Wednesday, April 29


No, This is Not an HWTN Production

But it certainly would fit on our lineup. Shrine friend the Sober Sophomore presents The Divine Office, a comedy of pontifical proportions. (See also Episode 2, which features, perhaps via some inadvertent existential cross-wiring, a commercial message that appears to have escaped from the Flanneryverse). If it weren't for wonderful things like Notre Dame's Eucharistic procession (600 people this year!), I'd wonder if things were starting to get even weirder than usual around there.

Rumor has it there's more in the pipeline. Beware of pickpockets and pious women!

Monday, April 27


New Drawing - The Immaculate Conception

The Immaculate Conception, Protectress of the Institute of Christ the King. March 2009. Private Collection, Wisconsin.

Thursday, April 23


New Drawing - St. Thomas Aquinas

S. Thomas Aquinas, Patron of Students. Ink. Executed as the basis for a bookplate. February 2009. Private Collection, Washington, D.C.

Wednesday, April 22


Kyrie Eleison and Pass the Ammunition

Normally I dislike it when Easterners Westernize their liturgy, or when Latin rite folks dress up their ceremonies in a mock-Byzantine fashion. But this, THIS sort of orientalization, I can stand squarely behind:
The inhabitants of the small Greek island of Chios have staged their traditional "Rocket War".

In a bizarre but long-cherished local tradition to celebrate the Orthodox Easter holiday, two churches in the town of Vrodandos fire rockets at each other's churches - while services are held.
Video here.

Kamelaukion tip to friend Dr. Prof. Jenny.

This Explains the Whole Papal Bono Sunglasses Incident

A friend points out this item on Googlebooks, Urbs Et Orbis, by William Humphrey, which, he mentions, contains all sorts of useful and edifying...and just plain weird...facts:
By ancient usage [during a papal audience] the wearing of spectacles is forbidden, but when necessary the Pope's permission is asked, and is never refused.
Okay, maybe it doesn't. Also:
The Pope does not, as a rule, pontificate except on solemn occasions. He sometimes, however, administers the sacrament of confirmation in his private chapel to the children of sovereigns and princes, or to persons for whom he has a special benevolence. With the exception of Benedict XIV. who had a great partiality for ordinations, the Popes rarely ordain. If, however, the Pope should himself confer on a cleric any order whatsoever, or even tonsure on a layman, this cleric cannot be further ordained by any other Bishop, without dispensation.


At public audiences the Pope ought not to be asked for extraordinary favours. It is superfluous to ask him to bless objects, since when he enters the chamber he blesses all present, and all the objects they have with them which are capable of being blessed. The favour of being allowed to assist at his Mass may be asked for; but nothing is to be asked for which falls within the domain of any of the Sacred Congregations. A grant of power to indulgence beads, for instance, will have no extrinsic value. The authenticity of it is incapable of proof. An Episcopal Court will not only have the right of opposing, but will be bound in duty to oppose the exercise of an alleged grant by one who says that he had it directly from the Pope at a public audience. The favour of assisting at the Pope's Mass, and receiving communion at his hands, is always refused to priests, except on Maundy Thursday. The reason is obvious. It is more for God's glory that a priest should himself say mass, than that he should receive communion at the hands of even the Vicar of Christ.
Incidentally, J.P. II looked a whole lot better in those glasses than Bono did. No wonder he took them.

Thursday, April 16


An Email from a Friend

"A big sign that says 'please do not enter the sanctuary' is a bit more unwelcoming than the altar rail it replaced."

Wednesday, April 15


St. Robert's, Shorewood, Wisconsin

On the advice of Lucy (emerita ranking churchlady-major for Southern Wisconsin), I drove down to St. Robert Catholic Church in Shorewood, Wisconsin, a handsome Lombard Romanesque structure in dark brick and pale stone that was raised in 1937. When I first saw it, I assumed it was a work of the more high-flying, expansive 1920s; I am even more impressed to discover this rather late date. The website does not specify the architect, but Lucy mentioned it was by the same architect as the National Shrine.

The principal firm on that other project was Maginnis and Walsh, led by the once well-known Charles D. Maginnis. I do not know if he was personally involved on this project, or whether it was some other, associated architect, but perhaps Lucy can comment. While many of my friends tend to not like the Shrine--I like several aspects of it, even some of the dated ones, and mentally edit out the others--it was a late work, and does not compare favorably to the majority of the firm's projects, which were part of that remarkable outburst of ecclesiastical design that marked the period of the turn of the last century to the Second World War in America. That Maginnis is now largely unknown is somewhat surprising.

An emigrant Irishman and colleague of Ralph Adams Cram, while never as famous a polemicist as the Boston Gothicist, he in some ways had even greater professional success, becoming president of the American Institute of Architects from 1937 to 1939 and the recepient of their Gold Medal in 1948. While his work is generally not as well-known as Cram's, it is peculiarly ubiquitous--alterations to Trinity Church's chancel in Boston, the interior of the Basilica in Minneapolis, college campuses everywhere, including many of Notre Dame's dorms, and the chancel of St. Pat's in New York.

If this church is indeed the firm's work, it certainly is one of their more pleasant projects. While not monumental or heavily ornamental, its detailing and masses are well-articulated and possesses a carefully-edited intellectual thoroughness which surprises us, amid today's budgetary constraints. There are none of the shortcuts of the forties and fifties, though one sees the font of what survives, in abridged form in many later projects of that period. I was unable to get inside but, given the hints of stained glass I saw, hope to remedy that at some point soon.

While not lavish, it is enlivened with carefully-placed touches of marble and a carefully-chosen program of sculpture expressing key figures in the life of St. Robert of Newminster, another surprise. There is always just enough to surprise, in some respects, a trickier proposition than managing a massive spread of decoration. I had expected St. Robert Bellarmine to be the patron, the great Counter-Reformation powerhouse; instead, it was this lesser-known English abbey-building monk, suggesting less the rah-rah Catholicism of the forties than a genteel appeal to pre-reformation Catholic Anglophilia. Though, given the occasional medievalism of the Liturgical Movement, this too, is perhaps less unusual than I might think. A small, anonymous bust taken from the ruins of Newminster sits on a bracket by a canopied side-entrance. The only aspect I don't like as much are the two broad strips of white stone quoining bookending the front elevation, but that is a minor quibble.

Other details, large and small, have a particular appeal--small and strictly speaking unnecessary spires towards the back, a circular apse when a square end might have saved a bit of cash, a massive campanile, all serve to make the difference between better and best--it is a fine example of the Romanesque mood of this period of the Church's life in America, both very much of its era and yet transcending it with remarkable ease.


A Friend's G-Chat Status

It's definitely Easter Week:

"Overheard this morning between two Dominicans: 'Let us sing to the Lord for He is gloriously triumphant!' 'Hey, what happened to my horse and chariot?' 'Cast into the sea, my brother!' 'Man, you can't leave ANYTHING parked out here in Oakland.' "

Friday, April 10


St. Monica's, Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin

A blessed Good Friday to our readers. I hope amid the hurlyburly of postmodern life, you all will find a few moments or hours of silence to remember the Lord's Passion and Death. For the first time in years, I find myself with very little to do today, as my new job doesn't start for another week. Before there was always work, or schoolwork, or prepping to serve the liturgical services of the day. Perhaps the quiet time will do me good, though I'm still so worn out from the move-in that it will probably be more rest than reflection.

Yesterday afternoon, I was running a few last errands around my new hometown, Milwaukee, when I ran across St. Monica's, a very fine little parish campus and school down in Whitefish Bay, a little town of quiet, treelined grid-streets and clapboard, just north of Milwaukee proper. Peculiarly, it all stands in the shadow of the giantic, pseudo-new-urbanist Bayshore Town Center mall complex, a rambling, faintly plasticine mass of streets, offices, apartments, greens, and indoor and outdoor shopping. It's an interesting and slightly odd place, and in some ways, while designed in a species of amateurish 'mall classicism,' it sort of works given it appears a few kids were actually playing on the greens and people walking up and down the shops. Presumably the apartments keep things reasonably active on the off-hours. The thing is far too tall, of course, but it's an interesting if rather corporate-looking exercise in civic planning. More on that later.

St. Monica's is a rather handsome stretch of buildings, long and low, with a gigantic Liturgical Movement moderne Lombard Romanesque church finishing off the southern end of the complex. I don't know much about the history of the place, but it has the look of a middling-to-better church of the mid-forties or early fifties, with light-ish brick, limestone trim, and several rather charming bits of architectural sculpture here and there. It is certainly not the best of the period, but it has a certain charm that shows how widely diffused craft talent was, even then; while stripped down for the sake of budget or taste, there are still moments of quiet exceptionality. I will not comment, though, on the unfortunate intermittent use of glass block for some of the windows in the school wing.

The interior shows a good deal less imagination than the exterior, which adds touches of picturesque irregularity to the rectilinear massing so common to the period, but it is still not without its finer points. The span of the nave is broad and a little low, in keeping with its parent style. It is in general rather on the bare side, with minimal classical detailing, but what there is, is rather good. The altar rail has inlays of richly-colored marble, and even the somewhat dated side altars are not unappealing in a nostalgic sort of way. There is a surprising wealth of transepts, side-chapels, and little forgotten mosaics here and there, despite the overall ordered spareness of the interior, and while I know nothing of the liturgy of the parish, one is amazed by the spacious potential for solemn liturgy that could be had if it was desired. Admitted, this is not a world-class masterwork but it shows the residual talent that was still in the architectural trade well into the last century, and certainly merits further study. It is to Goodhue and Maginnis what an anonymous 18th century Sicilian plasterer's work might have been to Borromini, an agreeable example of its period type, and not without its own quiet dignity.

I was also pleasantly surprised to notice two reliquaries--I forget who was in them--on the mensa of the St. Joseph altar, suggesting my beloved old world sort of Catholicism around here is even more present than one would have supposed; though, given the way St. Josaphat's looms in the haze over the South Side like something in Vienna or Prague, it is no surprise.

There is also an odd little 'gathering room' off the narthex--which is also enormous--dedicated to the memory of some Monsignor-or-other that has the look of a former side-chapel or sacristy. It is unremarkable, stuffed with pamphlets, but has a rather charming side-altar in the Deco-Jetsons-Beuronese fusion that was so common back then, and a number of inexpensive but rather interesting-looking statues; they suggest mass production and presumably were added at a later date, but this is surely the first time I have ever seen Eve shown this way in a church; though, as our First Parents were saints, and let out of their prison on Holy Saturday, I see no shame in it.

Incidentally, churchlady Lucy over at City of Steeples used to blog extensively about her churchcrawling tours of southern Wisconsin before her move; if you're interested in this sort of thing, be sure to browse through her archives. I hope to dabble in a bit of it myself when possible.

I have also discovered the interesting website, The Polish Churches of Milwaukee, which is a great resource for those interested in the opulent, quirky, eclectic local building type known as the 'Polish Cathedral.'

Thursday, April 9


Some Images of Early 20th Century Scandinavian Church Architecture

Högalid Church, Stockholm, 1923

In Scandinavia, among the designers of Lutheran churches during the first part of the last century, there was a distinct 'Other Modernism' in their architecture, one which partook in large measure of the regional art nouveau and national romantic movements then at their apogee in Central and Northern Europe. The results were quite wonderful, and bear further study. Some examples follow below, from the quadrilingual Dutch work of the period, Moderne Kerken in Europe en America, which also includes some strange Central European and French monstrosities, not shown here--though I admit a secret fondness for the etherial openness of Perret's Notre Dame du Raincy, just not all that exposed concrete. I have dozens more scans from this book and others of the era I will post in the next few weeks, with any luck.

Engelbrecht Church, Stockholm, 1923

Skelleftea Church, Skelleftea, 1926

Högalid Church, Stockholm, 1923


I Aten't Dead, as Esme Weatherwax Would Say*

My sincerest apologies for the long delay in posts over the past two or so weeks. I have managed to escape from New York and ride shotgun on a U-Haul with my dad through the rain-soaked, wind-swept length of rural Pennsylvania, across the happy, flat, sunny and green agricultural countryside of Ohio, and, after a quick glimpse at the Golden Dome in South Bend, finally arrive in Milwaukee and get moved in with his assistance and that of my mom, who, while she would not use the term feng shui, knows how to arrange furniture and pick our colors like the best of them. Now they're back in Florida, and the place is cheery and ready for me to settle in, if perhaps a bit quieter for their absence.

My apartment, in a village just north of Milwaukee, is a very cozy little place with a gas fire, plenty of shelf-space and my new favorite couch. I'll have to post some photos sometime soon. In the mean time, I look forward to chronicling Catholic life out here. Just when I decide it's plain ol' suburbia, the Midwest throws me for a loop, whether it's discovering a tiny Catholic cemetary and yellow-brick Romanesque chapel across the street from a behemoth furniture warehouse, or watching a tiny Smart car zip through my building's parking garage. This place has definite latent weirdness potential. And I'm the one to ferret it out. Watch this space.

*It's a Discworld in-joke. Don't ask. Unpacking all my paperback Terry Pratchett books and shelving them must have gotten my mind going.

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