Sunday, August 09, 2009

Renovations: St. Mary Church, Marietta, Ohio

One of our readers pointed to some very tasteful and effectual renovations that have occurred at the parish of St. Mary's in Marietta, Ohio.

Let us run through some of the particular elements.



There are a number of things going on here, but let us generally note first and foremost that through these various elements, what has been added to the basic architectural framework is colour. Colour and even the simplest of details are often underestimated for their importance.

More specifically, the painting of the dome in the tradition of the heavens is a wonderful and noble addition, and looks to have been well-executed.

The script which relates to the patron of the church, Mary, the Mother of God, Mother of the Church is also a wonderful tradition in the spirit of our tradition, and is also catechetical.

Finally, the addition of paintings of the Four Evangelists around the dome not only adds colour, but also iconographic detail, including medallions of their four respective symbols: the lion, the eagle, the ox and the angel. This is both a splendid iconographic addition and will offer teaching opportunities.



Here again, what must be noted is how this has been brought to life by colour. The basic addition of colour is pleasing generally, and the sculptured elements are now brought to life and made more potent as iconographic elements.



With regard to the new ambo, the use of coloured stone is quite nice; the colour accentuates the details of the ambo and gives a certain vitality and interest to the piece, while the use of stone lends the ambo a certain gravitas by way of its substantiality.

The sculptures of the Four Evangelists are one of the most magnificent aspects of this ambo and are very pertinent as symbols.



The previous tabernacle, pictured above, was in a niche which was somewhere off to the side of the church, whereas the new tabernacle has taken its place in the centre of the sanctuary and is now covered with a mini form of ciborium.

The height given to the tabernacle is quite nice, as are, again, the materials used in the construction.

If I might offer one friendly thought and I really offer it in general, whereas flowers are often over-used and need be used more discriminately, unless it is Palm Sunday, the use of greenery and potted plants generally is often not terribly desirable in my estimation, and is most typically used as a means of covering up sanctuaries which are otherwise barren and uninteresting. Speaking personally, I have seldom if ever seen it add anything to a church or sanctuary (excepting times like Palm Sunday when it carries a particular symbolism of course), and generally I would not even recommend minimizing it, I would recommend not using it whatsoever.

In this particular instance, this is especially so as the architecture here speaks for itself, and by not having greenery, one will actually be more focused on the altar, the tabernacle and the structure of the church itself with its imagery.

However, I would quickly add that even in the case of more plain churches, the use of ferns, potted plants (and crowds of flowers for that matter) often comes across just as it is: attempting to cover-up a plain sanctuary. Ironically, all this does is draw more attention to it.



As you can see, the above "after" picture shows the altar prior to being consecrated.

The altar, like the ambo is now given greater substantiality and gravitas. All of the comments made about the ambo can apply here in terms of the materials, the colour, the addition of the sculpture and so on. Each of these elements, along with the more solid form of the altar give it a greater presence within the overall architecture of the church. It is very well done.

If I were to offer two suggestions it would be this:

A ciborium magnum would add yet more to this as it would further lend itself to the central and symbolic importance of the altar. This, of course, could still be done as a future consideration.

One opportunity that was perhaps missed in this particular instance, but which I will note for the sake of parishes that may be considering similar renovations, is that it would have been very good had a predella been added (i.e. a heightened platform on which the altar rests) to delineate further the altar from the rest of the sanctuary, and to give it, both by height and by that delineation of space, further prominence and distinguishing marks within the sanctuary. A "two step" form of this would work well in most instances, going around the entirety of the altar, with ample room to walk around on all sides for its incensation, as well as to allow the celebration of Mass on either side of the altar.

All this said, this new altar is very pleasing.



Generally, I believe these views emphasize all of the aspects noted in our earlier considerations of the particular elements; the importance of the use colour, the addition of sculptured and painted imagery, the new location and form of the tabernacle, the new, more substantial form of the altar -- and, I might add, the thoughts about greenery, the moderate use of flowers, and the benefits of the predella and ciborium.

The only two other thoughts I would add are that a simple form of white altar cloth would be best and if coloured aspects in the liturgical colour of the day are sought after, I would recommend the use of an antependium. As well, I would also note that the use of the "Benedictine arrangement" would serve this altar very well, both offering the orienting aspects of that arrangement and further giving the altar some additional verticality, and hence, further centrality and prominence within the sanctuary.

Overall, a fantastic bit of work has been done here, and many significant improvements have been made to an already beautiful church. Kudos go to the parish and to the pastor.

I leave you with a view of the narthex of the church, which is one of the most beautiful I have seen.

Thanks to Thom of Ad Dominum for bringing this wonderful renovation to our attention.

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