Wednesday, January 12, 2022

A New Gothic Palanquin for a Reliquary

Our thanks to Anna Kalinowski for sharing with us this write-up on a very nice liturgical arts project at the Oratory of Ss Gregory and Augustine in St Louis, Missouri, and to Kiera Petrick for the beautiful accompanying photographs.

The city of St. Louis, Missouri, has seen recent flourishing of filial devotion to its Patron Saint. This past year and the year before, hundreds of the city’s faithful celebrated the feast of St Louis IX, King of France, on August 25th with a procession of a first class relic. In 2020, a priest reverently carried the relic of St. Louis by hand.

Something was needed to elevate the relic and make it more visible in the procession, so this past year, the relic was carried with greater visible solemnity and grandeur in a beautiful palanquin (also known as a bier or litter), designed and constructed as a local project completed by members of the lay faithful, and not professional liturgical artists. The builder and the woman who did the fabric and floral work drew inspiration and guidance from sources such as the New Liturgical Movement and Sacred Scripture. While there is certainly a place for commissions to professional artists for this kind of work, the photo essay below should challenge and encourage small parishes who may not have the necessary means to commission a work. Even small groups of faithful with tight financial constraints can bring grandeur and solemnity to their feasts.
The idea was thus born for a palanquin, inspired by this Biblical text from the Song of Songs (3, 6-11.)
What is this coming up from the wilderness, like a column of smoke, perfumed with myrrh and frankincense, with all the fragrant powders of the merchant? Behold, it is the litter of Solomon! […] King Solomon made himself a palanquin from the wood of Lebanon. He made its posts of silver, its back of gold, its seat of purple; it was lovingly wrought within by the daughters of Zion, and behold King Solomon, with the crown which his mother crowned him on the day of his wedding, on the day of the gladness of his heart. (Song of Songs 3:6-11)
The builder used his basement woodshop to construct the palanquin. A high-quality gold spray paint was used on the wood, but in the future, the builder plans to gild the entire piece with gold leaf. The wood used for the central “throne” on which the relic rests is cedar in reference to the cedars of Lebanon. During transportation, the fabric of the baldacchino was covered with a protective tarp.
Once at the church, the builder added a custom frame of pivoting wood rails and soft felt in which to mount the reliquary. A woman of the parish Altar and Rosary Society added the shoulder cushions and laid out trays for the flowers.
The exquisite reliquary was then nestled into position using a piece of silk.
Large white lilies were used as an obvious nod to the French lily motif which is echoed in the damask and the fleur-de-lis finials. The lilies also make a visible link to the Gospel reading of the feast.
“Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin. Yet I say to you that not Solomon in all his glory was arrayed as one of these. If God thus clothes even the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is cast into the oven, how much more shall He do for ye of little faith?” (Matthew 6, 28-30)
As a reference to the fragrance of Solomon’s palanquin in the Song of Songs, and as a tribute to the use of herbs in medieval art and culture, rosemary, sage, thyme, and basil were added to the arrangements, and their fragrances blended with that of the lilies.
The palanquin was staged in the sacristy just prior to the procession. The blue silk which lines the interior of the baldacchino (just visible through the latticework of the front façade) and the sparkling crystal pendants are tributes to the blue ceiling and stained-glass windows of Sainte-Chappelle.
And off it goes... (look for it behind the American flag):
Placed at the Apotheosis of St. Louis in Forest Park next to a statue of Our Lady where the faithful gathered to pray the Holy Rosary:
Sancte Ludovice, ora pro nobis!

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