Monday, September 04, 2023

A Rare Example of Modern Venetian Gothic Architecture with a Moorish Flair

Today I will share the final batch of photos from my trip to Louisiana this past July. I have saved these pictures for last because it seemed fitting to talk about a church dedicated to the Immaculate Conception in the week in which we will celebrate the feast of Our Lady’s Nativity.

Immaculate Conception Church, completed and dedicated in 1930, is located in the downtown of New Orleans, at 130 Baronne Street, and run by the Society of Jesus. Immediately from the façade, one can tell that its style is different from those one usually encounters; its Wikipedia article describes it as the Neo-Venetian style of Gothic Revival architecture, with Moorish Revival and Byzantine Revival elements.

Yet the façade, as unusual as it is, does not prepare the visitor for the impact made by the height of the nave, which is all the more unexpected in a church sandwiched between (and somewhat dwarfed by) high-rises.

Note the small decorated columns of the middle level.
Most extraordinary of all, however, is the high altar, designed by a local, James Freret of New Orleans, but fabricated in Lyons, France, in 1867, where it won first prize in the Paris Exposition of the same year. The material is bronze plated in 24-karat gold, and consists of more than 600 pieces. “The Moorish domes on top of the altar as well as the miter-shaped arches all harmonize perfectly with the architecture of the entire building.” (source)
“The central focal point of the church is ‘Mary’s Niche,’ a solid-marble statue of the Blessed Virgin standing in front of a gilded, lit background. At the same level are found four other statues of saints.”
Also most remarkable and extremely rarely seen are the cast-iron pews “adorned with eight artistic designs symbolic of the scriptural references to Our Blessed Lady: the Morning Star, House of Gold, Gate of Heaven, the Tree of Life, Lily Among Thorns, and Ark of the Covenant.”

Lastly, the entire perimeter of the church is surrounded by the most complete stained glass sequence I have ever seen of the most famous Jesuit saints. My camera battery died just as I was beginning to make the rounds, but all the ones you'd expect are there, plus many I had never heard of. Each window has a small placard beneath it with a short bio of the saint in question. One could teach a history of the Jesuits by a church tour in this building!

The visit was for me a salutary reminder that however much we may complain today (and justly) about what has become of the Society of Jesus, we must not fail to praise God for the immense fruits of sanctity and learning that the Jesuits have given to the Church in their centuries of fidelity. It may yet happen that the Society reforms itself and returns to its original pattern. 

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