Thursday, March 17, 2011

Renovation: St. Colman of Cloyne, Washington Court House, Ohio

It is always a pleasure to see what architect William Heyer is working on. We have covered his work in the past, as well as his role as a professor of fine arts at the Josephinum in Columbus. I was pleased to receive recently some photos of his latest project, the interior renovation of St. Colman of Cloyne Catholic Church in Washington Court House, Ohio, a parish of the Columbus diocese. In the past I have complained of America's dependence or perhaps even fixation on 19th century interpretations of Gothic as the default "traditional style" when it is to the exclusion of all others, though I have not suggested any real alternative to it in my articles. William Heyer's handsome new altar and furnishings are an excellent antidote to this mentality, as while they complement the period architecture of the church, they also elevate it and restore it to a new degree of archaeological and liturgical richness. Mr. Heyer comments:

The new interior reflects not only the Victorian Gothic of the original church, but a particularly Anglo-Irish Gothic within the milieu of a new classicism. The symbols of St Colman (miter, shield, cross-fitchie, dove) are incorporated along with Irish symbols like the Irish cross, shamrock and harp. The murals, diapers, and papal shields at the narthex walls are by Matt Indrutz, Artist. Anthony Visco is making a new John the Baptist for the existing baptismal font. The entire interior (murals, symbols, diaper patterns, colors, materials, liturgical items, etc) is designed by William Heyer including the new choir screen and confessional frontispiece. Fr. Sullivan, the pastor, was instrumental in the vision.

St Colman celebrated their 125th anniversary on Christmas at Midnight Mass (photo I took included). The music was by the Cincinnati Conservatory and the St Colman Children’s Choir and the Mass was vernacular Novus Ordo ad orientem. The church plans a year of celebration with Masses and concerts with—among others—the Bishop of Cloyne, Ireland, Bishop Campbell of Columbus, Archbishop Schnurr of Cincinnati, The schola and priests of the Fraternity of St. Peter, etc.
The painted ornamentation is simple and sparingly well-deployed to highlight significant structural and symbolic moments in the design; they remind me of the German precedents which inspired the Institute of Christ the King's excellent renovation in Wausau, Wisconsin, some years ago; it is a form of Gothic which is not used enough these days.

The altar, retablo, and tester are, however, very fine modern examples of the so-called "English altar" that Comper and his imitators made so famous. The name is something of a misnomer, as it is characteristic of the medieval Church in general, and its canopy, riddel posts and hangings are vestiges of the ancient baldachin. It is exciting to see this old and neglected form (not well known in the Catholic Church in the United States) returned to active use and oriented worship, and a reminder that in the best of all possible worlds even a wall-altar ought to have a tester to stress its dignity. The placement of the tabernacle on the mensa and the lack of a gradine will also please liturgical purists.

Mr. Heyer has opted, I would assume for budgetary reasons, for a simplified interpretation of the Gothic which nonetheless does not lose its substance. He has strategically deployed his classical training here without overpowering the authentic medieval spirit of the style. Gothic is a tricky thing to get right nowadays, but this feels quite convincing; the bright, bold use of color and gilding to contrast with the dark wood and white walls is also quite effective.

The new St. Colman of Cloyne represents the proper use of received tradition in architecture, without being unduly hampered by the mistakes of the past. Today, when building a new church from the ground up may not be financially feasible, such renovations take on a new significance for the material culture of the Church.

Sanctuary: before

Sanctuary: after

Choirloft: before

Choirloft: after

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