Thursday, August 30, 2007

St. Vibiana Reconstructed

In this story, time will move backward.

The L.A. Times published wonderful pictures on the re-attachment of the cupola to the cathedral formerly known as St. Vibiana's. The Times article is well worth visiting; it includes a four-minute KTLA video showing the cupola’s ascent and positioning, and additional photographs.

Want more pictures? Vibianala has dozens showing the the cathedral inside and out as it exists now.

USC hosts a page dedicated to St. Vib's too, with old pictures like the one at left. (Lookee! It's the cupola. . . or bell tower) Opened in 1880, the building was closed due to earthquake damage in 1995. The Catholic Church’s attempt to demolish the old Cathedral (seems awfully un-Catholic to me) was foiled by the Los Angeles Conservancy, and a decent summary of the last ten years is at the website of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, where St. Vibiana’s is listed as one of the 11 most endangered places.

Who was St. Vibiana? No one really knows. A legendary account from a 9th century source, widely believed to be bogus, says that she was a Christian martyr, flogged to death, and that a 5th century pope dedicated a basilica to her.

The Archdiocese spins a fanciful tale of how the saint’s grave was found while workmen were digging and planting a new vineyard from the Pope. That was in 1853; the saint’s road to Los Angeles then wound through France, Panama , San Francisco, and down the coast.

Like many Catholic school kids, I was told that Vibiana's body was miraculously preserved. When I first visited the old Cathedral I expected to view something along the lines of Sleeping Beauty, but her figure was elevated so high above us I couldn’t see much of anything. See it in the picture, on a bed over the altar, under a half dome of stars?

I later learned that the figure was wax, and the disillusionment crushed me. The only remains of Vibiana were skeletal (how those 19th century priests deduced she was a virgin and martyr--the story related on the Archdiocese website--was never really explained.)

Her bones now restin a crypt below the new Cathedral, btw, which is much more respectable--but not nearly so fascinating to the many Catholic school kids who visit.

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