, possessing a certain subtlety and delicacy that the bolder, heavier, nineteenth-century-inspired furnishings lack to a certain degree. This is not to say they are not finely crafted, of course, or that I do not appreciate their vigor.

There is also, of course, the liturgical problem posed by implementing a conservative post-Conciliar plan (with a large, fine marble altar that nonetheless can only be approached from one side) in the post-Summorum world. It will take some time for the spirit of the Motu Proprio to trickle down into the mainstream, and more effort must be made on our part to emphasize the importance of spatial planning within the continuity of tradition, which is still not on the radar screen of many orthodox Catholics, through no fault of their own, of course. In any case, as I have said before, the artist can only do what the client asks them to do, when all is said and done. In the mean time, I applaud the imagination of those in charge to undertake such a high-quality restoration, as well as returning the tabernacle to the center of the sanctuary, another important first step in the re-enchantment of liturgical space.

I am pleased to see the tabernacle shrine, while possessing a reredos, does not look like a faux high altar, thus preserving the integrity of the single freestanding altar; it would be better if the principal altar was raised somewhat higher and the tester lowered somewhat, for better visibility, but on the whole this is a step in the right direction. It is unclear from the photos, though, if the old tester is hung directly over the new altar, the most logical place for it to be. Placing a hanging tester over a freestanding altar is a very fine thing indeed, and could be a model for the artistic resacralization of many freestanding altars across the country and world. Despite my critiques--which certainly can be made among friends--there is much to like here, and much to learn from.

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