Monday, February 3, 2014

Mosaics at St. John's Cathedral

Today's mosaics are from a church. It's been a while.

The church is Episcopalian:  St. John's Pro Cathedral at 514 W. Adams Blvd. (at Figueroa), in the University Park area.

It was built over three years, 1922 through 1925. And as the Getty Iris "My LA" blog points out, Los Angeles went through a big growth spurt in the 1920s, with new, elaborate buildings--some very modern like the Pantages Theatre, some mission-era Spanish themed, and some--like St. John's--imitative of European structures--in this case, a Romanesque church.

This arch curves right over the lectern, I believe. The priest stands under it while reading the service or sermon. And you also get a glimpse of an incredibly ornate carved wooden ceiling, which came from Oberammergau--the German town where the big Passion Play is performed every ten years. Turns out Oberammergau is also famous for its wood carving.

According to the Episcopal News Service, the church was designed as a close copy of an 11th century church of San Pietro in Tuscany. So its walls are two and a half feet thick all the way up. Its foundations extend 16 feet down.

A community 2,000 strong had been worshiping at an older church for more than thirty years when St. John's was built. The architects were Pierpont and Walter S. Davis.

From the first, the plan was to incorporate mosaics, murals, and marble of different shades. Wealthy parishioners donated the marble for alter rails, for the mosaic floor, the pipe organ, stained glass windows, and more. It's become a showplace of great beauty, as well as a very lively, community-oriented church with a definite ecumenical slant to it. St. John's was a parish church until 2008, when it was made a pro-Cathedral. Another Cathedral, St. Paul's on Figueroa, had to be demolished in 1979 due to earthquake damage.

The Episcopal News Service said this about the mosaics:

Kowalewski [the Very Rev. Canon Mark Kowalewski,the church's rector] said the beautiful gold mosaics on the chapel walls have been featured in books. "St. John's was the only church included on a tour of mosaics in Los Angeles" recently, he said. One mosaic depicts the Virgin Mary and Christ child and is modeled after the 13th century apse mosaic of the cathedral in Torcello, near Venice. On the south side of the chapel is a depiction of Jesus Christ as judge, holding a bible and giving a blessing, a design developed from 11th and 12th century conventions.

The dome mosaic, representing the creation of the world, was dedicated in 1959. The picture of it below, which is actually of the high altar, is on a Picassa stream that the church's website links to. Likewise the picture to the right, which shows "The Seven Angels." The church website thanked Bob Bowen, Lo Sprague, Nick Cuccia, and Douglas Santo for these photos--there are hundreds. Including--in a last folder titled "The Beauty of St. John's" (or something like that) photos of the mosaics mentioned in that quote above.

"The Seven Angels" mosaic (above) depicts eight-foot high angels with musical instruments. It was dedicated in 1947, but it had already taken over two years for five artists to construct, according to the Los Angeles Times. It was originally imported from Italy to New York, which is where the five artists worked. "The Seven Angels" is a memorial, honoring Florence Martha Quinn, and her family paid $15,000 for it.

In an interesting case of paying it forward--or backward, Mrs. Quinn had donated the money for another mosaic wall many years earlier, to honor her mother.

Another mosaic, The Transfiguration, came in 1964. And there are many more.

I could probably populate Mosaic Monday with individual pieces from this church alone for six months.

I'm going to finish with this last, blindingly stunning photo and I frankly admit that I don't know what part of the church it came from. The Virgin and Child in the center might be the one referred to in the quote--the one modeled on a 13th century mosaic in Torcello. OTOH, if you look at the Picassa photostream, there are closeups of similar mosaics that look more Byzantine in form. The lighting is different but they could be the same. So I will just say again that this is stunning.

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