Tuesday, February 17, 2009

New Chapel of Our Lady of Guadalupe Seminary

Recently, I was very pleased to see this watercolour, by architect Thomas Gordon Smith, of the envisioned interior of the new chapel of the FSSP seminary in Nebraska:

What I was particularly pleased to see was the splendid Romanitas of the chapel, with its graceful columns which lead the eye up to the central point of focus, the high altar, and even more pleased to see the inclusion of a ciborium magnum (or "baldacchino") over that altar -- which all the more highlights the altar, giving it its due prominence. (Those who would like to read more about this architectural element, please reference: The History and Forms of the Christian Altar. Part 1: The Early Christian and Early Roman Forms, Oct. 1, 2008)

It is very encouraging to see this architectural feature included more and more in recent architectural projects, as for example the recently completed Shrine in La Cross, Wisconsin, designed by architect Duncan Stroik or the Chapel of Thomas Aquinas College.

It has been pointed out upon the NLM previously that the use of a ciborium over the altar -- particularly in a time where a preference for the free-standing altar exists, as well as one which sees Mass being much more likely celebrated from both sides of the altar -- is a particularly efficacious solution in the present circumstances (and truth be told, even generally) lending the altar its appropriate centrality and gravitas -- which in turn has a very positive effect upon the liturgy itself.

Today's freestanding altars often look quite orphaned in their sanctuaries because they typically lack either ciborium, reredos or even tall altar candlesticks and cross upon them. Accordingly, there is little in the way of verticality to draw the eye to it or set it visually apart from the rest of the building. This is most unfortunate from both an architectural and liturgical point of view. (For more on this subject, please reference: Bringing Verticality and Presence back to Free-standing Altars, Jan. 25, 2008)

The use of a ciborium, or baldacchino, can be a very effective and particularly dignified way to resolve the matter, giving the altar that due gravitas. It is my hope that this architectural feature will be given further consideration in future architectural projects, and by parish priests looking to "re-enchant" modern parish sanctuaries.

(The FSSP Seminary Chapel under construction)

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